Grandparents today are taking a larger role in the lives of their grandchildren, sharing their worries and joys, giving them love and support, and helping out harried and exhausted parents.
With the retirement of the baby boomer generation, there are more grandparents than ever — an estimated 70 million in the U.S. Compared to previous generations, today’s grandparents are generally younger, more active, and more affluent, allowing many to travel frequently to visit their kids and grandkids.
Millions of grandparents intentionally live close to their children and grandchildren so they can give much needed help to working parents. This includes providing support for many of the estimated 21 million children being raised by 13.6 million single parents in the U.S.
When a single parent has to shoulder the load, or two parents both work fulltime, there are many practical ways grandparents can make their lives easier. These include providing childcare while parents work, transporting kids to and from school and appointments, attending school events and teacher conferences, and giving the parent or parents a much-needed break.
Many parents today raise their kids without much community support, or in the face of negative influences like poverty, gangs, crime, and drugs. And regardless of socio-economic status, all kids face challenges — some old, some new. Bullying existed when we were growing up, yet our generation did not have to cope with cyber-bullying. And while most of us dealt with cliques and gossip in school, we did not have to contend with the amplifying effect social media has on who feels “in” and who is “out.”
In a time when the worst kinds of negative influences are a click away for many kids, grandparents can provide love, support and positive influences. We can help them weather peer pressure, bad media influences, discouragement, and difficult circumstances. Here are some ways you can show your grandkids you love them, care about them, and are there for them:
- Listen nonjudgmentally,rather than correcting or disputing their ideas. Sometimes you may have to be a disciplinarian, such as a grandmother I know who spent an evening trying to tamp down tantrums and fights between her twin 4-year-old grandsons. But when your grandkids share thoughts, ideas, and feelings, put away criticism. Just listen, reflect, and ask questions.
- Share compassionately.Kids are often reluctant to be open about what is bothering them. If you ask how they are doing, the response will almost always be “fine.” Getting them to open up means first earning their trust. Kids are often anxious over feelings of loneliness, fear, and failure. Try sharing a story about how you went through something similar when you were growing up. Showing your vulnerability will help them open up.
- Celebrate what they do well.Encourage your grandkids to share what they love to do and uplift them with praise. Praise them for good grades in school, acts of good citizenship with their friends and classmates, and their creative endeavors. Be specific about what you thought they did well. Be sure you balance praise with the child’s level of achievement. I frequently see young parents wanting to keep their children happy to the point they applaud and celebrate events, grades, or behavior that are undeserving. By praising your grandkids for specific accomplishments, you can help them understand the difference between recognition that is earned and hyperbole from a loving parent.
Some additional ways you can be a loving, involved grandparent for the kids in your life:
- Help them with their homework. Maybe you can help tutor them, provide an extra pair of hands for their school projects, or brainstorm ideas together.
- Support them by attending their sports, dance, and other extracurricular events.
- Model healthy active lifestyles by taking them hiking, fishing, skating, walking dogs, or doing other fun activities with them.
- Teach them the value of good nutrition by preparing and cooking healthy meals together.
- Join them in creative projects, writing a story, drawing a picture, or creating a song, skit or video together.
- Volunteer as a tutor or mentor at a local school or Boys & Girls Club.
As a grandparent, you can be a wise friend, a playful elder, and the go-to person for your grandkids when their parents aren’t available. By spending time together and staying in touch, you can uplift them and give them the sense of safety and stability they need to thrive and grow.
About: Children’s advocate and author Robert Martin writes books with his granddaughter Keira Ely, including the bestsellers “The Case of the Missing Crown Jewels,” and “SuperClara — a Young Girl’s Story of Cancer, Bravery and Courage.” “SuperClara” was inspired by his other granddaughter (and Keira’s younger sister) Clara, who lost her courageous battle with brain cancer on Oct. 8, 2017. Robert founded the nonprofit Bridge to a Cure Foundation to tear down the deadly barriers impeding the timely development of pediatric cancer treatments and cures.