Building Bonds with Grandchildren

The special bond between grandparents and grandchildren strengthens both generations and the parents in between. Here’s are eight steps to build a legacy that lasts.

Close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are very special. Often the closeness between grandparents and grandchildren is a direct result of the grandparents being close to the parents in between. Studies have shown that the benefits of these bonds span all three generations and carry on even into the adulthood of the grandchildren.

The Boston Globe cites a study published in The Gerontologist showing that close relationships between grandparents and their adult grand children resulted in reduced depressive symptoms in both generations. Grandchildren help the older generation learn new technologies and social trends, while grandparents can pass down wisdom, experience and principles for life decisions.

It takes effort plus discernment to build these strong inter generational bonds. Here are some important ingredients.

Start with your own children

It will be difficult to build strong bonds with your grandchildren if you don’t have them with your adult child and his or her spouse. The parents of your grandchild are your bridge to the grand kids. If you haven’t enjoyed a close relationship with your adult children, make an effort toward that now. Seek opportunities to spend time with them, talk and enjoy activities together. If there have been differences that kept you apart, work to resolve them.

Living nearby

You may not have control over this aspect, but living close enough to see your grandchildren fairly often goes a long way in relationship building. Nothing beats being there.

However, job transfers may move your adult child with the grandchildren far away, making visits harder. Use the fantastic technology of Face Time or Skype for visits in between trips. When the grand kids are old enough to have social media accounts and cell  phones, occasional messages from you will brighten their day. Mailing cards and birthday gifts will leave a lasting impression on them.

Don’t critique how your adult children raise the grand kids

It is almost inevitable that your adult children will have aspects of their parenting style that you disagree with. Bite your tongue and leave them alone unless they ask your advice. Even then, be judicious about what you say and how you say it. Never forget how much work and how challenging it was when you were raising your kids. Now it’s their turn. If your adult children are doing their best, give them credit, not criticism. Nothing will cause distance between you and your grandchildren like alienating the parents in between.

Honor the rules in their household

Your adult children will have their own set of rules and traditions. Some may be carried on from when you raised them, some may be from in-law grandparents, and some may be their own. Honor those standards when you are visiting. Don’t indulge the children in any way that flouts a preference of the parents. When you have the grandchildren at your house you may do special things for them, but don’t do anything that will cause them to say, when they get back home, “but at grandma’s house”.

Avoid comparing today with the old days

Avoid becoming the stereotypical old curmudgeon who grumps about how much better things were in the old days. It becomes a broken record and you aren’t fun to have around.

Don’t feel pressure from the other set of grandparents

You will make yourself miserable if you feel compelled to compete with the other set of grandparents for your grandchildrens’ affection and admiration. Be secure in who you are and what you have to offer. The other set of grandparents bring their life experiences and skills to the relationship and you bring yours. It’s not a competition. Blend what you have together with what they offer in order to mutually enrich your grandchildren’s lives.

Be discreet about visits

Of course you want to see your grandchildren as much as possible. But don’t be overbearing about wanting to visit frequently or about pressuring your adult children to bring the grand kids for a visit. Don’t wear out your welcome going to see them, and remember that traveling with small children is hard work for parents, so remember that when asking them to come visit.

Offer the parents some relief

If you live in close enough proximity, offer to keep the grand kids for an evening so their parents can go on a date, or even for a weekend getaway. The parents will appreciate the opportunity for rest and time for just the two of them together.