GRANDMA & GRANDAD NEEDED urgently by two adorable kids. Successful applicants need lots of time. Wrinkles no problem. Must be into cuddles and chocolate. Apply Nate and Becka, ph ….
HELP WANTED: Tree-hut needs finishing. Dad too busy. Mum too tired. Would ideally suit grandpa with own hammer. Hair and teeth optional. Old nails, bits of wood, rusty saw provided. Call Stevie, ph …
NIGHT TIME OPPORTUNITY! Loving granddaughter seeks comfortable, well-worn granny to baby-sit. Reward offered. Must be willing to read same bedtime story over and over. Contact her Mum, ph …
DEEP SEA ADVENTURE. Boys, outdoor-types, need Grandpa to take us fishing. Must know the best spots, have car (can be old) and lots of hooks. Bait supplied. Meet Ryan and Dean at the wharf on Saturday.
LOST: Elderly, Fun-Loving Grandmother. Answers to ‘Grandy’. White hair (sometimes blue). Little red veins in nose and cheeks. Nice and cuddly. Knows everyone. Gone to heaven. Replacement urgently needed. Apply to Michael, ph …
YOU MIGHT FIND THIS HARD to believe but, for some of us, our grandparents were – no kidding! – every bit as wonderful as this! Maybe we were just lucky. Back a few decades they seemed to make ‘em that way – but, here in the 21st century, that picture of two mature people living out their later years in a warm glow of contentment, surrounded by hoards of adoring grandchildren, seems out of touch with the real world – right?
How come? What’s changed?
Well, for starters, we move around a lot more. Back then, families lived pretty much in one spot, but these days we all go our separate ways. Grandma and Grandpa retire to Waikanae or Whangaparaoa … Dad gets a job in another city, so the whole darn family has to uproot … and the grandkids escape on their big O.E. Happens all the time.
Then there’s the other sort of separation. Divorce and remarriage. That happens all the time, too. And when it does, it’s often not clear anymore just who IS Grandma and Grandpa! Does my stepfather’s mother count? And what about the parents of my mum’s first husband?
Sorting out the mess can be tricky, especially for little kids.
“Our children have six grandparents,” says Alena. “My mother and father both have second partners. It’s actually seven if you count my husband’s father’s first wife … but she died a long time ago.”
Styles have changed too. Alena’s experience is probably not uncommon. She remembers her grandparents with affection, but says her own parents aren’t building those same warm memories for her two kids.
“What the kids see is money or vouchers for their birthdays, and a house you can’t do much in because you’ve got to ‘keep it nice’. Basically Gran’s an older lady who’s loosely connected with the family – but really that’s about it.
“I’ve never seen any initiatives on their part to actively grandparent our children. I’ve asked them occasionally to have the kids for a couple of days, and they’ve done that. But I’ve always had to ask. Nothing is offered from their end. And my kids have never had a call from Grandma saying, ‘How about coming to stay in the holidays?’”
Families have changed. The world’s changed. And we can’t turn the clock back. But one thing remains the same: CHILDREN STILL NEED GRANDPARENTS! And all three generations miss out if the grandies aren’t around …
But hang on a minute. Is it fair to ask someone who’s over 60 to get involved again with children? Haven’t they got their own lives to live? Don’t they deserve a rest?
Truth is, it doesn’t work like that. For a start, not all grandparents are over 60 – many of them are much younger! But their family is often their life. And as the years tick by, they need more than ever to be part of it. Without a purpose for living, without people to live for, they can just wither away.
And it’s a two-way affair. Older folks have heaps to offer. Many grandparents have a lifetime of gentleness and warmth and wisdom – and every family needs that. Just ask the kids. They know Grandma and Grandpa are special:
- “Papa cuddles us – and he’s funny.”
- “Granny brings us chips for afternoon tea.”
- “My Poppa takes me fishing.”
- “Nanna’s skin is soft and wrinkly. I like to touch it.”
- “Grandad’s teeth clack.”
- “Gran lets me play on her phone.”
- “Me and Grandpa always watch the cartoons on TV.”
Pete and Karen have three grown-up kids. “Karen’s dad died when she was just a baby,” explains Pete. “My mum died while Karen and I were on our honeymoon. And both my parents died a few years later. So our kids never got to know their grandparents …”
Karen picks up the tale: “We moved when our youngest was one, and this lovely old lady lived next door. She was lonely and, well, to cut a long story short, we sort of adopted her … or she adopted us. She just became Granny. Our Granny. A vital part of our family.”
Pete: “There was no blood connection, but that didn’t matter. Granny filled a gap in our kids’ lives for years. We all loved her and she loved all of us. She died not so long ago, and we miss her heaps!”
SO WHAT’S THE SECRET? HOW come there’s this bond between grandparents and grandchildren – whether they’re blood relatives or ‘adopted’? Why can grandparents ‘connect’ in ways that parents often can’t?
1. Love, no strings attached …
Grandparents will tell you that one of the perks of the job is they’re not parents. They can have fun with the kids – and hand them back at the end of the day!
“How come you didn’t spoil me like that when I was growing up?” the mums and dads ask. Well, most grandparents don’t have to worry about the daily grind. They don’t have to ask, “Have you brushed your teeth … done your homework … tidied your room?” They can leave the straightening-out to Mum and Dad, and get on with the really important stuff – like playing noughts-&-crosses and going to the park or beach.
Every child deserves at least one person who’s “totally crazy about that kid!” And that job seems to come naturally to grandparents …
2. A safe place …
When you’re a small person in the big wide world, you need someone on your side. And, for lots of kids, grandparents are the only security. If Mum and Dad aren’t talking, or if suddenly there’s a new man at home you’re supposed to call ‘Dad’, that’s when Grandma and Grandpa become extra special. Their place may be the one thing that doesn’t change. They’re always there.
Tina and Rod were heartbroken when their daughter’s fragile marriage finally hit the wall. But, in spite of the family-rift, they would always be grandparents to the two girls. “It was tricky, lots of stress, and we didn’t know what was happening half the time. But we were determined that our home would be a peaceful place. When we looked after the girls, we tried to make it normal and stress-free for them.”
3. Watch me, Grandpa!
No matter how hard they try, parents have only 24 hours in a day. When they have to earn the bucks, cook the meals, mow the lawns, feed the dog, juggle the bills, and serve on the PTA, there’s not a lot of extra time for the kids. “Not now …” can become their favourite reply.
That’s when grandparents shine!
Grandparents can make a five-minute dash to the shops spin out to half an hour. Grandparents have time for a story and don’t skip bits. Grandparents can wait while Logan tells his home-made joke – and still enjoy it when he forgets the punch-line. Grandparents are happy sitting for hours at the playground.
Or, if they’re not, they don’t let on!
4. Forgotten skills …
Want to know how to make marmalade … hang shelves in the laundry … do patchwork … knit booties for the baby? What about that old recipe for washing blankets or cleaning windows or that perfect pavlova or ginger beer? Ask Grandma! Ask Grandpa!
In our busy, modern world, we find it easier to buy what we want at the supermarket. But when things get tight and we need to make the dollars stretch further, those old skills become valuable again. Grandparents learnt to ‘make do’ when they were young, and have a 101 good ideas – plus time to put them into practice.
5. Links with the past …
“Grandpa, were you alive when the world was made?” What grandparent hasn’t had a chuckle over questions like this? To a growing child, Grandma and Grandpa are awesome – because they’re so OLD!
Grandma remembers when men walked on the moon. Wow! And Grandpa can talk about life before iPhones. When you talk about what you did back in the ‘good ole days’, you’re sharing a rich heritage and giving them a precious gift – knowledge of who they are and where they come from.
Pat Tauroa, author of The Maori Phrase Book, says it can make all the difference. “As young people get older, at around 17 to 20, they start to drift and lose their identity. If they have grandparents to tell them some stories and genealogies of their people, then they know where they come from. It gives them stability.”
It can be done in all sorts of ways – photos, a journal, a family tree – so the younger ones can see where they fit.
6. The way we are …
Traditions are great for keeping families together. And grandparents can play a role in how you celebrate Christmas … when you go for holidays and what you do there … the things your family believes in, like God and hospitality and helping others …
Anna and Dirk (‘Oma and Opa’ to eight boys and three girls) take this role seriously: “When our Dutch grandchildren were with us,” says Dirk, “they often asked me to make things with them in the workshop. And once, just before they went back to Holland, I said to them, ‘I want you to promise me two things. First, wherever you are in the world I want you to remember who you belong to, who you’re important to. Second, I want you to promise me that, when you have grandchildren yourselves, you’ll make things in your workshop with them!’
“They thought that was a great joke – the idea of them having grandchildren! But if they can remember those two things, I’ll be happy.”
BUT IT’S TIME TO ASK A VITAL question. Good grandparenting doesn’t just happen. It takes work. So what’s the secret? HOW CAN YOU BE THE WORLD’S GREATEST GRANDPARENT?
Rule No.1: LOVE ‘EM TO BITS!
It’s pretty-near impossible to spoil kids with too much love. Think of it as a bank account. Extra doses of grandparent-love are stored up for the kids – and can be drawn on when times are tough. So how does it all work?
- Recognise that you’re important. Good grandparents know they’re special to their grandkids. Yes, they’re well aware of the kids’ activities and their friends and their mum and dad – but they realise those kids still need a grandma and grandpa.
- Get involved. Involved grandparents don’t miss out on the growing-up years. They offer to baby-sit … talk to the kids (on phone, Facetime or Skype) … mark special events on the calendar … watch them play soccer or netball. (Uninvolved grandparents, on the other hand, don’t hear about special events till after they’ve happened …)
- Develop your own relationships with your grandkids. Good grandparents respect their grandkids as individuals in their own right – they’re not just playthings or chips off the old block, they’re unique! (Note: ‘developing your own relationship’ doesn’t mean being sneaky or underhand. And good grandparents never betray or abuse a grandchild’s innocent trust – emotionally or sexually.)
- Treat them equal-but-different. It’s easy to lump all your grandkids together – especially when it comes to Christmas and presents. But giving your grandkids identical gifts – “Great! Got that sorted, I’ll give ‘em one each!” – robs them of some of that specialness.
Wise grandparents remember what’s “Yuk!” for one child and “Mmm!” for another.
- Keep in touch with distant grandkids. Kids love getting cards and letters – and, when they get older, texts and messages. Stuck for what to write? Expand their horizons by telling them what you’ve been up to, some of your best memories, that holiday you spent together, what you’ve been reading or watching or thinking about.
Technology has come to the aid of grandparents. One creative grandfather sent a YouTube video of favourite stories and songs to a grandson who had trouble going to bed. After a few nights of listening to Grandad – no more fuss!
Why not send them some choice photos … pics of you or Grandma/Grandpa in the garden, baking a cake, decorating the Christmas tree, or pulling silly faces?
And bridging the miles doesn’t have to be difficult. Anna and Dirk see real compensations for having two families in Europe. “When we visit them or they visit us, it’s a big event and we make sure the time is spent doing things they’ll remember. Phonecalls are special events too, and in between we text or email.”
Rule No 2: SUPPORT YOUR GRANDCHILDREN’S PARENTS!
You’ve been through everything once already – from the terrible twos to the traumatic teens. And you realise that your children (now parents themselves) need all the help they can get. Sure, your advice won’t always be accepted. (You know how stubborn those kids of yours always were!) They have to work out a child-rearing approach that suits them. And the grandkids aren’t there for either of you to score points off!
Chances are there’ll be heaps of issues you’ll differ on: mealtimes … bedtimes … screen-times … food … And if you let them, kids can add fuel to your in-law battles. Example: Grandpa shows up with a huge bag of sugary lollies for the kids. They think it’s Christmas – and their mother is furious. “He knows I hate him doing that,” she snaps to her husband, “but he does it every time!”
So what are the keys here?
- Accept that it’s no longer ‘your day’. And avoid sentences that begin with “When I was young …” “When I was your age …” It’s tempting to think everyone should raise their children the way we raised ours. But fashions change – and so do ideas on childcare.
The time to worry is when your grandchildren are neglected or unloved. If it’s simply a matter of changing theories and trends – relax!
- Respect their household rules. You may not see the logic of sending kids to bed at 7pm on a sunny summer’s eve. But letting them stay up till it’s dark will undermine their Mum and Dad’s authority.
On the other hand, a comment like, “Your mother knows what she’s talking about – if I were you I’d do what she says,” can help a tired mum. The youngster who’s trying it on suddenly realises he’s up against the big guns – and Mum’s confidence gets a boost.
It’s different when the kids come to your house. Then you can set your own rules and spoil them rotten. But if in doubt, check. That way there are no hard feelings.
- Don’t spoil only your grandchildren – spoil their parents, too! Parents will always appreciate offers like these: to baby-sit on their wedding anniversary … to look after sick kids so parents don’t have to take time off work … to pick kids up after school and return them home, bathed, fed and ready for bed … to hold the fort while mum grabs an afternoon shopping-break … to pay for special extras like music or swimming lessons …
“Just try to find a nice balance,” warns Linda, mother of three. “I have a friend whose mother-in-law rang her every day – and it drove her nuts!”
Rule No.3: HAVE FUN!
Relax and loosen up! Grandparenting was never meant to be chore. Whether your grandkids are a pleasure or a pain is largely up to YOU! You can let them wear you to a frazzle, jump all over the furniture, raid your pantry, and eat you out of house’n’home – or you can decide to make their visit enjoyable for everyone and take practical steps to see that it happens.
Some suggestions …
- Know your limitations. You’d love to get down there on the floor and play with Lego, but your rheumatism won’t let you. Your hands are too stiff to do jigsaws. You can’t run after your toddler to stop her falling in the pool. And oh the noise!
(By the way: those marks of age you find frustrating may be fascinating to a child. One 80-year-old nanna has a grandson who used to like feeling the wrinkles around her neck – and still does, at the age of 21!)
- Choose your own style. Entertaining grandkids doesn’t have to be exhausting or expensive. If a rollercoaster-ride leaves you cold, your grandchild will be just as happy for you to watch from terra firma. Perhaps you can’t afford to shout them a trip to Disneyland, but you may have an old dinghy or bike they love messing about with.
- Be positive about what you’ve got to offer. YOU are what’s important to your grandchildren. As Kaitlyn remembers: “My grandma used to say, ‘I’m just a silly old woman, good for nothing …’ But to us she was the most marvellous grandma. We’d each have a ‘learning to knit’ holiday with her, one at a time when we were about eight or nine. And when she eventually came to live with us, she’d invite us down to her end of the house for afternoon tea. We’d play ladies with fancy cups-&-saucers, teaspoons, biscuits, the works – everything done properly. She knew how to make us feel special …”
- Make rules for your house. There’s no Parents Union that says you can’t. And it won’t hurt to spell out your demands, as Leo did: “One day the youngest tested me out to see what he could get away with. He blatantly ignored my instructions. So I picked him up by the lapels, put my face close to his and said quietly but firmly, ‘I want you to know that when you’re at my place, I’m the boss. You do as I say!’ I thought that this might destroy our
- relationship. But my daughter told me later that one night when she was bathing him he said, ‘First there’s God, and after that there’s Grandpa …’ I didn’t have to worry!”
- Don’t expect them to act grown-up. The only really predictable thing about grandkids is that they’ll act exactly their age! Nine-year-old boys shout. Twelve-year-old girls giggle. Six-year-olds have more energy than the national grid. Three-year-olds have an attention span of about two seconds.
That means choosing activities to fit the age and interest of each child. Find out, ask around, do a little research, experiment …
- Let the kids keep you young. Go on, admit it, you’ve always hankered after a ride on a steam train! And you could do with one of those triple-cone, chocolate-coated, nut-sprinkled ice-creams yourself! So, here’s your chance to forget that you’re a mature, dignified member of the community. With a grandchild in tow, you’re allowed to do anything! (Well, almost …!)
One of the greatest delights of grandparenting is seeing the world again through the eyes of a child. You’ve had your years worrying about mortgages and school fees, insurance and tax. Let that sticky, grubby, small person climbing onto your knee remind you of the simple, joyful things in life.
Rule No.4: THINK ‘LONG-TERM’!
Okay, so you’re not going to be around for ever. But that’s no reason to stop planning for the future – your grandchildren’s future!
Sophie wasn’t well educated. She left school at 14, married young, and spend her life caring for her husband, raising her children, and helping out on the farm. They had some good times and some bad times, but Sophie would never turn anyone away without a good feed or enough cash to see them right. She knew how to milk cows, run up curtains on her old sewing machine, and bake up a storm.
When Granny Sophie died, there wasn’t much left in the estate. She’d given most of it away. But her whole family and half the local town turned up for the funeral. Her nine grandchildren led the storytelling: “I remember when Granny …” And everyone shared many laughs along with the tears.
How do you want to be remembered? What better legacy could you leave than memories of your good life and the love you gave your grandkids? Echoes of your warmth and wisdom … the holidays you spent together … the skills you passed on. Every grandparent has a perfect chance to leave that sort of inheritance.
Rule No.5: WHEN ALL’S SAID AND DONE …
It’s true. We all work longer and harder these days. And many grandads – and grandmas – are still hard at it, noses to the grindstone, till their grandchildren are young adults. But PEOPLE are what life’s all about, and even a busy nanna and poppa can fit in some time – time you’ll remember and treasure, and so will your grandkids!
Like the old saying goes: No one on their death bed has ever confessed, “I wish I’d spent more time at work!”
No two grandparents are exactly alike. Some still have youth and energy on their side, and there’s no limit to what they can achieve for their small friends. Others are further down the road, health-wise or age-wise, and may need to settle for a more limited role. But one thing’s for sure: grandparents can’t be fired!
They’re part of the family, for better or for worse. And they deserve to be recognised, valued and involved.
They have untold things they can offer the little guys in their lives. And perhaps their greatest gift of all is, simply, themselves!
As one eight-year-old philosopher put it: “Grandpa’s allowed to be Grandpa!”
Keepers of the Vine