Raising Grandchildren: Doing It Differently The Second Time Around:
5 Things You Thought You Would NEVER Do
One of the grandest joys of being a grandparent is the opportunity to take a different approach at caretaking than you did with your own children. This can help create that uniquely magical relationship with your grandkids (as your own children look on in utter astonishment) because bedtimes become a little later, popcorn can be eaten on the couch, and punishments in general are less severe. You may find yourself indulging them in ways that astonish even you!
The other side of doing things a second time around, however, is that you have never been through grandparenthood before. Just like being a new parent, this is uncharted territory with an entirely new set of challenges. Here are five things you thought you would NEVER do – for better or worse – and some tips for doing them gracefully.
- Have a messy house. Just when you were getting used to being able to leave a room looking nice and it still looking nice the next day and the next…enter grandkids. It is remarkable the havoc that those little balls of energy can wreak in under five minutes in your living room. And just when you’ve picked up the last block or baby doll shoe, you turn around and you’re back where you started.
Although it may be difficult to resist, try to just let the mess be until play time is over. At this point in life, your friends are your friends, and if they pop by while the toy tornados are creating paths of destruction, they will smile and be happy that you are getting to spend time with your grandkids. They may even pull up a chair and watch the show! If your grandchild or grandchildren are old enough to understand (it’s always good to start early), tell them that you cannot move on to the next activity until they clean up the mess. It is also a good idea to have a place for each toy or sets of items so that they know where to put them.
I don’t know about you, but I sometimes wish that I could go back and tell my younger self to let the house go a little because when I sit and think about things I would have done differently as a parent, cleaning more just isn’t one of them. So, let’s take our own advice now and teach our grandchildren to be responsible and respectful with their messes but also to have a good time making them!
- Go crazy buying Christmas gifts! There are countless ways in which we can let our grandchildren know that we love them – taking the time to play a game, reading a book, or doing a project with them. We can snuggle up and watch a movie, take care of them when they are sick, and cheer in the stands during a soccer game. But Christmas is the one time of year when we can wholeheartedly, unabashedly shower them with tangible representations of our love. In addition, every item we see on TV or in the store we think, “He/she would just LOVE that. How can I NOT get it?” Or, “Just this one more little thing.” Then, when we go to organize all the gifts that we are going to give to friends and family, we discover a grossly disproportionate pile that belongs to the smallest people we know. How did this happen?
For starters, some of us are in a different financial situation than we were as young parents. We may have more to spend and fewer demands on our finances in general. Or, we are not in a solid economic position but still feel the need to overspend on the grandkids at this special and sentimental time of year. Either way, it is easy to stumble into the pitfall of overdoing it.
One piece of advice is that gift giving to your grandkids can be a wonderful opportunity to teach them a lesson about “things.” Many kids today get too much stuff on a regular basis and that has an enormous effect on how they view the world and their entitlement within it. When giving them gifts, I recommend selecting a few fun or silly gifts and then one gift that is somehow significant – maybe it’s educational, practical or special between you and your grandchild. Then, follow-up and make sure that he or she is taking care of that gift and using it or remembering it. The fun gift brings immediate joy and satisfaction, but the significant gift is the one that they will remember. Your grandchild may one day tell his or her own kids about getting art supplies, a winter coat, or a commemorative item every year from grandpa or grandma. If you give them too much, the significant gift can get lost in the shuffle.
(Another thing to point out is that Christmas gift giving may be a time that you need to coordinate with the parents of your grandchild. Christmas morning is a hugely special time in the life of a parent, and you do not want to diminish it by replicating or outdoing the efforts that your own children have spent much time thinking about and preparing for. Also, you want to make sure that whatever gifts you are giving are age appropriate and acceptable by the child’s parents.)
- Take hundreds (and hundreds) of pictures. When I go back and look at the photo albums of my own children, the firstborn’s is full, and then the diminishing number of photos is directly in line with the birth order of the rest. My fourth child is always indignant when flipping through her sparsely filled childhood photo book. The reason for this injustice is simple; there just wasn’t any time to take pictures. Also, we were living in a non-digital world where not only did I have to take fantastic photo-book worthy shots (on the first try), but then had to find the time to take the roll of film to the photo shop and then go back when the order was ready. It’s a wonder I was able to put anything in those albums!
Today, however, there is rarely an event involving my grandchildren when I don’t have my digital camera in my hand. Birthdays, sporting events, vacations, or even just hanging out around the house – it’s like I’m afraid that if the cuteness is not captured, it will dissolve in my memory and I’ll forget. Inevitably, I end up with hundreds, if not thousands, of pictures on my camera that I never comb through and never do anything with which defeats the purpose of taking them in the first place.
My suggestion is that if you are going to be taking pictures at an event, make yourself go back through them immediately after. Delete the ones that are not worth keeping, be discerning and only keep the very best. Then, download them onto your computer and organize them into folders by date or theme. If you need help, have someone who knows how to do this write down the simple steps for you and keep it close to the computer. If you want to get really adventurous, upload the photos to a website like Shutterfly or Snapfish where you can create actual albums with the click of a button. These websites are also a great place to store your photos in case your camera gets lost or your computer crashes.
If you know in your heart that you are not going to take any of the actions listed in the above paragraph, then just put the camera down. Enjoy these events as they happen and savor the memories that were made.
- Encouraging junk food. This is a tricky one. One of the most challenging relational aspects between grandparent and grandchild, as well as grandparent and parent, is the setting up of boundaries. There is a fine line between indulging your grandchildren and creating bad habits. There is also a delicate dynamic involved with respecting their parents’ wishes while also asserting your own rights as a caregiver.
I still have fond memories of the pediatrician that got me through adolescence with my own children. The best advice he ever gave me came frequently when I asked him questions about whether or not my kids should do things like watch TV or eat fast food. He would say, “You can read the Bible from cover to cover, and it doesn’t say anything about that, but it does talk about moderation.” Regardless of your faith, that is good advice.
I recommend doing your best to honor the parents’ wishes when it comes to nutrition and dietary concerns but to also do whatever gets you through the day (as long as it is safe in regard to allergies and health needs or concerns). If going out for frozen yogurt helps to fill what would otherwise have been a very unpleasant hour, or if a Popsicle gives you five minutes to sit with your grandson on the back porch and talk about his day, go for it. Just remember, if you are breaking the rules, the kids will tell on you the first chance they get!
- Have time. When looking back, you may remember young parenthood as one of the busiest times in your life. How did you get it all done? The constant demands of children, keeping up a house, working to pay for everyone’s needs, not to mention the endless schedule of sporting events, school projects, birthday parties, music lessons, etc. At that time, most everything you were doing you were doing for your kids, which did not leave much time for doing things with your kids. And in that whirlwind phase of life, the ultimate thing you never thought you would do was have time.
This brings us to the most magnificent aspect of being a grandparent, the gift of time. At this stage of life, there are peaceful moments you have all to yourself to read a book, pay bills, cook an elaborate meal, or visit with friends at a coffee shop – which means that when you get to spend time with your grandkids, you can give them your complete and undivided attention. I remember when my own children were very young; they always wanted to help me cook dinner. I had to tell them no and banish them from the kitchen or it just wouldn’t get done quickly enough and then everyone would be grumpy, bath time would be behind schedule, etc. Now, one of my favorite activities to do with my grandkids is to bake. I let them crack eggs, use the mixer, and spread the icing themselves because we have the time to do it.
So, even though there may be some things you do differently now that you are not completely proud of, you do them because you love your grandchildren intensely, and nothing that comes from that kind of love can be all bad. Ultimately, the wisdom that we can apply to all challenges we are confronted with in grandparenting is to approach situations with moderation and to give little ones your undivided attention when you can. You may also want to spend some time reflecting on ways to connect differently with your adult children. Being a grandparent can change you in unexpected ways because you now have time and perspective that you didn’t have when your own kids were little. Undoubtedly, you did the best job you could when you were a parent, but it’s never too late to make the most of a relationship by doing things a little differently this time around, even things you thought you would never do.