Aren't You Grand: Some Grand Ideas For Being A GREAT Grandparent
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By Mia Bolaris-Forget
So, Your Daughter/Son and her/his spouse are in the family way and you’ve been “promoted” to grandparent. Well, This Defining moment may require a new definition. Gone are the days that you became a grandparent simply by inheriting the “privileged” title bestowed upon you because your child has/ had a child (children) or is expecting.
Today’s new generation of moms and dads face greater daily living and work expectations, expect more from themselves and each other…and that also means they expect more from you. And, in this face-paced, demanding world, so do your grandchildren.
While you’ve no doubt been looking forward to this moment for most of your (child’s) adult life, it’s important to remember that to grandkids what may seem like quality time to you is nothing more than a family “obligation” to them. They surely love and respect you (and enjoy seeing you) but you may want to ask “do they ENJOY spending time with you”? According to the experts, the key to successful grandparenting is the same as the key to successful parenting, respect, admiration and the ability to bond with the younger generation. Besides love, affection and attention you should strive to meet their needs by being a cool, well-informed, “hip”, active, fun-loving grandparent they can learn from…and then they’ll more readily fulfill your need for more quality time, more often….plus you’ll be making them and YOUR kids real proud.
Some grand ideas for a grand relationship and a “grand-ole’” time:
1. Though you may assume your days of dressing for success are “over”, or intrinsic to the office…once again, think again. For children and young adults (who are often reluctant about their elders but “secretly” look to them for guidance, direction and to set a living example), visual stimulation and image are “MAJOR”, and “CRUCIAL”. Experts say don’t be fooled by your grandchild’s possible lack of style…they observe EVERYTHING around them, especially about you and judge you, the world, and base their opinions on what they see. In fact, they remember everything you wear and when you last wore it. If you look “un-cool”, you become a stereotype and an “embarrassment” for them; one they’d rather not associate with or be seen with (especially around their friends). Many modern-day grandparents ARE “unconventional”, forward-thinking, capable and contributing members of society that roll with and embrace the trends and the times. If you are NOT one of those you could be potentially be committing the ultimate grandparenting crime…not to mention alienating yourself from the people you love most….your grandkids. If you want them to think you are cool…you may just need an image adjustment. Ditch the elastic-waist polyester/spandex granny (stretch) pants the cardigan sweaters (except where appropriate), and the comfortable, “sensible” shoes. Consider jeans and a t-shirt or jeans, t-shirt and blazer. Most importantly experts stress NEVER wear the same outfit (same pants or sweater) two days in a row or the same outfit at ALL family gatherings and occasions. Also get rid of sleeveless undershirts, housedresses, knee-high socks/stockings, reading glasses on a chain, granny booties, and rain bonnets.
2. Learn their language of love. The best way to show kids you “understand” them is to literally learn to understand them. Remember, kids have a mind and a vocabulary of their own. In fact, a language all their own, intrinsic to their generation that only they can understand defines them and their perceived level of coolness. The more you know (about them and their generation) the “cooler” you are (to them and their friends). Terms like cool, hip, and rad have been replaced with terms like junk, phat and tight. Being able to effectively communicate with the grandkids means not only familiarizing yourself with their lingo but also being able to effectively use it in conversing (or should I say conversating to be generationally correct). Talking to the younger generation on their terms allows them to understand that you know exactly what they mean when they talk to you (or their friends) and that they can’t “deceive” you with unfamiliar terminology. Plus it gives you the opportunity to engage them in conversation and teach them some of your terms of endearment.
3. Get the facts…and nothing but the facts. Professionals remind grandparents that “name-dropping” is not only an adult phenomenon. Kids are very social and place great emphasis on association, especially those pertaining to them. The names of their school, teachers, friends, favorite stars, musicians, teams, books etc. are extremely important….and it’s even more important (for them) that you not only remember but actually know
about what makes them tick. Experts suggest writing down names, places, and events (if you think they may slip your mind). They also recommend actually watching some of the shows they are interested in (with them and on your own), as well as reading books of interest to them or with them and engaging them in conversation about the content and material. Ask about their friends, school progress, interests, likes and dislikes etc. Consider keeping up with the latest entertainment and sports news and issues affecting them as they grow and mature and nurture their interests. Think about calling your grandkids when their favorite celebrity, hero, or sports figure is on TV or scheduled to make a local appearance. Stay tuned for sporting events, concerts, movies, CD release etc. Most importantly, remember, staying “in the loop” makes you part of the “in-group”.
4. Pay attention. How many times have you gone to a birthday party or family gathering or celebration and positioned yourself among the “adults”, virtually “disregarding” and “neglecting” the kids, leaving them to enjoy the other kids around while you sat in a chair ensconced in the TV or bustlings around you and strategically planning your departure? NOT a good practice…at least not according to the experts. Kids need and thrive on attention, especially if they are (going out of their way) to pay a visit or if you are taking care of them for mom and dad. Experts emphasize that unless you serve as their principal caregiver, quality time is “limited”. Besides pushing “obligations” and “responsibilities” aside (which may not always be possible), professionals recommend prioritizing and including the youngsters in your daily activities and routines. Surely you may want to cancel your afternoon church Bingo bash for some playtime in the park or a shopping spree at the mall, but you may also consider making a game out of your chores, asking for their help (making them feel “grown-up” and responsible…and promising them something special when the chores are complete. Should you get unexpected (adult) visitors, think about keeping your time with them short and sweet…adult activities and conversation may “bore” grandkids and detract from quality bonding time. Or consider asking your friends to join you (and the grandkids) in doing something fun and exciting for the children…this way, everyone is having fun and is happy.
5. Always be glad to see them. While as adults we tend not to give children too much credit, especially regarding perception, they are actually very astute and observant….and just like you and I KNOW when they are welcome and wanted. Make yourself, your home and its appearance welcoming, safe and inviting. Be conscious of your demeanor, you body language and especially your conversation (even if you keep it to a low murmur…kids are more attentive and smarter than you think) with your spouse or friends. Avoid arguments, sensitive (adult) topics, harsh criticisms of the children, their parents, or even of others you know. Also be conscious of the language and words you choose (steer especially clear of profanity, including words like stupid, silly) or anything that can be misinterpreted or undermine good values and the child’s (limited) morality and stability. Be encouraging, positive and praising…that’s VERY COOL and comforting for grandkids AND their parents.
6. Exercise your authority by making exercise and activity a regular part of the daily routine (both yours and theirs). Besides keeping the kids physically busy will probably ultimately mean much needed rest and downtime for you and them. Being a grandparent also
means being a good sport. Remember, you are INFLUENICING a new generation… and taking care of the kids is NOT all about YOU. Even if YOU’RE favorite “activity” is inactivity (TV, reading the paper etc.) you have an “obligation” to rise (off the couch) and above your normal standard of living. Take the kids out for a walk, go fishing, bowling etc. You may even consider putting up a basketball hoop in your yard so you can enjoy having fun in the privacy and comforts of your own home. If you do take the kids out…ask (on occasion) if they have any friends they’d like to join them. Take older kids to play tennis, a canoe ride, boating, or down to the local YMCA or a gym YOU belong to and turn them on to lifelong health and good practices. Most importantly ALWAYS keep an eye on them and stay within your physical parameters and theirs.
7. Get out of town. If mom and dad are not stay- at- home parents why should you subject yourself and your grandkids to being a stay- at- home grandparent? Besides the gift of love and time, one of the greatest gifts and most unselfish gift you can give your grandchildren is broadening their mind, perspective, knowledge and experiences. Not only will you be spending quality time with them but also giving them a fun-filled education, and a new respect for their elders. Consider making visits with you an adventure, literally (especially if they are few and far between or frequent enough to “bore” them)….plus it’s a great way to give mom and dad a break and some quality time alone….a gift for the kids and grandkids. Teach them a bit of history by taking them to your birthplace and giving them a lesson on their ancestry and heritage. A trip to Disney is always nice (And don’t hesitate to get on the rides with them if you can). Consider combining activity and education by taking them skiing, horseback riding, camping, etc. especially to someplace historic. You may even want to invite mom and dad and make it a family affair and growing experience through the generations.
8. Nourish their body as well as their mind. Mealtime, especially with younger children can be a quite a “heated’ challenge. While the occasional “treat” is OK…make sure you consider and stay within the guideline and nutritional wishes of the parents. Also make sure you have enough of their favorite food(s) on hand to prevent any dining “disasters”. If you are going to prepare something (from scratch), keep in mind, that children’s taste buds are NOT as developed as yours and neither are their likings…so keep it relatively simple. If you plan on “spicing it up a bit” try to ask for their help in the preparation so you can familiarize them with new ingredients as well as tastes…and don’t be insulted if they don’t like what you do. If you want to go out or order in…remember to ask the kids for their suggestions…and depending on their age, try to accommodate their requests and recommendations.
9. Besides unforgettable days how about making some magically memorable memories at night. Kids are big on having friends over for sleepovers. Why not host one at your house. Maybe even consider inviting one or two of their friends over to join them (if possible and not too stressful). Indulge in yummy snacks, fun movies, listening to music (theirs, not yours) etc. You may even consider letting them stay up late (if it’s OK with mom and dad and won’t interfere with their normal sleep pattern or schedule). Most importantly give them the chance to have fun, feel relaxed, interact, talk, and confide in you so you can learn about their lives and they can learn about yours all while having fun.
10. Be There or Be Square. Stay involved in your grandchildren’s lives. Show support through positive reinforcement. Attend functions such as school plays, sporting events, dance and music recitals…and always praise them for their efforts and a job well-done. You may even want to show them how “in-tune” you really are by bringing flowers or candy to present to them at the close of a show or recital. Consider volunteering your services for driving or accompanying them to routine events, giving mom and dad a rest. Think about volunteering for school trips (in lieu of the parents who are probably busy working and just can’t take time off to attend)….but don’t single out your grandchild for special attention or consideration…and DON’T offer unsolicited affection especially in front of their friends. Get involved in their Sunday activities and help reinforce the parents’ teachings. Make special holiday rituals for you and them to share. If you live a distance away suggest meeting them for lunch or paying a special visit or paying for them to visit you (as often as you can) and be prepared to fit into their schedule, ritual and routine and don’t expect them to completely alter it to accommodate you….and, if they visit you, try to tailor your day and routine to theirs. Above all, remember to STAY COOL, willing to grow and learn, have new and exciting experiences that experts say influence up to seven future generations, develop a respectful balance between your authority and friendship….and ALWAYS honor and reinforce the requests, expectations, and “demands” of the parents.
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