Interview by Pat Burns, written by Paula Munier
There are grandparents — and then there are Arthur and Carol Kornhaber, the husband-and-wife team who virtually pioneered the crusade for grandparents’ rights. From establishing the groundbreaking Foundation for Grandparenting to lobbying for grandparent visitation legislation, this dynamic couple has spent some 40 years promoting Grandparent Power.
The Magic of Grandparents
It all began in 1970 with a boy named Billy. No, Billy was not their grandchild — although they’ve got four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Billy was a little boy with ADD, and Arthur was his child psychiatrist. Arthur soon realized that despite Billy’s behavioral issues at home and school, he was fine when he was with his grandmother.
“In his grandmother’s eyes, this kid couldn’t do anything wrong,” says Arthur. “He didn’t have to sit still, he didn’t have to pay attention, he just had to eat and smile. And they had great times together.”
This proved an aha! moment for the good doctor. His experience with Billy, coupled with his own experience with his strong and nurturing grandparents, convinced him that there was magic in grandparenting.
“That magic is unconditional love,” says Arthur.
There was little research to support the importance of grandparents, so Arthur and Carol set out to fill that gap. Based on their work, in 1980 Arthur published the first of seven books on grandparenting, the watershed Grandparents-Grandchildren: The Vital Connection, which he co-wrote with Kenneth L. Woodward. He and Carol created the foundation, and their life’s work began. They fought for Grandparents Day, started the one-of-a-kind Grandparent-Grandchild Summer Camp, convened the first National Grandparenting Conference, and organized the first Senate hearing on grandparents raising grandchildren. One by one, they’ve tackled the issues and problems facing grandparents — from long-distance grandparenting to grandparenting children with special needs.
Being There: the Grandparent’s Secret Weapon
All of Arthur and Carol’s work recalls the magic Arthur discovered with Billy. Being there is what makes the difference in your grandchild’s life — starting on day one.
“Be there when the child is born,” advises Arthur. “Make it a family affair.”
Once the baby is home, try to spend time with your grandchild alone, as well as with the entire family. Yes, we’re talking time without the parents around.
“With a grandparent and a grandchild, one-to-one undivided attention is the formula for establishing a deep, close, emotional, spiritual attachment,” says Arthur.
The first seven years of your grandchild’s life are particularly critical. This is the time to do whatever it takes in terms of time and resources to build as strong a relationship as possible. Do this, and even as your grandchildren grow, you can find ways to maintain that bond, no matter where you are or how old the grandkids are.
“Take vacations alone together, spend as much time as you can together…playing games…helping with homework,” says Arthur.
The Kornhabers advise long-distance grandparents to use all of the technology available, such as Skype, to stay connected.
“The point is to keep in maximum contact,” says Arthur.
Maximum contact — for maximum magic.
The Golden Rules of Grandparenting
Being a good grandparent isn’t easy. According to Arthur and Carol Kornhaber, leaders of the “Grandparent Power” movement, the key is establishing a good relationship with the parents. To that end, here are three critical rules you’ll need to follow to be the best grandparent you can be:
1. Ask — don’t tell — the parents: How can I help?
2. Listen to the parents.
3. Bite your tongue when you have to.
Of Grandparents I Sing…
The Kornhabers’ latest collaboration is The Nanas and the Papas, an original musical celebrating the joy and wisdom of grandparents everywhere. This delightful revue played to sold-out audiences and great reviews in California; plans for more productions as well as a video are underway. Visit the revue’s website if you’d like to learn how you can adapt the show for local productions.
The GRAND interview:
For more on the Kornhabers, the Foundation for Grandparenting, and grandparents’ rights, check out their website: www.grandparenting.org
Paula Munier is a writer, editor, mother of three and grandmother of two adorable granddaughters, Elektra [shown with Paula] and Calypso. As they live in Switzerland, Paula relies on Skype and Travelocity to keep Grandmama on their minds and in their hearts.