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Making the Most of Your Time with Grandchildren



By Susan Newman, Ph.D.

Every grandparent is familiar with the “fly-by” visit: that short, rushed time spent with grandchild that is closer to a pit stop than a bonding experience. The baby’s routine, parents’ hectic schedules, or strained relationships often dictate the briefness of visits. You may feel your son- or daughter-in-law short-circuits your visits or you have a generalized feeling of being intrusive. Short or aborted visits are frustrating, but the good news is that the brevity of a visit, particularly when the children are very young, may have nothing to do with you.

It’s not your fault

Many parents are hesitant to disrupt strict naptime and meal schedules, especially those of newborns, infants and toddlers. “If she misses a nap, or is put to bed much later than her regular bedtime, she wakes up several times during the night, which is exhausting to any parent,” says Debbie Migneco, a mother of a 3-year-old in Jackson, NJ.

Interfering with a grandchild’s schedule, no matter what his age or how slighted you feel, shows lack of respect for your adult child and he or she may interpret your untimely visits as a strong and disparaging message: you don’t believe I am parenting well or know what I’m doing. Think about it from the parents’ point of view and how they will feel when you decide at the spur of the moment to drop in.

“It drives me crazy when my parents stop in right before Brynna’s nap. They want to play with her, I can’t refuse, and I then have a horrible time getting her down. She’s cranky and stubborn and my parents leave me to deal with her,” says Debra Ortstadt, Michigan mother of a toddler and five-year-old.

Frequent drop-in visits also have a tendency to be remembered long after the nap phase passes. Laura Jean Ford, New Jersey mother of a fourteen-year-old son and twenty-one-year old daughter, can still recall how her mother-in-law’s unannounced visits made her feel.

“She would come by, without warning, everyday. It got so disruptive that after a while I would hide whenever I saw her car coming down the street. I wouldn’t have minded her visiting if she just gave me a ‘head’s up’ beforehand,” she says.

You have to respect routines parents have in place for their children as well as your adult child’s right to privacy. As your grandchildren age, and naps become a thing of the past, you’ll be granted more liberties and more time. The Grandparent Credo below will remind you of your role…and importance.

Best Friend, Favorite Playmate

In the meantime, take advantage of every chance to connect with your grandchildren. The best part of being a grandparent is giving- whether it is a material gift or the gift of your time. The simplest of pleasures will delight both of you and bring you closer together. There are endless options for creating new memories and a special bond.

These few suggestions, adapted from “Little Things Mean A Lot,” build strong connections to grandchildren and are ones their parents will welcome:

Just Between Us. Adopt a unique “code word,” usually a silly word or phrase, and repeat it every time you’re together. The expression will always be associated with you. An affectionate, clever nickname also works to link you permanently to your grandchild.

I Have Time. It is not uncommon these days to go through childhood without playing board games. Cozy up, relax and enjoy moving your token around the board and helping a grandchild move his. Classic games like Candy Land and Chutes & Ladders are always crowd-pleasers among the young set.

And the Award Goes To… Every child likes to be recognized for his unique qualities or achievements. Purchase special paper from a local stationary store to make a certificate honoring your grandchild. Or make a poster, “Great Game, James.”

Taste Sensations. Many parents are too busy to introduce their children to a variety of foods. Take your grandchild out for Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Indian or Mexican food. Prepare unusual foods together.

Discovery Mission. Take your grandchild on outings to the zoo, museum or aquarium. If time is a constraint, go for a walk and point out interesting things along the way.

In the time you have, whatever you do with or for your grandchildren tells them how important and special they are to you. To ensure smooth sailing and continued access as they grow, follow The Grandparents Credo:

Grandparents give time.

Grandparents give love.

Grandparents give gifts.

Grandparents think big.

Grandparents are good sports.

Grandparents are patient and understanding.

Grandparents are always supportive and enthusiastic.

Grandparents pass on traditions and share their history.

Grandparents don’t disagree with parents in front of children.

Grandparents don’t interfere with the upbringing of grandchildren.

Grandparents are devoted to their grandchildren.

Grandparents are fun.

Grandparents are indispensable.


Excerpted from Little Things Mean A Lot: Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren by Susan Newman, Ph.D . Copyright © 1996 by Susan Newman, Ph.D . All rights reserved. Excerpted by arrangement with Susan Newman, Ph.D. $14. Available in local bookstores or click here.

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