Be a unique grandparent

I am fortunate in that I now have five grandchildren, three boys and two girls. Unfortunately, they all live 1,100 to 1,800 miles away and I rarely get to see them. The odds of them coming to visit me in Arizona is somewhere between slim and none.

Sure, I can have a video conversation via Skype or Zoom, but three of the grands are under 3 and, for them, it’s like watching a video where they can interact with the screen. After a few smiles, their attention span wanes and they’re off to find something new to do.

When raising my daughters, I tried to abide by the premise that if I wanted to have impact, I needed to have contact. That’s harder to do as a grandparent of younger children. It can be done, and I’m always looking for different ways to do so.

For example, I went to the Dollar store and bought a handful of general purpose greeting cards and a bunch of sticker sheets. Once a month or so, I would try to send a note of encouragement to the older kids and a few stickers. I never heard whether they received the cards or even if they liked them. But, I know all kids enjoy getting mail in their name, so I try to keep it up.

This summer, I am going to get them a bunch of postcards and stamps and encourage them to write a note to me upon occasion. I intend to do the same. Perhaps with scenic or funny postcards, they’ll put them somewhere they can readily view them.

Grandparenting is not a competition

Blogger Barbara Lee Harper addressed the challenge of being a grandparent in a competitive environment where one grandparent spends a lot of money on a grandchild and the other can’t keep up. She shared a story from another article she read years earlier.

When the granddaughter asked to go shopping, like she always did with her wealthier grandparent, Barbara recalled the the other grandparent’s response. She told her granddaughter, “Your other grandmother is the shopping grandma. I’m the baking grandma.” So the woman and her granddaughter made memories by spending time in the kitchen.

I love that idea. Not only did the grandmother and granddaughter share quality time together, they were involved in screen-free creative process making yummy deserts, which they then shared with others. The youngster learned a valuable skill and the conversations enjoyed during the baking process brought them even closer together.

Barbara said the key is not to push grandchildren into your interests, although I think they should be encouraged to try something you like doing. She said it’s important to share the child’s interests.

My mother did a fabulous job of that with my daughters. She spent one-on-one time with each girl going biking, having picnics, visiting the zoo, baking and, upon occasion, shopping. I guarantee the girls remember the time they spent with my mother far more than any trinkets she bought them.

“We don’t have to compete with the child’s other grandparents or even parents, and we don’t even need to specialize in one area,” Barbara wrote. “We can grandparent in our own unique style and way.”

I benefited from all four grandparents

I was extraordinarily fortunate to have met and got to know all four of my grandparents. My paternal grandmother died when I was 8 and my paternal grandfather died when I was 17. Grandma Gerber always ensured we had a variety of small Kellogg’s Snack Pack cereals to enjoy when we visited. Even though I had more than 100 first cousins, I fondly remember the weekends I spent one-on-one with my grandfather when I was a teenager.

My material grandfather died when I was 19, nine months after I lost my father in 1980. That was a rough year. I really never got to know him and don’t ever remember doing anything with my grandfather. However, every night before bed, he would toss whatever change was in his pocket into a coffee can.

Then, whenever my sister and I would come to visit, he would bring out the can full of change and allow the two of us to share the bounty. We would each get to take several dollars home with us — and that was in the 1960s and 70s when $1 could actually buy something.

I was definitely closest to my maternal grandmother. She had a delightful personality and I just loved teasing her. Every time I would visit, she would make me an angel food cake. For many years, she and grandpa lived in a very small house in the very small town of Mazomanie, Wis.

After my parents were divorced and before I was able to take care of myself, my sister and I spent a summer with my grandparents bored out of my mind. As an adult, I would always recall stories about how I spent a year in Mazomanie one summer.

I loved talking about life with my grandmother. One of my fondest memories was singing her favorite hymns with her while sitting in her outside porch. Grandma Ohnstad lived to be 98 years old, which meant that all three of my daughters were over 19 before she passed. She taught each of them to sew, knit or crochet.

Unfortunately, none of my daughters got to know their grandfathers. My dad died when I was 19 and my wife’s father drowned on a family camping trip when she was 12. That meant that my daughters never experienced the special relationship grandfathers can enjoy with their grandchildren.

That’s why I am determined to make a difference in their lives.

Caught not taught

“They say that most of what we teach our children is ‘caught’ rather than ‘taught.’ I think that’s probably especially true of grandchildren,” Barbara wrote. “We won’t have as much directly instructive time with them as their parents do. But hopefully, through our love, our lives, our testimony, and our words, we can have a great influence on them for God.”

Be authentic. Tell your grandchildren about your life, not just facts, but why you think the way you do and why your experiences shaped those opinions. Share your wisdom derived from experiences, both good and bad. Don’t be afraid to tell them where you failed in hopes they can avoid the same pitfalls.

Today, more than ever before, children desperately need their grandparents to speak truth and common sense into the lives. They are bombarded with so many messages, some of which can be very dangerous. Children need the intentional grounding that comes through deliberate contact with their grandparents.