10 Rules of engagement for your kids’ grandparents

Life gets complicated when your children have children! Here are a few simple tricks, from the perspective of a grandparent, that might smooth the bumpy places for lots of families.

  1. Don’t play favorites. Just as it is unhealthy for parents to play favorites with children, it’s not fun when adult children play favorites with grandparents. Adult children should try, as much as possible, to spread the love evenly. When you plan a vacation/visit/holiday with one grandparent, tell the other grandparents about it and plan “time,” with the other grandparent as well. This will help the grandparent who is being “left out” of the vacation feel s/he is still part of a bigger plan, and not being excluded.
  2. Grandparents have feelings too. Staying glued in front of a television when Grandparents come to visit understandably hurts feelings. Teach your children to be friendly with their grandparents. Of course, that doesn’t mean kids need to hug or touch when they don’t want, but prepare them to at least come out and welcome gramma after she drove an hour to see them. The kids don’t need to like the meatloaf or the sweaters she brought, but explain to the kids why they shouldn’t say they hate it. Part of growing up involves learning to be polite. Why not take advantage of the opportunities to explain, “It hurts Nana’s feelings when you won’t come out and say hi, ( or when you tell her that you hate what she cooked, or you complain about her gift).” Help your kids see that grandparents have feelings too, and we can avoid hurting their feelings by letting them know we appreciate their efforts.
  3. Admit to your children that your parents did an awful lot for you. Do you remember all the trouble you caused as a child? Not even considering the sleepless nights when you had colic, and how about what it took to send you through college? How about the scary dramas you caused as a teenager? You probably don’t remember any of that, but try. Unless you want your children to grow up and complain about you, model gratitude and respect for your parents, and forgive their mistakes.
  4. Divvy up gift giving duties. If one grandparent wants to give a big important gift, such as a child’s first iphone or car or pony, make sure the other grandparents are given the opportunity to go in on it. Big gifts are less divisive when they come from all the grandparents. Whether it’s chocolate, college savings, or trips to Europe, set up a gift sharing plan so that your kids know the difference between loving their grandparents and loving the stuff they gift.
  5. Lap time Encourage each child to spend a little bit of time visiting each guest. Help kids create lists of questions to ask grandparents. Being interviewed by grandchildren can help grandparents feel more like member of the family. Have grandparents take turns reading out loud or cooking with the kids. Even though the baby has a special thing for Nana, discourage monopolies at family gatherings. Spread the love around.
  6. Photos: Sure, Grandad and Jr. look adorable together, so take pictures! But make sure to get some photos of Jr. with Gramma too. It can be heart breaking for grandparents to look through pictures of big family gatherings, and discover they are not in the pictures. Show people you see them by taking pictures, and as a bonus you’ll have those to remember them when they are gone.
  7. Plan Holidays in advance. Look at your holiday and vacation plans for the entire coming year. You only have so many vacation days. Make sure both sets of grandparents have the opportunity to share similar amounts of vacation time with you.
  8. As Grandparents get old, visits may become less appealing. When grandparents are grieving, or dealing with profound life changes, help your children understand how your parents used to be. “My dad used to be so strong,” and “my Mom used to be so pretty,” or mom and dad “taught me how to swim” or “they used to dance at every party.” Your memories of better times not only help children cultivate compassion for their grandparents, you’re cultivating compassion for what you are experiencing as you watch your parents age.
  9. Think through expectations. Imagine your ideal parent and grandparent. Is it fair for you to expect your parents to meet your ideal? Grandparents can’t be someone they aren’t. They can only be who they are, not who you want them to be. Appreciate them for who they are, and your children will be better able to appreciate you for who you are.
  10. Your parents likely miss the “old you,” just as you might miss “the old them.” But they are still your parents. Sure, your kids can call them Granny and Grampy, but you should still call them Mom and Dad.

About Jenny Ruth Yasi

author, sailor, animal trainer,rally, agility and freestyle competitor, owner/proprietor Whole Dog Camp, now located in Freeport, Maine. For 31 years we lived on Peaks Island Maine. Now we are sailing with our 2 dogs in the Bahamas, and will return to Maine in 2017
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