It was ten years ago that I walked through an elementary school hallway with my granddaughter, Tabatha, a first-grader. As we were walking, she spied a girl twice her size, walking towards us, deep in thought. Tabatha darted through the oncoming traffic to deliver a big hug, exclaiming, “My reading buddy!”. I heard her fourth grade partner’s lips murmur, “If it isn’t the little girl with the big heart.” This same granddaughter called me yesterday to chat about after-school activities she’d learned about on her first day in a new town, at a new school, in tenth grade, hundreds of miles away from me. I don’t get to see her every day anymore. That doesn’t mean we don’t keep in touch, though. A few weeks ago, one of her close friends asked, “How often do you talk with your grandpa?” after witnessing three phone calls within a few hours. Tabatha’s reply? “Pretty much every day!”.
So the question comes to mind, why am I so blessed? For those of us who are lucky enough to be involved in the daily chores of being with grandchildren, I often think about how it is different from my own child-rearing days.
Time: Make it count.
It takes time to be a grandparent, with quality being more important than the quantity. An hour here. An afternoon there. A whole day sometimes. An early morning when they sleep over. You’ll get back that time with hugs, kisses, and conversations. Sometimes you get it back the same day, maybe you get it back years later.
It’s not a whole lot different from when you raised your own kids. You’re not a lot wiser. Maybe a little. Maybe you’re less worried and a little more settled. What you may have more of than when you were younger is time. For the first four years of my eldest granddaughter’s school life, my job gave me more flexibility than my daughter’s, so I got to do the pick-ups. It was Grandpa picking her up at the end of each day, taking her home for snack and the evening routine. Nothing elaborate. Just the daily ebb and flow. If the stars align and you do live nearby and can see the kids every day, the dividends will compound exponentially. If you’re not nearby, but can still see the kids on a regular basis by computer, video, or regular old telephone, those same dividends will grow. You’ll be more likely to get invited into the daily humdrum stuff that is so intimate and heart-warming…the skinned knee, the new friend, the latest movie, the history test, the math problem…the list goes on.
Whatever time you do have, spend some of it with your grandchildren. Listen to their stories, take a walk in the park, look at the rain drops in the puddle, or share an ice cream cone together. Be intentional and be present with the moments you are sharing. Make it count.
Boundaries: Be respectful.
Boundaries are important, and probably new. You spent decades raising your kids and by this time, you might feel you know it all. It may seem strange to abide by your kids’ rules, especially if they aren’t the same as yours. Early on, my wife advised me that boundaries are key to the parent-grandparent partnership. There is clearly more than one way to put a child to bed, feed her, teach her to read, help her share with her siblings and friends, etc. This time around, your grown children’s rules are the law. If they ask you for your thoughts, go for it. If they don’t, silence is usually better than unsolicited advice. Tact and respect go a long way. When in doubt, ask the parents.
Humility: We’re never too old to learn from our grandchildren.
If there’s one thing I know better as a grandparent than I did as a parent – other than that my bones ache a lot more – it’s that I’m not nearly as smart as I once thought I was. While that in itself is wisdom (though only recently acquired), I notice it still doesn’t translate to best practices in child rearing. When my three year old granddaughter tries to crush her one year old sister, I still find myself hollering, “Don’t squeeze your sister!”, rather than wisely (and quietly) modelling compassionate behavior with some logical consequences, as my wife has so frequently demonstrated. I’m not the gifted teacher who has seventeen different ways to keep toddlers busy or who can inspire her students to study when they don’t want to. If that wasn’t clear to me thirty years ago, it certainly is now. Now I often say, “I don’t know.” and I just listen more. And for whatever reason, the grandkids like to see me. Humility helps. If you respect boundaries, you’re already on board with your grandchildren’s parents. But humility is especially cool with the grandkids. The kids love honesty. I think they like to hug it. So when they say, “Don’t be mean, Grandpa.” when I snap at them for some reason clear as day to me and no one else, it makes me laugh in a way I don’t remember doing thirty years ago when my own children were kids. The little ones see life simply and clearly, with none of the subterfuge or nuances that arrive with age. If they detect a harsh tone of voice, and they know you love them, they’ll speak right up, look at you quizzically, and still curl up in your arms afterwards. It’s really quite delicious.
The way I see it, there are many ways to be a grandparent. Whether you live down the street, across the state, across the country, or even across the world. Some of us are grandparents who like to get down on the floor with a child, sing songs, and help with homework, while others revel in hearing stories about how the grandkids are growing. We can love our grandkids and show that affection in different ways.
Time, boundaries, humility, and love…. bring them to your grandchildren and enjoy.
About the Author
Chris LeeKeenan is a retired computer programmer, political junkie, and enjoys music, carpentry, biking, hiking, and traveling. He is also an active grandparent, recently moving to Seattle to help care for his 2 granddaughters ages 1 and 3, and face-timing daily with his teen granddaughter in California.