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Respect Your Elders

After the birth of our third child this past summer, my parents and my wife’s parents traveled thousands of miles to see their new granddaughter. Each grandmother and grandfather spent hours holding the baby, singing to her, burping her, struggling to get her to go to sleep, and doing everything they could to get her to smile. And to their great pleasure, she smiled at them.

When the grandparents were not doing baby stuff they were occupied with our other two preschool-age daughters. The girls loved going out to lunch and catching a movie with my mom. They snuggled up to my wife’s mother to listen to her read story after story after story. My father brought the girls some of his homegrown fruits and vegetables and spent several hours putting in a garden with them. My wife’s dad went on a picnic with them, took a walk on a nature trail and bought them specialty foods from France because he once lived there.

Not all grandchildren are lucky enough to have a chance to develop loving relationships with their grandparents. My paternal grandfather died 15 years before I was born; from the stories I’ve heard, I would have really enjoyed his friendship. My interest in his life was piqued when I was a teenager. I interviewed my dad, my aunts, and the grandchildren who had known him, and they shared some of his knowledge and background with me.

Parents play a tremendous role in helping their children connect with grandparents. Until the years when grandchildren begin to drive, parents generally determine how much and what type of contact their youngsters have with their grandmas and grandpas.

There is a growing body of research indicating that grandchildren benefit from loving relationships with their grandparents. Grandparents give advice, teach skills, listen to confidences, help with money, tell stories and play with grandchildren. When parents are not available, a growing number of grandparents step in to care for their grandchildren full time.

Parents can do a lot to encourage children of any age to have close relationships with their grandmas and grandpas. Here are some things that have worked for us and our friends.
  1. Visit grandparents often either in your home or theirs.
  2. Invite grandparents to grandchildren’s birthday parties, even if they live too far away to actually attend.
  3. Encourage grandchildren and grandparents to write letters or cards to each other.
  4. Involve grandchildren in planning celebrations such as anniversaries and birthdays for their grandparents.
  5. Allow time for grandmas and grandpas to talk with grandchildren one on one.
  6. Attend religious services with all three generations present.
  7. Organize a family reunion to honor grandma and grandpa.
  8. Allow grandmothers and grandfathers to hold, comfort and feed infants and toddlers.
  9. Suggest grandchildren interview their grandparents to learn more about their lives.
  10. Connect grandchildren, and even young children, with grandparents over the phone. Grandparents love to hear their voices.
  11. Play games or catch a movie with grandma and grandpa.
  12. Parents can tell stories their children to honor the memory of deceased grandparents.
  13. Compile Grandmother’s recipes to create a family cookbook.
James Bates lives in Clay with his wife and three daughters. He is a doctoral candidate in Syracuse University’s Department of Child and Family Studies.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York