With Grandparents Day right around the corner on Sunday, Sept. 13, it’s a great time to reflect on the special role that grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren. The relationship that you have with your grandchild(ren) can be one that is fulfilling and rewarding for both you and your loved ones. A few considerations can help you make the most out of your relationship with your grandchild:
It’s all about healthy boundaries. While being a grandparent is often about fun and games, it is important to focus on making sure your needs are met, too. Without good boundaries between you and your grandchild’s parents, you can set yourself up for burnout or feelings of frustration. It can be easy to feel pressured into babysitting more often or spending more money than you can afford on gifts for your grandchildren.
To avoid this, be clear about the amount of time and money you can spend on your grandchild without compromising your own well being. Find new and creative ways to express your love without going overboard. Your grandchildren will remember positive memories more than extravagant gifts.
A few rules go a long way. While we all like to say that “there are no rules at grandma’s house,” having a few solid rules in place will help you and your grandchild maintain a healthy relationship. While you may not always agree with the rules that are in place in their home, negotiate with your grandchild’s parents around home rules that absolutely need to be enforced while he or she is with you.
Likewise, let your grandchildren and their parents know upfront what rules you expect them to follow while they are with you. Discuss how discipline will be handled ahead of any visits you have with your grandchildren.
Don’t compete with other grandparents for the top spot as the “best grandma/grandpa.” It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself with other grandparents. Instead, identify your personal strengths and interests and celebrate what you have to offer your grandchild in the way of experiences, time and support.
Think of unique experiences that you can offer your grandchild that they may not get elsewhere, for example, learning to fly fish, going yard-saling, learning how to bake from scratch, learning a new craft, learning how to play cribbage, etc. Many young people today lack the opportunities to have these experiences. Likewise, ask your grandchild to teach you something new. This will boost their confidence and help them find their own strengths.
Maintaining contact. Today more and more family members live great distances away from one another. In the busy world we live in, it can be difficult to maintain direct contact with grandchildren.
In some cases, you can foster a special relationship from a distance through phone calls, Skyping, Facebook and letters. If you need technical assistance, check with your local senior college or adult education provider. Many offer classes on using technology like Facebook and Skype.
For example, Maranacook Adult Education is running a two-week “Facebook for Grandparents” course starting Oct. 8, and Merrymeeting Adult Education has a “Facebook for Seniors” course starting on Oct. 19.
Regardless of the method you use to communicate, consider setting a time each week when you will call, chat or e-mail your grandchild. Maintaining consistent and ongoing contact can be difficult, so setting a goal like seeing your grandchild once a month or writing every few weeks will help to create a sense of consistency when you are far away.
Consider giving a special book for your grandchild that helps to remind them of you and the special connection you share, perhaps a book that you enjoyed as a child. Generations United has created a list of children’s books that have positive aging and grandparenting themes that can offer a good starting point for keeping your connection with one another when you cannot be together.
The best route to maintaining a relationship with a grandchild is to work with the child’s parents/guardians for visitation and contact. Unfortunately, in some instances a grandparent may need to take legal steps to maintain or re-establish a relationship with his or her grandchild.
Grandparents are not guaranteed the right to visitation and there are several legal tests that must be met before courts will step in on a grandparent’s behalf. Legal help is available to help you sort out your legal rights as a grandparent. Both Pine Tree Legal and Legal Services for the Elderly have information on grandparent visitation rights that may be of assistance.
The best things in life are free. It is important to remember that the most important gifts you can give your grandchild don’t cost anything. Lend an open ear, and simply be someone who listens and offers acceptance. Help your grandchildren to explore what they do well. Encourage them. Pass down stories. These are all things that don’t cost a thing but can mean the world to a child.
Grandparents can help their grandchildren to slow down and find a safe haven from the whirlwind of life and technology that surrounds them. This is an important role that is needed now more than ever.
For more tips, visit AARP’s “5 Don’ts of Grandparenting.”
You don’t have to be a grandparent to support and nurture a child. There are great programs that are looking for individuals who can share their time and interests with a child. Two such programs include the Foster Grandparents Program, which pairs adults 55 and older with children in need of extra time, attention and support. Big Brothers and Big Sisters provides community and school-based mentoring to at-risk youth.
Jennifer Crittenden is the assistant director at the UMaine Center on Aging where she helps to develop and implement research, training and service initiatives that address Maine’s most pressing aging-related issues.