The world feels like a much scarier place than it did just a week ago. The numbers of people getting sick with Covid-19 are increasing exponentially. Communities are pulling together while we all try to stay away from one another. Family disappointments are piling up: graduations, trips to see new babies, weddings—all cancelled or postponed. Just when we need each other, we are told to stay apart. Experts tell us it will get worse before it gets better.
Grandparents, it is at times like this that you are needed most.
What every family needs right now is someone to turn to who can help make it feel safer. Who better than you? No matter how shaky you feel, here are some ways for you to be a source of strength and wisdom as your family battles the stress they are experiencing because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Did you serve in a war? Live through the polio era? Spend time unemployed and broke? Watch a loved one struggle with illness or addiction?
Most of us have faced hard times and come through stronger. Share your stories with your family, especially if you never have before. Stories are the foundation of strong families, and now is the perfect time to strengthen those foundations.
Earlier this week, my newest granddaughter arrived and surprised us all. Not only was she two weeks early, but my son and his wife hadn’t found out this baby’s gender, and all bets were on them having a boy. It was a disorienting moment when I got the news—I had a moment of wondering who was sending me a baby picture. But as soon as the truth of her being sunk in, I immediately fell in love. Then I started to worry a little.
We had made careful plans to make sure that this growing family had help. With a not-yet two-year-old and a not-yet four-year-old, a new baby means a lot of little mouths to feed and hands to keep busy. I went to visit a couple weeks ago and filled the freezer, and my daughter-in-law’s parents were planning to come a few days before her due date to help on the scene. I have a trip booked in a month, which was intended to correspond with her parents leaving. Now there is a week that they’ll be on their own before her parents can get there, and there will be a bigger gap before I arrive for my turn as extra adult.
I’ve got enough airline miles to make an extra trip or change my flight. But I can’t go earlier for an important reason: I have three other adult children. Since they are all on academic calendars this year, they are each planning a spring break visit home in the next month. I don’t ever want my children to think they come second to my grandchildren. I know my son and his wife will figure it out together, and no one will actually die of sleep deprivation.
Whether your grandchildren live across the world or just next door, writing them notes and letters creates a place for them to share their lives with you, and for you to share yours with them. Even today, with our ability to see and hear our grandchildren instantly no matter where they are in the world, there is an important place for the written word.
If Your Grandchildren Live Far Away
Did you ever have a pen pal as a child? Do you remember the thrill of getting a letter in the mail? (Let’s face it, it’s still exciting to get real mail!) If your grandchildren live in another city, state or country, establishing a habit of regular postal correspondence can bring you closer. Even before they can write, there are ways to make a pen pal out of your grandchildren.
If Your Grandchildren Live Nearby
Just because your grandchildren live close enough for frequent visits doesn’t mean there isn’t room for written exchanges. In addition to the ideas above, there are some special ways to engage your grandkids.
Do you have other ideas for making written correspondence a part of your relationship with your grandchildren? Please share in the comments!
A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being A Grandparent Today
Are you looking for help understanding the new dimensions to your family that being a grandparent creates? Whether you have a strong and wonderful relationship with your child and their spouse or not, Unconditional Love provides solid advice for forming the bond you wish to form with your grandchildren. Isay's 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. Well worth buying this one, as it will be a useful reference in the years to come.
My mother-in-law has always captivated her grandchildren with the stories she tells of her childhood in a small mid-western town. Whether it’s about the time she burned the popcorn at her grandmother’s theater or the time her older siblings locked her in the basement, she is able to make another age and place come alive. But those stories do more than just entertain the kids. According to research, children and adolescents who know more of their family history have higher self-esteem, higher social and academic competence, and fewer behavior problems.
Researchers at Emory University developed the “Do You Know…?” scale to study how families pass along their history. Sometimes called “The 20 Questions”, the DYK Scale is comprised of questions that tap into different kinds of family stories. Questions like “Do you know what went on when you were being born?” and “Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?” are starting points for sharing family stories. It’s not passing on the knowledge that is most important, it’s the telling of the stories that connects the generations and provides the sense of self and belonging that promotes children's well-being.
You can find the full set of twenty questions here. The last one made me laugh ("Do you know a relative whose face 'froze' in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?"), but they all sparked ideas for stories to tell. Next time you talk to your grandkids, why not use these question to guide your conversation?
Duke, M.P., Lazarus, A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Knowledge of family history as a clinically useful index of psychological well-being and prognosis: A brief report. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45, 268-272.
While I was packing to visit my grandchildren recently, I decided I should pack a small gift for each of them. While I was debating what it should be, I had a thought:
If I show up with a gift every time I see them, how long will it be before I’m greeted with "What did you bring me?" instead of "DeeDee! I missed you!"
I want them to be happy to see me and their Pops for ourselves, and they are still young enough that they are. I don’t want to set up a habit that will change that.
There’s another issue, too. I’ve heard from young mothers that the sheer amount of stuff from over-indulgent grandparents is a strain on their relationship. “We don’t need 45 stuffed animals that only the dog carries around!” said one, whose mother arrives every few days with a new toy. I know my son and his family have limited space, and I try really hard to make sure that the gifts I give provide joy in their little house, not clutter.
With the holidays coming up, take the time to talk to your grandchildren’s parents about what gifts would be welcome. If you want to get something specific, ask if it would be appropriate. If the answer is no, don’t take it personally. If you can’t resist Costco’s great toy deals, go ahead and buy them, then donate them to Toys for Tots or another organization that provides gifts for children who don’t have indulgent grandparents. That way you get the fun of buying, your kids don't end up with stuff they don't want, and best of all, some lucky child will have a happier holiday.
If you need ideas for gifts your grandchildren and their parents will love, see my suggestions here.
Sitting in the airport during a layover recently, I overheard a woman talking on her phone to a clearly sympathetic friend. She was complaining that she didn’t get to spend as much time as she liked with her grandchildren, even though she lived just fifteen minutes away from them.
She must have had a long layover, too, because her conversation went on and on. Grievance after grievance was aired, including:
If I’d been the kind of person who doles out unwanted advice to strangers in person (instead of on the internet!), I could have told her exactly why her daughter limits her access to her grandchildren. Instead I’m telling you, so you can avoid falling into the same trap. If you want your children to welcome your visits, there are three simple steps.
The third one is the hardest of all, because it requires a mind shift from the roles of a lifetime. As a parent, your children had to play by your rules. But as a grandparent, you have to play by theirs. If you can make that shift, your relationship with your children will be a source of fulfillment instead of frustration, and you will be a welcome and valuable part of your grandchildren’s lives.
When you tell people your first grandchild is on the way, the first question they ask is usually, “When is it due?” The second question is invariably “What do you want to be called?” And for many grandparents, grandmothers especially, that is a hard question to answer!
Lacking any strong cultural ties, I didn’t have the easy solution of the friends who were Italian or Chinese and had traditional names to go to. Though my husband is half-Greek, YiaYia and Papou are still living, so those names are taken. I began to hope that my son and his wife would have an opinion that would make it unnecessary for me to choose. They didn’t, so I turned to the internet, sifting through lists in search of a name that sounded like something I could live with for the next 30-40 years.
Here I found suggestion ranging from the truly bizarre “Just call me Grandiose, darling!” to the almost unsettling, (Gummy! NotherMother! Creaky!). I finally settled on Gran, in honor of Neville Longbottom’s remarkable grandmother. But every time I heard it said out loud, it sounded as if we were talking about someone else. So by the time my grandson was six months old, I’d switched to DeeDee, the nickname two generations of small family members have always called me.
The good news is that you have some time—the baby isn’t going to connect you to your name for many months after his or her birth. Not to mention the fact that no matter what you decide on, there is a strong possibility that the child will mangle it into something far from what you planned. But in case you, like me, need some help choosing a name, here is as comprehensive a list as I could compile. I didn't include traditional names from other cultures, since you already know what they are if you're following your culture's traditions. I did, however, include some of the bizarre and unsettling, in case that’s what you are looking for:
Do you know anyone with a truly outrageous grandmother name? Please share it with us in the comments!