Published October 21, 2011
“The Boomer” is a column written for adults nearing retirement age and those already in their “golden years.” It will also promote reader interaction by posting e-mail responses and answering reader questions. E-mail your questions or topic ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well my friends, last week I began what most likely will be the most rewarding chapter of my baby boomer years: I became a grandfather to a beautiful, healthy baby boy.
As I closely held my fuzzy-haired grandson for the first time, I knew that nothing would ever be the same again. I envisioned teaching this little boy how to fish, ride his first tricycle, and catch a baseball. But most important to me was building a strong lifelong relationship with my grandson.
I spoke with William A. Kelly, president of Kelly Financial Services in Braintree, Mass., and author of Senior Safe Money Strategies that has a chapter dedicated to tips for becoming a great grandparent. Based on his book, here is what Bill had to say:
Boomer: How does the bond between grandparent and grandchild differ from parent and child?
Kelly: Psychologists have noted that the bond between a grandparent and grandchild is a pure, emotionally-uncomplicated form of love. Often this love is freer and more playful than the love parents feel for their children. Grandparents report that their role affords them the pride and pleasure of raising a child, without the burdens and worries that often weigh on parents.
For children, grandparents provide an emotional safety net. Children who grow up enjoying a strong relationship with their grandparents report feeling more emotionally secure than children who lack this bond. And these children demonstrate healthier attitudes toward older people, whom they've learned to love and respect firsthand.
Teenagers and young adults often say their one-on-one relationships with their grandparents helped shape them in significant ways. Grandparents can foster a sense of self-esteem for grandkid0s, and given them an identity within the extended family and a place in history.
Boomer: How can grandparents make the most of the time they spend with grandchildren?
Kelly: Keep activities with grandchildren simple. You don't need to plan elaborate entertainment spectaculars; the time you spend with your grandchild is enough.
Here are some tips for making the most of your time with your grandchild:
-Spend one-on-one time with each grandchild. Family gatherings can be hectic, so it’s important to make a date to spend time with each of your grandchildren individually.
-Find a hobby to share. Choose a common interest with a grandchild and make it your own. Hobbies like collecting postcards or stamps, reading and taking long walks are often enjoyed by both parties.
-Travel together. Grandparents often have time to travel. If you have the resources, it can be fun and memorable to plan a trip with your grandchild.
-Lend your grandchild an inexpensive camera and encourage him or her to photograph your times together. You can both cherish the photos when you're apart.
Creating memories and bonding with grandkids doesn’t require a lot of time and money, you can even make a simple chore like a trip to the grocery store into an adventure. For instance, you might talk about where the products on the shelves are primarily eaten. Explain that tortillas are common in Mexico, spaghetti is a favorite in Italy and Gouda cheese comes from Amsterdam. When you get home, you can locate these countries on a map together.
Boomer: What is the best way to communicate with a grandchild?
Kelly: The time parents and children spend together is often hectic. As a grandparent, the time you spend with your grandchild can be a chance to slow down and focus on each other. Take the time to ask questions about his/her life and share information about your life. Include stories about your life and childhood, and share stories about the child's parent growing up. Above all, communicate your love for him/her.
Here are some ideas for communicating with your grandchild:
-Accept your grandchild's feelings. Often, parents and grandparents try to smooth over painful emotions by saying "That's nothing! You'll forget about it tomorrow." Take your grandchild's feelings seriously, even if you strongly suspect they'll be short lived. Take your grandchild's concerns seriously. Listen carefully to what your grandchild is saying and then respond to his/her questions or concerns.
-Don’t place pressure on your grandchild. Saying things like, "I wish that you could come stay with me" or "Why don't you write me more often?" might make your grandchild feel guilty or resentful that you want something that he or she has no control over.
-Avoid being critical. Being a good listener is more valuable than lecturing a grandchild about how to behave; that’s the parents' responsibility. Try not to compare children to their parents or to your other grandchildren.
Boomer: What are some ways of handing down family traditions?
Kelly: Tradition is important in families and you don't have to be a famous inventor or well-known politician to have valuable lessons to pass on to your grandchildren.
Tell stories about the accomplishments of relatives, like the first family member to attend college or someone who lived through a particularly interesting chapter of history. Tales of achievement foster self-esteem by helping children to discover heroes within their own family. For children, the past seems exotic. It’s hard for children and teens to imagine a word without now everyday technology like TV, microwaves cell phones and computers.
Simply describing the house where you grew up and what things you had (and didn't have) may be interesting to your grandchild.
Here are a few ways you can pass on traditions to your grandchild:
-Create a family "museum" that includes old photos, jewelry, china and other treasures
-Host a family "film festival.” Show home movies, videos, or slides from different family branches. Remember the popcorn!
-Tell stories about your grandchild's mother or father as a child
-Write a brief family history and invite your grandchild to draw it
-Make a family tree together
-Share family stories, jokes and recipes
Boomer: How can grandparents living far away from their grandkids stay in touch?
Kelly: Once upon a time, most family members lived in the same community, or at least in close proximity to one another. Today, families are more spread out and need to come up with new and imaginative ways to stay emotionally close, even when geographically far apart. It is important to start developing a relationship with your grandchildren as soon as possible. Begin talking to your grandchild on the phone when he/she is only six months old, saying what you'd say if you were actually holding the infant. You might sing a lullaby, tell them who this is or just say "I love you, dear".
Visits are a lifeline for long-distance grandparents. You may prefer to have one child visit at a time. If you have several grandchildren visiting at once, you may feel divided and end up spending precious time acting as referee among competing siblings. Remember to plan your grandchild's visits carefully, even though you should be flexible about modifying plans to suit everyone's moods. Although these tips are designed for long-distance grandparents, they are excellent ways to strengthen your relationship with your grandchild, no matter he/she lives:
-Make a tape or video. Children aren’t good at talking on the phone until they are about 10 years old, so it’s a good idea to send a tape or video of yourself delivering a message.
-Write letters. Who says letter-writing is a dying art? It's still a vital connection for grandchildren and grandparents. Children rarely get mail and enjoy the thrill of seeing their own name on an envelope.
-Record yourself telling bedtime stories. You may want to ask your grandchild or his/her parent for some favorite stories, or you could just tape children's stories that you enjoy. This is one way of being present in your grandchild's life on a daily or nightly basis.
-Give your grandchild a map. Be sure to mark both of your homes on the map.
-Send small gifts along with a message.
To make your visits as memorable as possible, speak with your grandchild on the phone before you see each other face to face. Be sure to emphasize how happy you will be to see your grandchild once again. Building and maintaining a relationship with your grandchild takes planning and foresight, but the rewards are so great that they are impossible to measure. Your closeness bridges the generation gap and enriches your grandchild's life, as well as your own.
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