Every summer, my husband and I take our three kids back to our hometown for a long visit. The best part is coming home with stories of fishing, baking, gardening, nature walks, boating, and other priceless memories of our parents and children enjoying each other. Upon returning home this past summer, our kids were excitedly sharing their adventures with a mom friend of mine. When they finished, she looked sad.
“I wish my kids had grandparents like that.”
It made me sad, too. Far too many moms have told me they have grandparent envy. Their children have grandparents who love them, but they don’t really share that special bond with each other.
So, what is it that makes some grandparents shine above the rest? What do the best grandparents do differently?
They light up.
The best grandparents delight in their grandkids. It doesn’t matter if they live next door or across the country. They understand that kids won’t always remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel. They always greet their grands with a big smile and enthusiasm. Their face and voice light up from simply seeing their grandchild’s face or hearing their voice on the phone.
They are present in a grandchild’s life.
If they live close, you can bet they are helping with the birthday party or going trick-or-treating on Halloween. “Watch what I can do!” is always met with an enthusiastic approval. You’ll find them in the school gym for that one line your child has in the play or to see your 4th grader sit on the bench for a good portion of a basketball game. If they live far away, grandparents send cards, stickers, or even dollar bills for their piggy bank every once in a while. Short, but frequent phone calls, FaceTime, or Skype sessions make these grandparents connected to their grandchild’s life. They realize little ones have short attention spans, so they make the most of a few minutes here and there.
No matter where they live, the best grandparents know what the grandkids are up to, so they always have plenty to talk about. They check in often to see how that loose tooth is coming or how that friend’s recent birthday party went. They make time to be in their grandchildren’s life right now. As children grow older and busier, they will always make time for their grandparents.
The best grandparents share their own lives.
Most adults underestimate how much kids love hearing stories. Grandparents know that hearing true stories about people children know and love are even better! These grandparents know how to bond by telling stories about when they were little. Children also love hearing about when mom or dad were little and got into trouble or didn’t know how to do something yet. The greatest grandparents tell those stories often.
Grandparents might even take little ones to work and show them what they do each day. They proudly introduce them to co-workers. I’ve never forgotten the pride in my grandpa’s voice as he introduced me to someone as his youngest granddaughter. Even though the word he used was youngest, my heart heard treasured.
The best grandparents share their hobbies.
My mom used to sew with a toddler on her lap while she’d explain what she was doing. My father-in-law lets my girls drive his boat and shows them how to cast a fishing rod. My dad sets up tents for the kids to play in and lets them help build a fire for s’mores. My mother-in-law always has books waiting for them and reads story after story to share her love of reading. Whatever they enjoy and whatever is important is shared grandparent to grandchild.
They respect & encourage parents.
The best grandparents certainly have limits for grandchildren, especially in their own home. However, if a parent is nearby, they give the parent a chance to handle it before jumping in. They let the parent be the “bad guy.” The greatest grandparents remember that parenting is hard and parents are going to make mistakes. Lots of them. If grandparents are too critical, they know parents are far less likely to trust them with vulnerabilities or take their advice. Instead, these grandparents are encouraging and quick to point out what was done well. The best grandparents are also not afraid to ask questions. It doesn’t show parents the inability to care for their grandchildren. Rather, it shows the utmost respect for the routines, schedules, and decisions made by parents.
They protect their relationship with their grandchild.
These grandparents don’t shy away from redirecting or disciplining a grandchild, however, they know that discipline means to teach, not force, threaten, or shame. Teach. They mean what they say and say what they mean, but they do it gently. When they need to step in, they do so in a calm and confident manner. They might use a phrase like “I love you too much to let you ________.” They also give kids an alternative to undesirable behavior, such as “I don’t want you to run in my house, but let’s get your shoes on and you can run in the yard.” While getting those shoe on, the best grandparents even tell a story about a time mom or dad broke something by being too wild in the house.
Lastly, even the very best grandparents get overwhelmed and need a break. They might do a chore, run an errand, or just hide in the laundry room for a bit of peace and quiet. They’ve been around long enough to know that this, too, shall pass.
Notice this list has little to do with gifts or treats. That’s because the best grandparents know gifts and treats are nothing compared to spending time, making memories, and getting to know the hearts of their grandchildren.
The best grandparents know there’s no way to be a perfect grandparent, but a million ways to be a great one.
Happy Grandparents Day! Be sure to appreciate the loving grandparents in your life!
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