But, in truth, grandparents face some of the very same challenges that occur in other relationships. It can be hard to develop a bond and to be OK with who you are in that role.
Fay A. Klingler, author of The LDS Grandparents’ Idea Book, shares ways to help you find and appreciate your own, authentic grandparent style.
Do you have happy memories of your grandparents, or did you feel neglected and overlooked? If your answer is “yes” to happy memories, as you approach grandparenthood, you may want to purposely incorporate into your grandparenting style some of those things you remember your grandparents doing. On the other hand, if your answer is “yes” to being neglected, you’ll want to make a point of doing things that could facilitate a happier bond with your grandchildren.
Perhaps you noticed with particular attention certain things your parents did, bringing joy to your children. Or maybe you had a loving, older neighbor who endeared herself to them. Through life’s experiences, and as you watch other people, you begin to have an idea of the type of grandparent you want to be, but how do you go about finding and appreciating your own authentic style?
Here are some questions you might ask yourself to determine your style.
1. What is your goal as a grandparent? What do you hope your grandchildren will feel from your relationship—safety, love, acceptance?
2. What have you seen others do that you want to incorporate into your grandparenting style, not because of peer pressure, but because you like and are comfortable with what they do?
3. How much time, money, or other resources are you willing to give to grandparenting?
4. Is there something particular you hope to teach or share with your grandchildren?
What is your goal as a grandparent?
Acting on your answer to this question provides a foundation or a basis for answering all the other questions. I’m sure I’m like you—I want to be loved by my grandchildren and I want them to feel my love. But perhaps you have something more specific you’re after. . . .
What have you seen others do that you want to incorporate into your grandparenting style?
Some grandparents hate to plan ahead and prefer spontaneous interaction with their family, while others are structured and feel more at ease with calendared get-togethers. What are you more comfortable with?
My friend Christine is the spontaneous type. When I consider all the planning I go to for family gatherings, her grandparenting style seems wonderfully relaxed. At times I wish I could be more like her. But when I look at my answer for question one and realize how busy I am, I see no other way for me to accomplish my goal than to organize my time to make sure certain things happen. I realize planning and organizing comes naturally to me. Planning and organizing feels awkward to Christine. We are unique individuals, both very involved with our grandchildren. We can fulfill the same goal in two different ways. There is not just one right way to be a grandparent.
You can get specific ideas of things to do with grandchildren from other grandparents. You can even learn to change your mannerisms and behavior, but always look to your answer to question one and remember grandparenting is not a competition. Grandparenting is being yourself—sincere and genuine.
Too often we unfairly compare ourselves to others, feeling badly we can’t do what they do because we don’t have as much money, as much time, as much patience, as much energy, etc. But if you look with an open mind at those things you’d like to do that you’ve seen others do, you can find options to work around most stumbling blocks. Oh, the event may not be on the same scale or may not look the same when finished, but if it accomplishes your goal—your answer to question one—it’s still perfect and right.
How much time, money, or other resources are you willing to give to grandparenting?
If your grandchildren live with you, your grandparenting style will be different than the grandparent whose grandchildren live in another state. You may have to be imminently available while the other grandparent fulfills her or his goal by sending letters, pictures, or small gifts through the mail. Even if you live in the same house with your grandchildren, however, you can still send e-cards or place notes of encouragement on the grandchild’s bedroom pillow.
Hugs don’t cost money, unless you have to travel somewhere to give them! Options again . . . how about a phone call hug?
Is there something particular you hope to teach or share with your grandchildren?
My grandparents taught me their values by the way they lived. They shared their passion for family get-togethers, good food, and music by inviting our family to dinners and singing around the piano. My mother and father continued that legacy. They taught their grandchildren integrity while playing card games, work ethic while encouraging tasks be completed, and having fun while waiting when you didn’t want to wait by singing fun songs. Sometimes I sing those same endearing songs to my grandchildren in hopes that they will love them too.
Your genuineness shines when you share your passions with your grandchildren. They easily sense your excitement and joy.
Perhaps you have a passion for woodworking. You could build something for a grandchild. Or better yet, you could have the grandchild come to your home and be with you while you build something for him or her. He or she could help you construct it, stain it, or paint it, and then take it home.
Perhaps your passion is reading. Here’s an idea from The LDS Grandparents’ Idea Book (page 77). “We came up with a simple way to maintain a relationship with our grandchildren. They live a long distance from us, but here is something grandparents who only live across town might also do.
“We go to our local bookstore and buy two identical easy-to-read, children’s books. We give one to the grandchildren and keep the other. Then we designate one night a week to call our grandchildren on the telephone and read to them. The grandchildren can read along with us because they have the same book.”
I love outdoor work, planning parties, being with my grandchildren at their functions, and sewing. I build opportunities to bond with my grandchildren around my passions.
Recently, we needed our backyard deck sanded for painting. I invited my grandson to help. When the work was done, we had dinner together. I enjoy having my grandchildren work with me.
I can come up with a lot more ideas for family parties than we have time to do. But I try to follow through with something that brings our family together at least once a month. This month we’ll have our annual trick-or-treat party. The parents bring enough treats for every child attending. The treats aren’t necessarily Halloween candies. They might be notepads with pencils or simple dollar-store toys. Most of the rooms in the house are used. The parents, in their costumes, are stationed in rooms with their treats. Some years, the parents have
decorated the rooms, or at least the doors, where they were stationed. One year, a daughter and her husband even brought their fake smoke machine and turned their room (and as it turned out, the whole basement) into a spook alley. The children, in their costumes, go from room to room to trick-or-treat.
Last month we were invited to our granddaughters’ kindergarten class for the school’s “Grandparent Day.” My husband and I read a book to our granddaughter, saw her school work hanging in the classroom, and met her teacher. I love to see the grandchildren’s faces when their grandpa and I attend their functions. I know our being there makes them feel special, but it also makes me feel loved and appreciated because I always get a hug and a special smile.
My love for sewing and creating things with and for my grandchildren has taken on a different look every year. Last year I tried to make something the children could wear. I made dresses for three of my granddaughters. (This is where the girls are on stage.) I made them a little large so they would be able to wear them more than a few months! This year, I decided to make television pillows for every grandchild. That was a bit of an endeavor, seeing as how I have 31 grandchildren. Each pillow had an embroidered image on it that the child requested or that I felt fit his or her interests. Yesterday I got a special e-mail thank you from one of our older granddaughters. Sharing my passion for sewing offers opportunities for me to connect with each of my grandchildren through the year.
Grandchildren have an uncanny sense about them. They know when you’re doing something you’re uncomfortable with, when you aren’t being yourself or authentic. And they can truly feel when you are authentic—when your love and passion shines through what you do.
It’s true—some of your grandchildren will be more appreciative of the things you do than others. But in the long run, when you, in your own way, do what you do best, that is to share your time, passion, and love with your grandchild, he or she will be positively influenced for a lifetime, and you? You will feel immeasurable joy!
Fay A. Klingler appears as a guest speaker on radio and television shows across the nation and offers unfailing advice to seminar participants. Her expertise ranges from betrayal recovery to blending families and successful grandparenting. Her bestselling book The LDS Grandparents’ Idea Book includes over 400 ideas of things to do with grandchildren. Fay and her husband, Larry, have twelve children and thirty-one grandchildren in their blended family.