At holiday time, the role of grandmother can be most rewarding, especially if you and you grandchild spend some of the holiday together. While buying and giving presents is important, the most significant gift you can give your grandchild is your presence, attention and love. And you know the best gift you can receive back is a great big hug.
‘Grand Mothers’ come in all sizes and shapes, as well as names – Grandma, Nana, Bubbe, Granny, or whatever special name your grandkids have for you. Grandchildren may live near or far; be in preschool, grade school, college or beyond; from intact or blended families. What grandmothers share in common is a deep desire to maintain a loving bond with their grandchildren. Here are some tips for creating enriched relationships:
1. When your grandchildren live far away, the most salient issue is developing connections. You probably don’t have the opportunity to see them more than every few months, particularly in this economy. You will likely need to enlist the aid of your adult children to help you form the bonds between you and their kids. How you connect will change as they grow and will certainly flow from your own interests and creative talents. Whatever you choose, your efforts will be well worth it when you see how excited they get when you visit.
2. When your grandkids are babies, help them develop a full impression of you. You can best do this by using all the sensations that babies respond to. Let them begin to identify your voice by cooing to them on the phone or sending them tapes or CD’s with you singing, reading or speaking to them. They can begin to recognize your face from pictures of you in their room or on the computer via iChat or Skype. Have a special song or book that you share with them as you cuddle on each visit. Wear the same perfume – or even a dab of vanilla – whenever you visit so that they learn to associate that with you.
3. Even if you can’t spend the holidays together, continue to use phone calls, letters, cards, iChat, Skype and emails to stay in touch. After a visit, you can create a scrapbook for them of pictures and souvenirs from your time together. Their memories of you will be enhanced when they have something tangible to look at and savor over and over again. You can write them stories or poems about what you do together, with them as the star of the piece.
4. Learn about your grandchildren’s activities and interests so you can engage with them about topics that mean a lot to them. Pay attention to their friends when you go to their birthday parties, sports events or special occasions – then you can ask about them later when you have returned home. Integrate what you find out and keep up with their changing activities. All of your efforts will help cement the connections between you.
5. When your grandkids live nearby, enjoy being an integral part of their lives. You likely have the chance to spend time with them weekly, participate in significant events and learn first-hand about their latest interests and achievements. The main concern then becomes boundaries – on all sides. It’s vital for you not to undermine your adult children’s authority, even if you pitch in to help with child-care. And it’s just as imperative for you to retain your own personal identity and not become submerged in the role of grandmother only. You’ll enjoy the relationship more when you also have some separation from it.
6. When you are part of the special kind of non-traditional grandmothering that is becoming more common today, flexibility is the key. If you son or daughter has divorced, you might lose some contact with your grandchild, especially if the situation between the parents is strained. You may need to maintain a relationship with your child’s ex in order to spend time with your grandkids – it helps to discuss this with your own child, as this can be a touchy subject. Your time with the grandkids is likely determined by which parent has them that day, not when you want to see them. So you’ll need to be flexible in your planning. Divorce is difficult for everyone and your grandkids may blame themselves and act out behaviorally, making it difficult for you to manage them. Or they may withdraw from you, afraid that you will leave too. Help them adapt by accepting their feelings. Avoid criticizing either parent to your grandkids so they don’t feel their loyalty is being tested when they are with you.
7. Patience is called for if you become a step-grandmother. You will need to give your new grandchildren time to accept you, so begin slowly. They probably have relationships – and holiday rituals – with their birth grandparents so don’t try to rush them into considering you in the same way. Let them know that you are not trying to take the place of their other grandparents, but only adding to their circle of caring adults. Learn about them – their early years, their interests and talents, their personalities. Keep your expectations realistic as you build a relationship that leads to love between you.
The unifying concept for good grandmothering is respect – for your children, their partners, your grandkids – and for yourself. Show that you appreciate and value each individual’s needs and rights – especially at holiday time. When you do that, you set the stage for building strong bonds between everyone in the family all through the year.
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