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!).