What Your Grandkids Won't Tell You
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Grandkids_v021 of 13
Keep In Touch2 of 13
Just because your grandchildren aren't reaching out to you doesn't mean they don't want to be in touch—and those once-a-year holiday visits or birthday phone calls aren't always enough. Elizabeth Bower, co-author with Sue Johnson and Julie Carlson of Grandloving: Making Memories With Your Grandchildren, advocates setting aside time for one telephone or Skype session a week. "If you do this frequently enough, the child will prompt it." Bower says.
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Get Online Already!3 of 13
"My grandmother was incredibly adept at using Facebook," says Amanda. "Being able to connect online every day made me feel so much closer to her, especially since it was hard to find time to catch up over the phone." If you're struggling to figure the technology out, then the best teacher is your grandchild. Not only will it be a fun bonding experience for the two of you, but it will also give him or her the confidence of being in the "teacher" role for a change.
Take Care Of Yourself4 of 13
"One set of my grandparents walk regularly and are in great shape. The others don't and are practically immobile," says Nicole. "It's been so sad for us to watch them deteriorate." Your grandkids want you to make an effort to be healthy so that you can stick around for years to come. The better your health, the more quality time you will have to spend with your grandkids, and to watch them grow from children to adults.
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Send Me Letters5 of 13
But don't limit yourself to just the phone or Internet. "Every child loves to have his mailbox turned into a treasure chest, whether he lives next door or across the world," says Johnson. "It doesn't matter what you send him, so long as you send something often." For her own grandchildren, Johnson keeps things simple by sending funny postcards or pages copied from coloring books. Plus, she gives her grandkids printed labels with her address on them, making it extra easy to send letters to her in return.
Don't Play Favorites6 of 13
"In my grandmother's eyes, my cousin John could do no wrong," says Mara.* "She was always curious about his hobbies, friends and schoolwork, whereas she hardly asked me anything about my life." To avoid this, Johnson recommends setting aside some alone time with each grandkid whenever possible to find out what is meaningful and important to them. [*Name has been changed.]
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Share More7 of 13
"My grandparents were really old-fashioned and didn't spend a ton of time with me or my brother," says Alexandra. "They had really interesting lives, but other than the occasional lecture about money, they didn't share much about themselves. I wish they'd told me more about their childhoods, the war and the depression, about meeting and falling in love and, as I got older, even some of the wild times they had. It would have been nice to get to know them as people instead of just the old folks who we had early dinners with once in a while."
Involve Younger Kids8 of 13
While older grandchildren may be a more receptive audience for stories about your past, involving youngsters is also crucial—especially if you don't want certain family tales to be forgotten. According to Johnson, the best way to do this is to "tell stories about yourself when you were their age, to make them more meaningful." Adds Bower, "The more you can connect the stories to what is happening in their lives, the better. Photos also work really well to make them more interesting."
Expand Your Views9 of 13
Your grandchildren know that you were raised in a different era and therefore have different views on politics and lifestyle choices, but some of your opinions may make them uncomfortable. "I wish I could tell my grandmother that being single over the age of 25 does not make you an old maid," says Nicole. While no one expects you to overhaul your entire belief system, expanding your view of what's acceptable can only bring you closer to your grandchildren.
Don't Judge Us10 of 13
"Grandparents have to realize that times change, and they should not try to impose their generations' values on their grandchildren," says Johnson. One way to do this, she says, is to share your opinions with humor rather than in a correcting tone, as in Can you believe that in our day we thought…? "Ask questions about what they think so you can contrast it with your own thoughts in a non-judgmental, neutral way," she says. As Bower points out, these situations can be teaching moments, as well as opportunities for grandchildren to figure out their own sets of beliefs.
Don't Hold Grudges11 of 13
Tension within a family can make for awkward interactions for your grandkids, who have to watch the drama unfold. "There were some disagreements between my grandparents and my father, and I ended up feeling like my grandparents were mad at me, too," says Nick. "I was nervous to even contact them." While it can feel easier to avoid your children—and their children—altogether, ostracizing your grandkids for something they didn't take part in will only cause hurt feelings.
Take An Interest12 of 13
Your grandkids know that you love them, but taking a genuine interest in the things that they get excited about will help create an even stronger bond. Admittedly, it can be tough to carry on a conversation with shy toddlers or aloof teens. However, there are ways to foster healthy communication between the generations. "When you talk to kids, ask open-ended questions," suggests Johnson. "Instead of saying, 'Did you like the trip to the zoo?' say, 'What was your favorite part of the zoo?'" This will give them an opportunity to be more communicative and let you into their world.
No Checks, Please13 of 13
Birthday checks are generous but young kids don't really register what they're receiving, and older grandkids may start to feel guilty about receiving money as a gift. Johnson suggests giving a gift that relates to an interest of theirs, or an item that used to belong to you or their parent. By giving gifts with sentimental value, you'll open the door to discussion about your own childhood—a great way to bond with your grandkids.
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