Passionate About Columbia SC
and the Moms Who Live Here

Grandparents :: How Fostering a Relationship Can Make a BIG Difference

grandparents How Fostering a Relationship Can Make a BIG Difference

It’s Grandparents Day … yet another one of those holidays I didn’t know existed growing up, but if it had it would have been hard to celebrate.

You see, I had three sets of grandparents growing up (thanks to the divorces and remarriage that happened before I was even born). Despite this abundance of grandparents, I did not know any of them well growing up. My dad was a Marine, and we lived too far away for more than just the occasional contact. We went back to visit every other year or so … and sometimes at Christmas we got a care package with gifts.

Yet despite the one-on-one time, I loved them deeply.

I loved the no-bake cookies my Grandma Barb sent at Christmas. I loved the way my Grandpa Lou shuffled cards on the top of my head. I loved my Grandma Shirley’s Swedish meatballs, and I loved how my Grandpa Clarence kept his teeth in his front shirt pocket. My Grandpa Rudy loved his cars, and his and Grandma Corky’s house was always an interesting place to visit, as she filled it with Santa Claus figurines.

My grandmothers - Shirley on the left, and Barb on the right

My grandmothers – Shirley on the left, and Barb on the right

This year, Grandparents Day is bittersweet for me because all of my grandparents have passed away. They leave behind an amazing legacy in their combined 10 children and 15 grandchildren, and especially the newest generation of great-grandbabies whose number is growing year by year.

And yet I wish I had known my grandparents better.

There is so much about their lives I long to know more about, but never thought to ask before I became a mother. I wish I knew more about Grandpa Rudy’s emigration from Bohemia/Czech Republic. I wish I knew more about the story of his and my grandma Barb’s romance. I wish I knew more about the birth stories of her children. I wish my Grandpa Lou had the opportunity to tell me about his childhood as someone of both Native American and Irish descent before succumbing to Alzheimer’s.

There are a million stories I will never hear from my grandfathers and hundreds of recipes from my grandmothers I will never get to pass down to my children. I mourn this even as I rejoice for the time and the knowledge I do have of my grandparents.

For my children, it will be different.

My kids see their grandparents at least once a week and are an integral part of their lives. We live with my parents and my husband’s parents are only on the other side of Columbia, a 30 minute drive away. Two of my three children spend at least one night a week at their grandparent’s house. My children’s grandparents have been there for each of their births, celebrated every homecoming and have been there for so many other firsts. And if they are not literally present, a camera phone enables lightning fast communication so that the relationship never has to suffer due to distance.

grand gabe

My oldest with my husband’s parents – Nana and Grandaddy

As I watch the relationship between my children and their grandparents blossom, I am so thankful we all live close to one another and have access to technology to enable such an amazing relationship. If you’re struggling with forming this type of bond, here are some ways to help foster a great relationship between children and their elders.

Ways to Foster a Great Relationship Between Children and Grandparents {or bonus grandparents}

What happens at Grandma’s stays at Grandma’s.

I’m totally serious. Grandma’s house has her rules, and I let her deal with the consequences. It’s one benefit to doing overnights with Grandma — if they get lots of sugar at her house, she gets to handle the effects of hyper kids and late bedtimes. I find this has helped tamper the desire to spoil them like crazy with sweets, too. Win-Win!

Communication is key.

These days we communicate mostly by text, and by Skype and Facetime when everyone wants to talk. So even if we have to go longer without seeing everyone, there is still a way to keep in touch that feels like you are truly interacting with your family member.

Set your boundaries and be firm.

There are some things that have changed with the times, like car seat safety, food allergies/sensitivities/intolerances and general expectations of behavior. Make sure the car seats the grandparents use are safe (not expired), installed correctly, and that they know how to buckle your child in properly, every time. If your child has a food issue — like how red dye does a number on my oldest — make sure they know what to look for and read labels. If you have a specific way you handle behavior that works well for your child, let the grandparent know and demonstrate it if possible so they can observe how well it works. At the same time, if you are leaving your child with a grandparent, realize they may not do it “your” way. I have found that I need to be either okay with them finding their own path, or not leave them at all.

Reach out others when you don’t have grandparents nearby.

As I write this, I know not everyone has a great relationship with their parents. Some do not have parents close by to be grandparents to their kids (which I totally understand as military brat myself).

There are other options.

Reach out to older neighbors or an older couple at church. Volunteer with your child at a local nursing home or assisted living facility. Foster a relationship — or several — between your children and the older generation. There is so much joy and knowledge and soul-deep satisfaction that can be gained from these bonds. I was blessed to have so many “spare grandparents” growing up, and each of them holds a special place in my heart.

But it didn’t stop there. I formed relationships with other seniors in our community and it had a lasting impact.

My best friend Jessica’s grandma, Phyllis, taught me that spunk, good humor and a great attitude are important no matter how old you are. Our neighbors, the Norths, took my sister and me in whenever my parents needed a hand and had children who became like siblings to us. They also opened their home to dozens of foster children over the many years we knew them, and were some of the best role models a kid could have.

Me and my bonus-grandma Phyllis

Me and my bonus-grandma Phyllis

Love isn’t just genetics. Family is who you make them to be. So if you lack involved, biological grandparents in your children’s lives, I encourage you to reach out. You have nothing to lose, and so many special memories to gain.

This Grandparents Day forget the gifts … give your time, love and attention to the amazing generation of people who helped you become the great parent you are today.

Did a grandparent or “bonus” grandparent make a different in your life? Tell us about it in comments!

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