Creating a bond now will help you connect to teenage grandchildren later.
Do you remember that feeling when you first held your grandchild? That physical rush of connection with this baby that you were just handed?
My oldest grandson is 4. Yet I first felt that rush of emotion 14 years ago, when I held my niece JP.
She wasn’t my first niece or nephew—not by a long shot—but she was my youngest sister’s first child. That sister was born when I was 15, and she was very much my first baby. So when her child was placed in my arms, it felt like a miracle. I felt an instant connection that I hadn’t felt with any of my other siblings’ children. And though I’m incredibly fond of all of my nieces and nephews, there is still something special about JP.
Now JP is 14, and we don’t see each other often. But she’s recently gotten an Instagram account, and I can see what she is doing and thinking regularly. And I can see, that as a teenager, she still needs adults in her life to help her process the world. Her parents are doing a great job of guiding her, but it’s going to get harder and harder for them as she gets older. And that’s when grandparents (or aunts!) can be the adults she needs.
A Secret Weapon for Connection with Your Grandkids
Did you read about my grandparenting vision statement? One of my core beliefs is that my purpose is to teach my grandchildren to explore the world. This can be hard as a long-distance grandparent, especially during a pandemic. I’d love to regularly take them on trips around their town—or mine (or anyone’s really!). I’d like to point out the constellations, show them the difference between a lake and an ocean, and tell them about all the places we’ve lived. I wish we could sit down with maps and make plans for where to explore next. Unfortunately, that’s not something that can happen as regularly as I’d like.
So recently, I sent a box full of ways for them to plan and explore the world from their house. How will this foster connection? Knowing where you are in the world, and where the people you love are, helps make sense of the universe. It creates a framework for conversations, and a springboard for future plans. Plus, it shows them that I value exploration, while giving them something new to learn and do!
Here’s what I included:
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I also sent maps: this set of United States, world and solar system maps, and a local street map of their city so they could find where they lived. They were a big hit, as was this compass!
And finally, I sent materials to make their own maps: some graph paper and colored pencils. My grandson worked hard on his map of his house and yard, but you'll have to follow me on Instagram to see the exciting backyard he designed!
A strong relationship with your grandchildren deserves thoughtful planning.
As I shared in the January newsletter, having a grandparent vision statement allows us to commit to the relationship with our grandchildren in an intentional, meaningful way. It reminds us of what we really hold important, and acts as a starting point for creating the relationship we want. It allows us to move past the idea of “spoiling” our grandchildren to a place of true connection.
Over the last couple of weeks, I shared some tips on how to write your vision statement and talked about the importance of sharing it with your grandchildren’s parents. Now I want to talk about how to actually achieve the goals you set in your vision. As Antoine de Saint Exupery said, “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” It’s time to make that plan.
How to plan for a glorious grandparent journey
Have you ever planned a vacation?
Whether you are the type of person who likes to map out your days in detail, or prefer a loose itinerary with plenty of room for improvisation, you still need to decide a couple of things in advance: where you are going and how you are going to get there. Without those crucial bits of planning, you run the risk of never getting anywhere worthwhile.
Your journey as a grandparent is no different. Sure, you can just ride along and see where it takes you, but if you truly want to foster a strong, lasting bond with your grandchildren, it takes planning and preparation. Neither of these things is hard, especially when the result is so rewarding.
What does planning for your grandparent journey look like? It starts with a vision statement. This affirmation should describe how you hope to impact your grandchildren and family. Think of it as a way to write out your goals and hopes for the kind of grandparent you want to be. The business world has some guidelines about the proper form and wording, (one of my communications clients spent weeks fighting amongst themselves over whether or not a vision statement had to start with the word “to”), but your grandparent vision statement can take any form that feels right to you. Aim for short, simple, and specific, but don’t get bogged down trying to make it beautiful.
Family traditions are important--and can teach your grandchildren valuable lessons.
When our children were small, we saved our spare change all year long in a special jar. Every December, we’d count and roll the coins, then take the kids to the toy store. There, they’d each get to choose what to buy with their share of the money we’d collected. Their decisions were never easy—they each thought long and hard about what they might want if they only got one toy for Christmas.
After everyone had figured out how to spend their allotment, we’d take our toys to the checkout stand. Every year, a surprised cashier always happily took our payment despite it being entirely in change.
The final step was letting each child put the new toys they had selected in the box for Toys for Tots. Granted, the year my youngest was not quite two, she had to be coerced to give up the baby doll she had chosen! I still have a very clear mental image of the longing look on her face as we walked away from the donation box.
Books are a powerful way to build bonds, but there's more to it than just sharing your favorites.
Reading is one of the main ways I connect with my grandchildren. They sit enthralled through as many stories as I’m willing to read. As someone who loves books unreservedly, I’m usually good for at least three or four a day via FaceTime, or more if we are together. We’ve got a pretty extensive library at home, which keeps things fresh. (Not that it matters—I could read the same book 10 times over and the two-year-old would still say, “Read it again!” when I was through.)
Lately, I’ve been choosing the books more thoughtfully. Instead of just choosing a few favorites, I find three or four with a common element, and ask the four-year-old to guess what that element is. One day I read Big Dog and Little Dog Going for a Walk followed by McDuff and the Baby. My grandson quickly guessed that the theme of the day was dogs. I pushed him a little further by asking him what he thought I might read next. He thought a moment and then shouted “Go Dog Go!” He was right. Another day it was Green Eggs and Ham followed by I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Pie. This was a little more abstract, but he still guessed correctly that we were reading books about eating. We followed up with The Little Red Hen Makes a Pizza.
I love this opportunity to use books to help them develop early critical thinking skills and to learn to make connections. As they get older, books will be a bridge for far more. Through the books we read, we can share our values, teach them about the culture of their ancestors and introduce them to new interests. By engaging our grandchildren through reading, we can spark their curiosity and learn more about each other. Along the way, we are deepening the bonds we have with them. Reading is a powerful way to connect.
If you believe in that power, I’m excited to share a new resource with you, Reading for Connection. This inexpensive eBook will be filled with ideas for how to engage children of all ages through reading, activities for both in-person and virtual story dates, recommended book lists and so much more. It will be available soon in collaboration with The Long Distance Grandparent, and we can’t wait to get it in your hands! Join the waiting list now so you’ll know as soon as it is published.
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How Reading Helps Children’s Development
Among the many, many children’s books in my house, there are several that have an inscription from my grandparents and a sticker from Vroman’s, the bookstore where they shopped their entire lives. There is no doubt in my mind that these gifts from my grandparents contributed to my love of reading.
My grandparents were not unique in sharing their love of books with their grandchildren: many of us do the same. And with good reason—books are an easy and meaningful way to connect generations. Whether they are asking us to read their favorite story, or we are sharing a book that their mother loved as a child, we are weaving connections to one another.
But do you know just how much sharing books with your grandchildren helps them? Reading boosts children’s development in a multitude of ways.
Grandparents Can Be the Superheroes This Halloween
What will Halloween look like for your grandchildren this year? Because of Covid, Halloween parties are out, and trick-or-treating is being discouraged in many communities. There are a lot of little ghosts and goblins that are going to be disappointed this year—unless someone comes to the rescue!
Grandparents, here’s your chance! Why not start a new family Halloween tradition with one of the following ideas?