While many kids' grandparents live far away, others' reside right around the corner and or just a few doors down the hall. Whether children get to see their grandparents on a regular basis or only during infrequent visits, there are lots of ways for them to stay connected and involved in each other's lives.
It's interesting to note, grandparents are increasingly finding themselves called upon to help care for their grandchildren, whether as a primary or part-time caregiver. And while that can be a good thing, it can also be challenging. According to the AARP, as of the 2000 U.S. Census, about 5.8 million grandparents lived in homes with their (under 18) grandchildren -- in the case of approximately 2.4 million of those grandparents, they were the heads of the household and the ones principally responsible for raising their grandkids.
Keeping these statistics in mind, let's take a closer look at grandchildren and parents bonding with grandparents.
The Importance of the Bond
One thing there's no denying, the relationship between grandchild and grandparent can have a great impact on a child's life. Similarly, the bond can have important implications for the elder relation as well.
For children, the special attention that many grandparents are so willing to give can make a real difference in their lives. The unique kind of love that often exists between grandparents and grandchildren can build their confidence and make them feel special, provide them with a role model and advisor, grant them a perspective on history -- both of the family and the world at large -- and perhaps most importantly, give them someone who's always willing to listen.
A strong bond between grandparent and grandchild can also make the grandparent feel needed and appreciated. They often highly value the attention they receive from their grandchildren. Additionally, reading, playing games or doing activities together can keep both kids' and grandparents' brains strong and healthy.
Long Distance Love
In the case of grandparents and grandchildren who do not live close enough for convenient visits, they aren't out of luck. There are lots of strategies for bonding that often bring out the best of both sides.
Keeping in contact can be done a number of ways. Even if grandparents aren't interested in rapid-fire texting conversations, they might find technology hasn't left them high and dry. Sharing online photo albums, playing games, sending email and talking through Web cams and sound files are all ways to connect with children in their comfort zone, while still maintaining an interactive relationship that can be rewarding for everyone.
More traditional methods of communication, whether mail, telephone or something more unique, are generally successful, too. Grandparents might bond with grandchildren by engaging them in a virtual book club, fantasy sports league, quilting swap, recipe exchange or other creative and interesting long distance activity that amuses all parties involved. And once the distance is overcome, many grandchildren and grandparents will continue to enjoy their ongoing relationship.
Bonding through Sharing Activities
Although a visit from the grandparents can be a time for sightseeing or special goings-on, even simple activities can help strengthen their bond with the grandkids. Maybe the children could use some help on their homework or advice on a school project. And the grandparents would probably love a school tour or a chance to see a Little League practice. Leisurely walks, cooking collaborations, trips to the creek; these can all provide some special time for grandparents and grandchildren to connect.
Starting a new bond with a teenager can sometimes be more of a challenge, but with a little patience, there are ways to find common ground. Older kids might prefer an activity like spending time at the mall with their grandparents to show them what type of music or clothing they are into (also a helpful diversion in that it may decrease the chances of receiving a garish wool in the mail at Christmas!). Or maybe they just need someone to listen, hear about what's troubling them or act as a sounding board.
A growing travel trend is for grandparents and grandchildren to hit the road together, leaving mom and dad at home. Parents get to relax, secure in the knowledge that their children are in the care of people they have confidence in, while the two lateral generations get to enjoy the unique experience of spending quality time together in interesting new locales entirely in each other's company.
Trips can provide really special bonding time, whether it's an independent adventure or a planned tour such as those offered by companies like Grandtravel, which specifically caters to this sort of vacation. The memories forged over the course of a trip can be fuel for many later sessions of reminiscences and laughs -- and all the photos can help keep the travelers close in each other's hearts once they've parted ways.
Striking a Balance
There's a lot that can get off kilter in a family dynamic, whether you're talking about two generations or three.
Whether grandparents are regular fixtures in their grandchildren's lives or only occasional visitors, a whole host of interpersonal issues can come up. A grandparent might fasten onto a favorite and ignore other grandchildren, for example. Or criticize parents in front of their kids. Or perhaps grandparents start to feel taken advantage of when being called upon frequently to care for their grandchildren.
Alternatively, parents or children might feel obligated to arrange time for get-togethers and activities.
The key? Communication - between parents, children and grandparents alike is usually the best way to clear the air or get all parties on the same page. Respecting the personal needs and wants of various family members is fundamental, valuable and the most loving thing you can do.