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.
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.
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Shortly before my first grandchild was born, I went to a funeral for a man I had only known professionally. He was a retired Episcopal priest, so his service was filled with solemn ceremony. Despite all the splendor of the rituals, the memorable moment was when three of his teenaged grandchildren got up to speak about him.
One talked about Grandpa picking her up from middle school every day, and how on Wednesdays they’d go to 7-11 and she could pick out any treat she wanted. Another talked about how Grandpa Al would sometimes stop by their house when he was out for a walk, just to say hello and get a drink of water. Another said he was pretty sure his grandfather had made it to every baseball game and soccer match he’d ever played in. Their love for him cascaded through the stories they told.
This, I knew, was the relationship I wanted with my own grandchildren: One that was based on simply being a regular, dependable part of their lives. One that would have them telling simple, heartfelt stories about me someday. Even when they are teenagers!
It’s not any easy thing to do when your grandchildren live in a different state or you have a rocky relationship with your own children, but those barriers are not insurmountable. If being a grandparent is important to you, find ways to be present in their lives in small ways. I hope that this website will help you to do just that.