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.
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The anticipation is high: the grandchildren are coming to visit and your holiday celebration is going to be extra special. You’ve gotten the gifts, figured out where everyone will sleep, and planned out your menus. Too often though, the reality doesn’t match the celebration we’ve envisioned. The sabbath dinner is spoiled by a crying toddler, or the teenager is sullen because she hates pulp in her orange juice. While there’s not much that can be done about a sullen teenager, a conversation with your grandchildren’s parents can help to avoid some of the other holiday food landmines. Make sure to cover the following:
Ask for a grocery list so you have the right kinds of yogurt and snacks. Ask mom and dad if anything is off limits, and then respect their answer. While treats are expected at this time of year, make sure you are stocking up on healthy options that will keep everyone from going into a sugar meltdown. Have bowls of fruit and nuts more accessible than the cookies and candy. Do you have a nutcracker? A bowl of nuts to be shelled will be highly enticing!
Find out if there are any new dietary restrictions. Allergies may have been identified since their last visit, or their 10-year-old may have decided they are vegetarian. If you aren’t sure how to plan a meal around their needs, ask for advice on what to serve so everyone is happy. It doesn’t matter if you question the severity of the allergy or don’t think it’s healthy for a 10-year-old to follow a vegetarian diet: questioning their choices just creates tension you don’t need.
Get their input on meal times. If you usually serve Christmas dinner at 6, but the little ones are used to eating earlier or will be on a different time zone, plan to have an earlier kids’ meal of noodles or chicken fingers—something they love that is easy to produce while you are also preparing the main meal. Let go of the picture of everyone enjoying the roast and potatoes together—that will have to happen another year.
So many of our holiday memories are about the food, but it’s the people that are really important. Focusing on the people as you plan the food will make your holiday meals memorable for all the right reasons!
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.
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.