You can’t walk around a craft store without seeing one of those plaques, framed pictures or cross-stitched designs -- those sayings that sit on mantles, hang above fireplaces and are stuck to car bumpers:
“There’s no place like home -- except grandma’s... The best place to be when you’re sad is Grandpa’s lap... Grandma serves kisses, counsel, and cookies daily.”
Gramps, Grandpa, Papa. Grammie, Grandma, Grams. Whatever you call grandparents, they are the people who often make a big difference in the lives of their grandchildren. Here are five ways grandparents help the next generation -- without even getting out of their chairs (now that’s a real super power)!
To kids, grandparents are old. But because of their age leverage, grandparents become living proof to their grandkids that trials can be overcome. Grandparents have the scars, sometimes both literally and figuratively, and they’ve got the stories. In a world of video games, kids view anything that has a long life as pretty awesome.
Tips for grandparents: You’ve lived life, and you’ve got the metaphoric T-shirt for so many of life’s experiences. Consider sharing your life stories with your grandkids. Think back to when you were a kid. Share the stories that relate to your grandchild in areas such as: being picked on, being treated unfairly by an adult, dating and maybe even how you waved your flag of independence as a kid. What you say to your grandkids is important.
Because grandparents are not the parents (in most situations), they can often say things to kids with more neutrality than parents can. When grandparents ask about school, kids may be more likely to talk and share. When kids don’t want to do something (like homework or going to Uncle John’s for Thanksgiving), they may not want to tell their parents for fear they’ll get into trouble or cause disappointment.
Tips for grandparents: Talk to your grandkids. Ask them what’s hard in their lives right now. Practice your best poker-face and listen. When you’ve listened, give your two cents, because at the end of the day, you won’t have to live with a brooding grandchild (they’ll eventually go home). Your grandkids may even listen to you more than they would their own parents.
Kids find strength when they feel connected to family. Why not add power to those roots by sharing what it was like for you “back in the day?”
Tips for grandparents: Connect your grandkids to something bigger than their own lives. Begin a practice of storytelling, sharing family lore and, hopefully, spilling the beans with funny stories about parents.
When grandparents have surgeries, ailments and illnesses, their limitations can often help teach their grandchildren important lessons. Grandkids can learn about aging, physical limitations and that ever-present life theme of loss. Encourage kids to serve in a way that teaches them to look out for others and be kind.
Tips for grandparents: Even though it’s hard to ask for help, be open to this, especially with grandkids. With young grandkids, ask them to draw pictures for you, get you your slippers or pick up your magazine. For older kids or teens, ask them to help you get your jacket on, make meals for you or even drive you to appointments. They can even move furniture, give computer help, prune trees or whatever is needed. This process will help your grandkids to feel their own strength and power.
Funny phrases from grandparents are endearing (and hopefully enduring)! Being able to laugh at mistakes is charming. Be sure to show the comedic side to life. Show your grandkids that, although there are times that life feels like a drama mini-series, the right perspective can bring a bit of humor.
Tips for grandparents: Make sure your humor is not at the expense of your grandchild. Laughing at ourselves and at our own mistakes is great. Find books, a comic or stories that might make your grandkids laugh at life’s absurdities.
When all is said and done, just having a grandparent not only helps grandkids, but grandparents help parents to not feel so alone. Parenting is hard, and it’s nice to have a cheering squad made up of people who have actually been players on the field of parenting. When words don’t seem to help you connect with your grandkids, sit back and let your grandkids help you with one of those cross-stitches that eulogizes the “grandness” of being a grandparent.
(Heather Merrill is a single mom, writer and eyewitness to preschooler debacles.)