Recognize the conversation? Probably you can see yourself and your spouse in the same scenario. It’s the age-old grandparent dilemma: How do you please them all? The first trick is to realize that you will never do it. Before you throw in the towel, though, read on.
Treat each grandchild individually
As a grandparent, you usually don’t have to entertain all the grandchildren simultaneously except when both parents are gone. Even when you’re in sole command, if you have a spouse on duty as well, you can still divide grandparenting time. Just be sure to switch off and not leave Granddad always at the ballpark and Grandmom at the dance studio. There’s a lot to share with each child in each activity.
Start out by explaining to the children that “while parents furnish the day-to-day necessities,” the function of grandparents is to add the little extras that foster the talents and interests of each child. While assuring them that you love each one equally, tell them that gifts and time spent may not always seem equal, but over time they will even out. Remind them that what 10-year-old Kevin wants is a far cry from 4-year-old Susie’s interests. Then be sure that if you take Kevin to a ball game, you plan another day with Susie at the playground or a movie. The amount you spend doesn’t have to be equal, just the time and interest.
By getting to know each child individually, you’ll find that even twins’ interests may vary considerably. My grandchildren are both boys and only a year apart. Great, you may say. They can join the same soccer team and will both love a day at the ballpark. Wrong! While the older one is into sports of all types, his brother is a dancer—just turn on a CD and he’s off. As they have become older, we have started taking each of them for a special day or two.
Foster an interest
Our older grandson loves an afternoon at a ball game. Buy him a hot dog or souvenir, and he’s thrilled. However, he’s just as happy throwing balls in the yard or watching a game together on television. Time spent together is what is important?
A trip to see the Swan Lake ballet was a treat for my younger grandson. After the performance when we stopped for a drink at a convenience store, the manager asked why he was dressed up. When my grandson said we’d been to see Swan Lake, the man said he had left Russia many years ago, but while there he had danced in the St. Petersburg ballet and had performed Swan Lake many times. That was an evening my grandson and I will never forget.
Even toddlers have definite interests. Check in your area for live shows featuring favorite television or cartoon characters. Look for community theater or school performances of rating.)
For an older child, look for a doll-house exhibit, monster truck rally, baseball card show, fair or special museum exhibit. When a special movie is coming out, clear the activity with Mom and Dad and then make a date with your grandchild. Plan lunch or dinner, “tea,” or ice cream at a favorite restaurant afterwards.
Don’t forget quiet times when you can read a story together or browse a bookstore for new books your grandchild wants to read.
Take a trip
There is nothing more memorable for a youngster than a trip to a new or special place. Plan a half-day for a younger child to avoid overtiring him. (Don’t forget to bring along a favorite toy or blanket!)
Ideas for all ages include a picnic in the mountains, a boat trip on a lake, a train ride to a nearby city, a ride on a subway, a day at the beach (don’t forget sunscreen!), or a visit to a zoo, tourist attraction or amusement park. Each activity can be age adjusted. For a preschooler, plan afternoon downtime and always include a change of clothes in case of accidents.
With parental approval, you might take an older child overnight to your home or to a motel or timeshare. Start with just one night until you know how the child reacts.
Call Mom and Dad in the afternoon, as children may become homesick at bedtime. We take our grandsons for a week every summer, and they love planning for the next trip.
Several universities now host “grandparent-child weekends.” Aiming the weekends at grandparents and older children, the university provides classes that can be enjoyed together, intergenerational activities, meals and get-togethers. There are also many tours and cruises now aimed at grandparents and children, with appropriate activities for all. One set of grandparents I know takes each grandchild on his or her 13th birthday for a tour of Europe to trace their heritage.
Teach a sport
Even toddlers can enjoy “Putt Putt,” as miniature golf courses have clubs of all sizes. Bowling is fun for everyone. Most alleys have small shoes and lightweight balls. They also have “Gutter guards,” which rise when children bowl to prevent their balls from going into the gutters. Imagine how excited your grandchild will be to beat Grandmom or Grandpop, who won’t have gutter guards!
Teach your grandchild to roller skate, ice skate, ride a bicycle or paddle a canoe if you are physically able. Nothing spells togetherness like an afternoon of fishing on a dock or boat.
A T-ball setup in the yard is fun for a younger child. Take an older child to a field or ballpark for batting or catching. Portable basketball hoops work for a little one. An elementary-school-age child or a teen might enjoy shooting baskets with you at a nearby court. Tennis sets with rackets, balls and a portable net can set up in your driveway. Buy rackets for older grandchildren, and take them to a nearby court. A croquet set for the yard can be fun for everyone.
When my older grandson became interested in golf, I had my old clubs cut down and re-gripped at a local store. We bought him practice balls to use in the yard. When he was ready, we went to a local golf course. As we finished, a friendly, older man approached us. Saying he wished he’d started at my grandson’s age, he handed him a bag of “lucky” balls. At home, my grandson spilled out his balls and read each logo with a smile. He was now “officially” a golfer.
Develop a talent
You can teach lifelong talents one-on-one. Children love making things. Craft stores have simple woodworking projects, and many home improvement stores have weekend classes for children. Use the opportunity to teach your grandchild about different types of wood, fasteners, tools and tool safety. Plan a craft that can be completed while the child is with you.
Needlework is a wonderful hobby. Plastic “canvas” with large holes and plastic needles make learning easier. My youngest grandson completed a needlework elephant during his recent stay with us and couldn’t wait to show Mom and Dad! Other simple sewing projects can be geared to furnishing a dollhouse or making doll clothes.
Plan an afternoon painting at a ceramic studio. Visit a craft store for a scrapbook, stickers and craft glue, and make a memory book together using old family photos. Buy an inexpensive camera and take your grandchild on a “photo shoot,” teaching lighting, focus, etc.
Attempting the above activities with one grandchild while other siblings are demanding your time is frustrating, often impossible, and possibly dangerous if you’re using tools, scissors, needles and the like. One- on-one, however, it can be a most rewarding experience and can foster a bond you and your grandchild will never forget.
Originally Published on GRAND Magazine n January-February 2007 Issue.