With the retirement of the Baby Boomer generation, more and more grandparents have time to spend with their kids and grandkids. The number of grandparents in the US has grown by 24 percent, and we are taking a bigger role in our grandkids’ lives.
Today there are an estimated 70 million grandparents in the U.S., with about 1.7 million new ones each year. We grandparents are younger, more active, digitally connected, and more affluent than in the past, giving us more time and the means to stay in touch with our kids and their families.
Surveys show that we love being grandparents – 72% say being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life. And 63% of us believe we can do a better job caring for our grandkids than we did with our own kids. Experience is a great teacher, and today’s grandparents have rich life experiences, perspectives, and skills to share.
Grandparenting is an honor and a responsibility that allows you to have a profound positive influence on young people as they grow and navigate their other relationships with parents, friends, and the world.
We can be an emotional rock, a wise friend, and a playful elder for our grandkids. We can be the go-to person when parents aren’t available, helping them navigate their relationships with their parents, their friends, and the world.
We get immeasurable gifts from spending time with our grandkids that go beyond those photos on our phones (and in our wallets and purses) that we love to share. Playing with grandkids keeps us feeling young. Laughing together helps keep us healthy, and the games, hugs, and fun we share help build closer relationships for a lifetime.
Some of us are fortunate enough to live near our grandchildren and may help our kids with childcare. Others live a plane flight or a long drive from kids and grandkids, and may only see them a few times a year. Although it’s more challenging to stay connected when you live far away, the special role you play is worth every bit of effort you put into staying in touch, and more.
Here are some things you can do to show your grandkids you love them, care about them and are there for them:
- Listen nonjudgmentally, rather than correcting or disputing their ideas. Sometimes you may have to play the role of disciplinarian. But when your grandkids share thoughts, ideas, and feelings, just listen, reflect, and ask questions. They may tell you things that they don’t feel like sharing with anyone else, including their parents.
- Share compassionately. Kids are naturally reluctant to be open about what is bothering them. If you ask them how they are doing, the response will almost always be “fine.” Before they will be open with you, you will need to earn their trust. One way to do that is to be open about your own vulnerabilities. Kids often worry about loneliness, fear, and failure. Sharing a story about how you went through something similar when you were growing up is a good place to start.
- Celebrate things they do well. Encourage your grandkids to share with you whatever it is they love to do. Praise them for good grades in school and acts of good citizenship with their friends and classmates. Encourage them to express their creativity. Try drawing pictures, writing stories, or putting on skits together. Be specific in praising the creative aspects that you thought they did well. And be sure you balance praise with the child’s level of achievement. Often I see young parents wanting to keep their children happy to the point they applaud and celebrate events, grades, or behavior that are undeserving. By praising your grandkids for specific accomplishments, you can help them understand the difference between recognition that is earned and hyperbole from a loving parent.
Find out what’s going on in your grandkids’ lives and encourage them. Support them by attending their sports, drama, dance, and other extracurricular events. If they need extra help with their homework, maybe you can help tutor them, or provide an extra pair of hands for their school projects. Brainstorm creative ideas together. Help them recognize and celebrate the infinite possibilities in their creativity.
At the same time, as a grandparent you can balance praise with the child’s level of achievement. Often I see young parents wanting to keep their children happy to the point they applaud and celebrate events, grades, behavior that is undeserving. Grandparents can help children understand the difference between recognition that is earned and hyperbole from a loving parent.
Taking my grandkids on fun outings is one of my favorite ways to spend time with them. After conferring secretly with their parents, I will pick them up early and take them out for a day of fun. We’ve gone kayaking, attended ballgames, and visited animal shelters and kids museums. Whatever you choose, it does not have to cost a lot of money. It could be something as simple as hiking, fishing, skating, or walking dogs together.
Our grandkids learn from us, and we learn from them. All it takes is spending time together, listening, and sharing experiences. There’s nothing more worthwhile and fulfilling you can do than be a part of your grandkids’ lives.
Children’s advocate and author Robert Martin writes books with his granddaughter Keira Ely, including the bestsellers “The Case of the Missing Crown Jewels,” and “SuperClara — a Young Girl’s Story of Cancer, Bravery and Courage.” Robert founded the nonprofit Bridge to a Cure Foundation to tear down the deadly barriers impeding the timely development of pediatric cancer treatments and cures. For additional tools, activities and resources to build closer relationships with between grandparents and grandkids, visit www.RobertMartinAuthor.com.
Children’s advocate and author Robert Martin writes books with his granddaughter Keira Ely, including the bestsellers “The Case of the Missing Crown Jewels,” and “SuperClara – a Young Girl’s Story of Cancer, Bravery and Courage.” Robert founded the nonprofit Bridge to a Cure Foundation to fund [...]