Today's post is written by Winston (Winn) Egan, author of Grandparenting on Purpose.
First, let’s begin with a BIG disclaimer. Not everything you do with grandchildren needs to be purposeful. There’s great value in just “hanging out” with your grandchildren—listening to what they have to say, enjoying spontaneous conversations and outings, and just having fun with them.
However, I think there is much to be gained from being intentional and purpose-driven in providing experiences and activities for grandchildren. Here are two illustrative stories about our attempts to make family activities more purposeful and meaningful for our grandchildren. We hope they’ll be helpful to you.
In our community, a savvy company sells ice-cream sandwich seconds, Fat Boy[s]. The sandwiches are seconds for a variety of reasons. They’re missing something—the top or bottom of the sandwich. Or the sandwich is incomplete in some fashion. However, they appear to be the same because of how they are packaged. If you were to look at the packaging, you would think there is nothing wrong with these sandwiches. So, when the company sells them in our area, I buy a lot of them—sometimes 40 or 50. They are cheap. They taste great. And my grandchildren and our neighbors love them.
So, how did I use these sandwiches with my grandchildren and their parents? It was simple. At the end of a family dinner, I told the grandchildren I had a terrific dessert for all of them. I suggested it was a one-of-kind treat we’d never served before that evening. Of course, the grandchildren were very interested in the dessert. Take note! Curious grandchildren are more attentive when you are trying to make a point or teach an important life concept.
I removed my box of frozen Fat Boy[s] from our freezer. I then provided these instructions:
Our grandchildren were quick to observe the differences among and between their sandwiches. At this “peak” moment, I asked questions like these:
Grandparents can learn a lot about what parents need by following helpful social media accounts aimed at parents.
Don’t you hate it when your social media feed is full of ads that make it seems like they are listening to your conversations, or even your thoughts? They claim they aren’t listening, but it’s hard to believe when you are near someone talking about their ski trip and the next time you open Facebook there is an ad for Park City.
I do know that much of it depends on the accounts you follow. I’m constantly getting targeted on Instagram with ads aimed at parents, even though my days of needing breast pumps are long gone. It’s understandable though, because I follow more than a few accounts that are aimed at parents.
I think you should, too.
It’s incredibly helpful to see what parents are being bombarded with. By following accounts that are aimed at parents, we can keep up with what they are seeing. This means that instead of having to ask why they are doing something different from the way we did it, we can just step in with support if needed.
What are the newest gadgets, both useful and absurd? What’s the latest research on screen time or fluoride or the power of nature? What are the emerging theories on feeding/sleeping/playing? Why are car seat recommendations so different now than they were 5, 10, 20 years ago?
No matter which social media platform you spend time on, there are great parent-focused accounts to follow. I like Instagram, because it’s easier to see what I want to see and avoid what I don't. Here are some of the Instagram accounts I find incredibly useful:
For all things safety related, @safebeginnings is a gold mine of information. @safeintheseat is the best for information about car seat safety.
@pedsdoctalk shares valuable content about pediatric health and more.
The content @growing.intuitive.eaters shares about helping children have a healthy relationship with food is entertaining and educational.
@likeasistersupport keeps me in the loop about the needs of new parents with research-based information on feeding and more, and @resttoyournest has taught me a lot about current sleep theories.
I’ve learned so much about new ways of parenting from @toryhalpin, and you will, too!
If your grandchildren are neurodivergent or just high-spirited, follow one or all of these: @maryvangeffen, @copingskillsforkids and @benjamin.mizrahi.
To learn more about the struggles parents are facing with burnout and more, follow @runtellmom and @feminist.mom.therapist.
Following a wide range of informational accounts will enable you to be more supportive of parents. Just remember, you are trying to understand parents better, not educate them with what you learn. Depending on your relationship, you may be able to share an account or post without causing offense. Here are some ways to approach it if you want to share a post.
When sharing an account, you can first see if parents are already following it. If they aren’t, you can say something like: “I stumbled across this account and it seems to have really great information. Thought I’d share!”
Be wary of misinformation, which is abundant on social media. Before sharing something from a source you haven’t checked out completely, do a little research. When I see something I’m unfamiliar with, like a claim that high fructose corn syrup is banned in other countries, I always try to learn more about it by verifying it with independent sources. (Turns out it’s not, it’s just labeled differently—thanks, @foodsciencebabe.)
Finally, make sure that you aren’t sharing things too often. Save it for when there is something really worthwhile, and use the opportunity to open up a conversation.
Are you more of a Facebook or TikTok user? Let me know in the comments and I’ll suggest accounts on those platforms for you to follow!
Making sure immunizations are up-to-date is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
I found myself needing a new primary care physician when my grandson was about a year old. After a long search I found a doctor who seemed to have all the qualities I was looking for. At our first appointment, she put me at ease immediately as we chatted about why I was looking for a new physician. Then she reviewed my health history, and said with clear surprise, “I don’t see a recent DtaP booster on your record. Didn’t you need one to visit your grandson?”
It had never occurred to me that I should be getting vaccine boosters to protect my newborn grandchildren, and my last doctor hadn’t ever mentioned it. Nor did my son or his wife bring it up, probably assuming I was as boosted as I needed to be. I’ve since learned that getting immunizations is one of the things expectant grandparents should put on their to-do list.
Remember, I’m not a health professional and this is not medical advice. Rather, I’m providing this information for you to discuss with your own health care provider.
Why do grandparents need immunizations?
Newborns can’t be immunized from some of the highly contagious diseases for which we have vaccines. At the same time, those diseases are incredibly dangerous in a child that young. The best way to protect them is by making sure the people around them are vaccinated and boosted, so that there is almost no chance they can pass along a preventable illness.
I saw this first hand when my son contracted measles when he was a year old. He wasn’t due for the immunization for another few months, and watching his limp little body fight off a serious disease was frightening. I firmly believe that anyone who is anti-vaccine has never seen their child seriously ill.
Which immunizations do grandparents need?
Here’s a list of the most important immunizations for grandparents. Even if you’ve been vaccinated against some of them in the past, you may need a booster. Talk to your doctor about the following:
TdaP At the top of the list is the TdaP, which protects you and your grandchild from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. Since diphtheria is incredibly rare, and tetanus isn’t contagious, the big concern is pertussis. Pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough, is both highly contagious and extremely serious. About half of the babies who contract pertussis end up in the hospital, and the mortality rate babies under six weeks old is over 30%. Some hospitals don’t allow visitors to the birthing wing without proof of current vaccination.
MMR It's also important to make sure your MMR is up-to-date. Measles, mumps and rubella are all preventable illnesses that can have make a baby very sick. Of these, the biggest concern is measles. Though the death rate for measles is low, the potential long-term effects can be devastating: it can cause brain damage, deafness, or a truly frightening disease called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis (SSPE). (Which I’m really glad I hadn’t read about before researching this article, or I would have spent a lot of years worrying after my son had measles.)
Pneumonia & flu You’ll also want to get a pneumonia vaccine for pneumococcal diseases, as bacterial pneumonia in infants is serious and can cause life-threatening infections of the blood, brain and spinal cord. Since bacterial pneumonia is also dangerous for older adults, you’ll be protecting yourself as well. The same hold true for influenza—you are protecting both yourself and your infant grandchild against an illness that can be serious.
Shingles While babies can’t get shingles, they could contract chickenpox from someone infected with shingles. The newer Shingrix vaccine cannot transmit the virus the way the older, live vaccine did, so there is no danger of giving your grandchild chickenpox after being vaccinated.
Covid-19 While Covid-19 has so far shown to be relatively mild in babies, getting this vaccine is important to protect yourself and the rest of your community.
When should grandparents get vaccines?
As soon as you know there’s a baby on the way, you’ll want to check with your doctor about what shots you need. It takes time for your body to build immunity, and some vaccines require more than one dose to provide full protection. Your doctor can go over your health history and make sure you have all the immunizations you need to protect both yourself and your new grandchild.
Protecting our grandchildren is one of our most basic instincts, and getting immunized is an important way to do it. For more information, please speak with your own health care team.
What Else Grandparents Need To Know:
It’s tempting for grandparents to buy too many gifts for their grandchildren, especially when they don’t see them often. The main reason I don’t might surprise you.
I was having lunch last year with a friend whose second grandbaby had just been born. When we finished lunch, she mentioned that she had to pop into the boutique next door to get gifts before she went to visit her grandchildren the following week.
“What’s the occasion?” I asked her.
“No special occasion—I just always bring them something when I come visit!”
I didn’t want to rain on her parade, so I just smiled and accompanied her to the boutique, which was almost certainly designed specifically to appeal to grandmothers. It was full of adorable toys and clothes and books and gadgets, all artfully displayed and temptingly priced.
I won’t tell you what she bought, but I was a little shocked by the pile of things she accumulated as we browsed. When I saw the size of the bag she carried when we left the store, I briefly wondered if I should share my own philosophy about bringing gifts when I visit.
I decided against it, but I’ll share it with you now:
I don’t bring my grandchildren gifts when I come visit.
One reason is that they have enough stuff, and their parents don’t want any more.
Another reason, let’s face it, is that I’m cheap and hate throwing away money on things that will quickly be cast aside.
But neither of these are my main motivation.
My main reason for arriving without presents is so that my grandchildren remain excited to see me. I don’t want to be greeted with, “What did you bring me?” I want the focus to be on each other, and not what may be tucked away in my purse or hiding in my suitcase.
What I do sometimes bring: a book we’ve been reading together, so they can see it in real life and we can pour over the pictures side-by-side. Recently, it may be a chapter book we are in the middle of, that I’ll finish while we are visiting. Or maybe I’ll bring a game we can play together, one that I’ll likely take back home so we can enjoy it at our house when they come visit us.
When he remembers, Pops brings treasure: a fake jewel and a pirate doubloon for each of them, which he’ll leave under their pillow to be discovered when we leave. This way, it’s a reminder of our visit, and a way to soften our departure.
What do we always bring? We bring hugs and time to give our full attention to these small people and their parents (who sometimes do get presents when we come, like tea and chocolate and books!). While I may change my strategy as my grandkids get older, for now, I don’t bring them gifts.
When I come to visit, I consider the visit itself a gift—to all of us. And when I arrive, I usually hear these words, “DeeDee! I missed you so much!”
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A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being A Grandparent Today
One thing many grandparents overlook in their excitement over becoming a grandparent is how it changes the relationship with their adult children. The rules and habits of decades must be entirely re-shaped—sometimes quite suddenly. If there is any tension in the relationship, this change can amplify it.
Unconditional Love is a must read for all grandparents who want to ensure they are tending to the relationship with their grandchild’s parents. It will help you understand the complicated family dimensions that are created when a new baby arrives. Whether you have a strong and wonderful relationship with your child and their partner or not, Isay provides solid advice for forming the bond you wish to form with your grandchildren.
Her acknowledgement of the conflicts, problems and politics of family life provides a framework for creating a healthy relationship with your grandchildren and their parents. Through interviews, research and her own experience, Isay provides plenty of food for thought for anyone who wants to make the most of being a grandparent.
If you are just starting your grandparent journey, or are a veteran grandparent who is experiencing any tension in your relationship with your adult children, this book is a must-read. You can likely find a copy at your local library, but it’s well worth buying, as it will be a useful reference in the years to come.
Purchase a copy now from Amazon.
(Did you know that if you make a purchase from Amazon through our links, we get a small commission even though it doesn’t cost you anything extra? That money goes to help cover the cost of creating and maintaining everything More Than Grand does. It’s an easy way for you to help keep our website up and running, and we appreciate your support!)
Choosing a grandmother or grandfather nickname is just the first step in establishing a healthy habit of respect and communication between parents and grandparents.
It took me by surprise when one of my readers admitted that she hated the grandma nickname her daughter-in-law had chosen for her. She shared that she was afraid to rock the boat, so she just accepted it despite her discomfort.
I was so sad for her: sad that she should feel so powerless in something so personal. And I was a little confused, too. Was it common for the parent’s to choose the grandparent’s nickname? I thought that part of the fun of becoming a grandparent was figuring out what you wanted to be called!
So I did a little poll and discovered that over 10% of the grandparents who responded have a name that the parents chose. Luckily, most of them are fine with it.
One follower, Andrea, said she had some input, suggesting a name she liked but letting the parents make the final choice.
Christie said her grandchild’s parents gave her a few options, and once the baby started talking, they agreed on the right name. “I just did not want Meemaw, that was my only rule!”
In both of these cases, though the grandmothers didn’t make the final choice, they were included in the decision process. That wasn’t how it happened with Connie, who was told that the baby would call her…Connie. She was crushed not to be allowed to be called Nana, as she’d always imagined. She was also more than a little taken aback by the idea of being called her first name by her grandchild.
Most parents, however, feel it’s up to the grandparents to choose—with the possibility of parental veto if it makes them uncomfortable. Parents have told stories about grandmothers who want to be called Momma, or who choose a name they feel is ridiculous and then get upset when they refuse to use it. One parent said the name her father-in-law wanted to be called was the name of her own grandfather, with whom she had a complicated and unpleasant relationship. Her father-in-law was more than happy to choose a name without any negative baggage.
Like everything else, the only time it is a problem is when parents or grandparents don’t feel they can talk to one another about the subject. Connie was afraid that if she kicked up a fuss, her daughter-in-law would cut her off before the baby even arrived. One new mom said her own mother insists on a name she finds so silly that she’s never been able to bring herself to say it out loud. Instead of having a conversation together, both of these families have defaulted to “Don’t talk about it (and maybe it will go away).”
Choosing a grandmother or grandfather nickname is just the first step in establishing a healthy habit of respect and communication between parents and grandparents. Smart grandparents will say, “I’d like to be called ______, but I’d like to know what you think.” And smart parents will ask the grandparents what they’d like to be called.
If you are still trying to find the perfect nickname, have you downloaded our list of 242 Grandmother Names? It’s got lots of ideas, plus tips on finding the right one for you!
For what it’s worth, I completely agree with the mom who vetoed “Momma”, but I’m less sure about vetoing a name just because you think it’s ridiculous. What do you think? Let me know in the comments!