Want to have a better relationship with your grandchildren? Be ready for some hard work. The payoff is priceless, though!
The Five-foot Tall Tyrant
“Don’t forget your coat!” Grandma B admonished as I rushed out the door into the sweltering summer heat.
I slammed the door as I left (without my coat), sure that she’d finally lost her marbles.
“Young lady, get back in here right now,” her stern voice floated through the open window.
I hesitated, turned back, and mustered a neutral voice over the seething of my emotions as I reopened the door and said, “Yes, Grandma B?”
“Do NOT slam the doors when you go outside,” she instructed, “and why don’t you have your coat?”
“Why do I need a coat? It’s 85 outside.” My frustration bubbled to the surface. “And why do I have to listen to you, anyway? I think I’m old enough to know whether or not I need a coat when I walk outside.”
“You have to listen to me, young lady, because I’m your grandma.”
“Fine.” I stomped to the coat rack, grabbed a coat, and hustled outside. Why waste time arguing with a five-foot tyrant when I could escape to the barn and canter away on my horse?
Grandma B and I butted heads a lot the summer I turned 15. She lived with us in a small apartment at the front of our house from June to September. Each June when she came to town it felt like she wanted to take over our lives.
None of us kids needed her to take care of us—we all knew how to cook and clean on our own, and our parents lived in the same house as us. We didn’t want another adult telling us what to do. We wanted a grandma.
Memories Made it Better
After a good gallop on my horse, I could think more clearly. Grandma B had spent time getting to know us as we grew up. She often lived next door, and when she didn’t, she made the effort to communicate with us through cassette tapes and letters. I loved it when she French-braided my hair. Her stories of growing up on the prairie of Alberta intrigued me.
But why couldn’t she just act like a grandma and not the boss of us?
Maybe she saw something in us she thought needed changing. Perhaps she didn’t think my parents knew what they were doing. Or maybe she just needed to feel needed and she expressed her need through trying to control our comings and goings.
Whatever the case, I knew I didn’t want to have an adversarial relationship with my grandchildren when I grew up.
Now that I’ve grown up and have a grandchild, my relationship goal remains the same. I want to have a good relationship with my grandchild (and any future grandchildren) through all the stages of life.
My grandparenting style comes from my own experience with my grandparents and watching my parents grandparent our kids.
How to Have a Better Relationship with Your Grandchildren
1. Start Building Relationship Early
As soon as your grandchild can crawl, join in his or her world. Get down on your hands and knees and see life through the eyes of a child. Learn to play with your grandchild. Creative play will build a bond that lasts throughout life.
If you’ve never played with your grandchild, start now. Maybe they’ve left the toddler stage and zoomed into the sulky teenage zone faster than a Ferrari. You can still play. Offer to take them to play laser tag or a jump zone. Don’t sit on the sidelines, get involved.
Entering into their lives by coming alongside them in play will help them understand that you have unconditional positive regard for them.
All of us have a deep desire to feel acknowledged, heard, and loved.
2. Your Grandchildren are not Your Parenting Do-Over
We all make mistakes as parents. Learn to ask forgiveness of your adult children. Set relationship goals for your grandchildren that don’t involve changing them (or their parents).
If you see a concerning characteristic or habit in your grandchild, don’t try to fix it for them. Ditch the notion that children turn out ‘just like’ their parents—after all, your grandchild shares someone else’s DNA, not just your child’s.
You can’t re-live your parenting years vicariously through your grandchildren. They will resent your attempts to control them or make them over in the image of your ideal child. Accept your grandchildren as unique individuals with something marvelous to share with the world.
3. Respect Their Parent’s Wishes
Your adult children will probably parent differently than you did. Don’t judge them because they make different choices. Applaud their bravery in raising children in this crazy world. Have conversations about how your children want you to interact with their children.
If you want access to your grandchildren so you can build relationships with them, you need to play by their parents’ house rules.
4. A Word About Spoiling
I, too have fallen to the temptation to spoil my grandson. Allowing him to do whatever his little heart desires, doesn’t tempt me, though. I struggle to not buy him whatever I think he might need, like, or want, I’ve learned to consult with his parents.
My desire to buy all the things arises from the fact that at this point in our lives, we have more money. I want our grandson to have things we couldn’t afford for our daughters during their younger years.
Rather than burden him with more toys, I want to take a page out of my parents’ grandparenting playbook and provide adventures, instead. Last summer we went on a family campout. This summer, we’ll go again, and he’ll remember even more of our adventure.
5. Get to Know their Love Languages
If you’ve never heard about the five love languages, check them out here. We all feel most loved in different ways. If you know your grandchildren’s love languages, you’ll find it easier to express love for them in their primary language.
Have a family night and invite everyone, from grandparents to parents, to grandkids to take the love-language surveys (the site provides free assessments for all ages). Spend time discussing the results.
Our grandson turns four this summer, and based on his behavior, quality time tops his list of love languages. We spend a lot of time together during the summer. He wants to help with everything, show me everything, and know that I’m close by.
When we love someone, we want to love them in a language they understand. Sometimes, that means learning a foreign (love) language.
6. Make Your Grandchildren Feel Special
My parents instituted a tradition when their first grandchildren turned about eight. Each summer they would take a group of grandchildren on a ‘cousin trip.’ The cousin trips involved camping, rafting, hiking, and more S’Mores than I would approve of.
Our daughters eagerly awaited their turn to take a cousin trip, and they had a fabulous time each time they went. Pedro and I have already started planning adventures to take with our grandson (and any other grandchildren that come along).
Create space to get to know your grandchildren, and remember, DON’T try to parent them. They have parents—they need grandparents.
7. Wait for It…
One day, when and if your grandchildren feel the need, they may invite you into their confidence. Don’t try to pry that relationship stage open with a screwdriver of impatience. Let your grandchildren come to you.
You have the prime opportunity to act as mentor and coach (if they invite you in), and one day friend. Don’t try to rush through the stages of relationships. Remember that building a relationship takes time and effort.
Whatever you do, don’t pump your grandchildren for information about their parents, their siblings, or their love life. Instead, learn to ask questions that invite enthusiastic responses, such as:
- What’s the most exciting thing you’ve done since I talked to you last?
- If you could change one thing about your day, what would you change?
- What career intrigues you the most?
- If you could be any animal, which animal would you like to be?
Have a Better Relationship With Your Grandchildren
If you want to have a better relationship with your grandchildren, you’ll need to work intentionally at developing that relationship through each stage of your grandchild’s life.
As for my Grandma B, I only remember the good things about her now. The sweet tangy smell of helping her make date-filled cookies at Christmas. The thunk of a rolling pin rolling out a ball of lefse dough. Hearing her scratchy voice on the cassette tape used a hundred times to send her love.
One day, I hope my grandchildren remember our frequent FaceTime sessions, snail mail cards sent through the Pony Express, baking together, and wild adventures wherever they want to go (within reason, of course, I wouldn’t want to spoil them!).
Inspire Me Monday
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Oh, this makes my heart sing! ❤️🎶
I love this so much, Anita. I’m currently spending the night at my grandchildren’s house. My oldest is now 2 and she kept saying, “So excited!” about me being here. I hope she maintains that enthusiasm through the years. 🙂 If I can follow your advice, it will increase the odds of it happening.
This is such great advice! I have 3 granddaughters and even though I don’t get to see 2 of them as often, I still try to do the kinds of things they enjoy while they’re here. Nana’s house is for pladough and some kind of craft. I struggle at times with the enemy making me feel like I’m not good Nana. With my chronic health, I can’t always say yes to watching them over night or sometimes I can only watch them for a few hours max but I still try to make the most of the time I do get with them.
We have 10 grandchildren, their ages range from 4 years to 21 years!
Great advice Anita!
Tea With Jennifer recently posted…Living Life Well?
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Barbara Harper recently posted…When I fall, I shall rise
Thank you for the wonderful tips, Anita. So full of wisdom and good advice. The “don’t spoil them” one is hard for me, but I know you are right! 🙂
Laurie recently posted…People Are Hard to Hate Up Close
2 of our 7 grand kiddos are now teenagers … and have become delightful companions … when we’re fortunate enough to see them. 9 hours away isn’t helpful. But texting is!
And then there’s the littlest one who’s now in heaven with Jesus. And that’s a whole other subject …
Linda Stoll recently posted…In Which I Talk About Our Marriage
Great tips. Getting down and playing with them on their level. This is by far the funnest thing about grandchildren. Getting to be silly and laugh and see the world through the eyes of a small child again.
Our grandson is four, and I adore entering play at his level! He’s so creative and energetic and silly :).
What a great article! I loved all the ideas, but especially that your grandchildren are not your parenting do-over. Such words of wisdom. Thank you.
Sara M Borgstede recently posted…30 Days of Praising God in the Storms of Life Bible Reading Plan
Thanks, Sara! I’m learning to seek forgiveness from my children and let them raise their kids according to their own wisdom. It takes discipline to listen and not spout my opinion, but I’m coming to understand that they have a lot of wisdom, too :).
You know how I feel about my two grandblessings. Grandmotherhood is the one area I am confident I have done a good job!
Yes, you have!
Wonderful article – thank you! I think that Grandma B would approve. I will never forget the rainy afternoons in Scio, sitting in her trailer, smelling the barley vegetable soup simmering on the stove, looking through photo albums, and playing with Alice.
I would like to add just one more thing, though. Please, NEVER demand that your grandchildren give you hugs and kisses just because you are their grandparent (or aunt, or uncle, etc). My children have two grandmothers – one who demands and one who joyfully accepts. Guess which one they prefer to spend time with?
Excellent advice! It’s so important that we don’t pressure kids to display physical affection because it 1) might not be their love language, 2) makes them think that adults deserve physical affection (and may make them give physical affection to a predator).
Anita, these are all such good recommendations! I had a similar experience as you, only it was mine and my husband’s moms with some of our children. At least the kids knew they were loved but wished that they didn’t have more people acting like parents. 🙂 Thanks for sharing and reminding us how to have a good relationship with our children and grandchildren. Blessings to you!
I wrote a comment and then my internet messed up and I lost it. Anyway, thanks for the good advice. I have tried to practice many of your recommendations with our own grandchildren. I want always to have a open relationship and have them know we care. Blessings to you!
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