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!
When my son was 8 months old, we drove across the country on our way to my husband’s new job. We stayed with various friends and relations all along the way, setting up a portable crib in one guest room after another. When it was mealtime, we had a plastic milkcrate that we plopped the baby into, a strange but effective substitute for a highchair. Since we were traveling by car, it wasn’t hard to carry along all the things we needed. But it’s not always that easy.
Whether your grandchildren come to visit every day or but once a year, there are things you’ll want to have at your house to simplify visits for everyone. For babies and toddlers, a safe place to sleep and somewhere to sit during meals are both worth the investment. Portable cribs are relatively inexpensive when new, and can often be found at consignment stores specializing in children’s clothes and equipment.* Fold-up highchairs are easy to stash in a closet or basement when they aren’t needed, and invaluable when they are. (We've been really happy with the uber cheap Cosco Simple Fold High Chair.)
If your grandchild and her parents are arriving by plane, having a carseat already installed when you pick them up at the airport will earn you gold stars. Just make sure you’ve checked with the parents to confirm you get the right kind, and read the directions carefully to ensure you install it correctly. If you want to buy one, there are safe options available at all price points. If you don’t think the investment makes sense, ask around to see if a neighbor or friend has one you can borrow for the duration of the visit. I posted a request to my small circle on Facebook before my grandchildren’s first visit and had three offers within an hour!
*Whenever you buy something used, be sure to check for recalls on the manufacturer’s website or with the Consumer Product Safety Commission. It is not recommended that you buy used car seats, as there is no way of knowing whether they’ve been compromised in a previous accident.
Do you want to be the grandfather wrestling with your grandkids, or the one who can’t lift them because of a bad back? Do you want to watch them play superheroes, or help them vanquish the bad guys? How many years of your grandchild’s life do you hope to be around for? If you haven’t been motivated to take good care of yourself, perhaps being a grandparent is the inspiration you need. Would you take up exercise to squeeze out a few extra years?
I’ve always hated exercise. That endorphin rush that you read about has never happened for me, and the only physical exertion I’ve ever actually enjoyed is kayaking in still waters. Which, since I don’t live near still waters, is not something I can pursue as a regular workout. I was lucky: my genetics meant that even without a vigorous exercise program, I stayed healthy and strong for the first fifty years of my life.
Eventually, however, my excellent genes began to age. I found myself having trouble lifting my suitcase into the overhead bin. I got stiff if I sat on the floor too long. And then my grandson arrived. I realized that to be part of his world I would need to be able to carry 30 pounds and spend long stretches sitting on the concrete with a fat piece of chalk in my hand. And I joined a gym for the first time in my life.
Pilates, yoga, weight training: these are all excellent ways for older adults to keep fit enough to play like a toddler. The average age that someone becomes a grandparent today is 50, hardly a senior citizen. No matter what your age, though, staying in shape is a powerful gift to your grandchildren. Getting down on the floor allows you to see the world from their vantage point and be a part of their world. Being able to get up again without difficulty is a bonus!
The day that Apple announced FaceTime, I felt giddy. The Future, which held so many crazy possibilities, was soon going to be my pocket. Of all the things I imagined using it for, I failed to see it as a chance to read stories to my grandson even when we are hundreds of miles apart.
We FaceTime several times a week, but my favorite days are when he shouts, “Read me a story!” I’ll go up to the book shelf where we keep the children’s books, and he’ll request one of his favorites. Turning the camera lens so he can see the book instead of me, I’ll read. Though I miss out on getting to snuggle him on my lap while we read, I instead get to watch his face. I get to see him as he worries whether the baby bird will find his mother or smiles when Davy finds his lost bunny. Just as if we were together, he finishes lines he knows by heart. And each time I say, “The END!”, he says the same four words: “Read me another one!”
Not only do we get to enjoy story time together, but it gives his mother a chance to focus on his sister, or get dinner started without simultaneously wrangling two toddlers. And it makes it all the sweeter when we are together, and I get to read the stories and snuggle at the same time.