BY RICHARD AND LINDA EYRE
We find it a little surprising how many grandparents have spent virtually no time with their grandchildren one-on-one or in situations where the parents are not present. Kids are different in environments where their parents are not with them. It brings out other aspects of their personalities, and you see them in a different light. We grandparents need to volunteer to babysit occasionally when it is just us and the kids, and find other ways to get to know them by themselves, without parents around.
In fact, we should make it our conscious goal to get to know each grandchild one-on-one—to really know them and to keep updating what we know about them as they grow older. Get in the habit of going on individual “Grandpa Dates” or “Grandma Dates” with just one grandchild—a real one-on-one experience. Take that child to lunch—and let him or her pick the restaurant. Whether you have one grandchild or twenty, make this a regular habit. Take along an impressive-looking notebook or “grandkid datebook,” ask them questions, and take notes on their answers. Tell them you want to know as much as you can about them, so you can always be their cheerleader and their helper. Ask them everything from their favorite color and food to what they think they might be when they grow up. Hand them the pen and let them fill in some things in your notebook like, “The three words that best describe me are . . .” or “The best thing and the worst thing in my life right now is . . .”
Don’t editorialize too much during these date discussions. Just ask a lot of questions and listen. And take notes.
Use the great word “really” to keep them talking. You can say “really” so many ways and in so many contexts. “Really!” as in “Wow!” “Really” as in “Whoa, I never knew that.” “Really?” as in “Are you serious?” “Really!?” as in “What the heck!” With the appropriate inflection, that one word can keep kids talking and connecting.
“As your grandkids get into their mid- and late-teens, you want to transition into their consultants and their non-judgmental advisors,…”
Have them make a list in your notebook of “things I am sure I will do in my life,” and “things I might do in my life,” and “things I will never do in my life.” When I (Richard) asked that last question to my ten-year-old granddaughter on one of our dates, I was hoping for something like “I will never do drugs,” but she thought for a moment and said, “I will never ride a bike naked in public!” I said, “Really!?” and she said, “Yeah, because when we were in San Francisco, there was a parade and this guy rode by naked and I said to myself right then, ‘I will never do that!’”
As your grandkids get into their mid- and late-teens, you want to transition into their consultants and their non-judgmental advisors, and perhaps their financial supporters for education and other worthwhile pursuits; and those earlier Grandparent Dates will set the stage for that.
Tell them what a consultant is and tell them that your door or your text or email is always open to them and that you will always LOVE it when they ask for help or for advice of any kind. Tell them that you know their parents are always first, but you are the backup. And tell them you want to know everything you can about them, because the more you know, the more helpful you can be.
If you don’t live close enough to your grandkids to have regular Grandparent Dates, carve out some special, individual time when you are visiting their family or they are visiting you. And in the “between times,” get on Skype or FaceTime with them one-on-one.
“Get up to speed on whatever “language” they are currently using whether it’s Instagram or Snapchat or WhatsApp or whatever, and when they change, you change, and use texts as the constant.”
Of course, essential to communication with any grandkids, whether they live far away or just down the street, is your own competence and confidence with social media. Get up to speed on whatever “language” they are currently using whether it’s Instagram or Snapchat or WhatsApp or whatever, and when they change, you change, and use texts as the constant.
And while you are going high-tech, go low-tech too by writing your grandchild something he or she may have never seen or received before: an actual stamped, sealed, handwritten letter. We write an “unbirthday” letter to each of our grandchildren on their half-birthday. We do it on real stationery with a fountain pen. It’s the only piece of snail mail they ever get!
Whatever methods you use, and in addition to any collective outings or get-togethers with your grandkids, remember that the real influencing of Grandparenting and the real forming of lasting personal relationships happens one-on-one!
Read more from Richard and Linda Eyre
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: RICHARD AND LINDA EYRE
GRAND is pleased to welcome New York Times #1 Bestselling Authors Richard and Linda Eyre as regular columnists. The Eyres’ parenting and life-balance books have reached millions and been translated into a dozen languages. As fellow baby boomers, their passion and their writing focus has now shifted to the joy of grandparenting. Linda’s latest book is Grandmothering, and Richard’s is Being a Proactive Grandfather, each of which is reviewed in this issue.