While National Grandparents Day (Sunday, Sept. 10), hasn’t achieved the same recognition as Mother’s or Father’s Day, it is a perfect time to honor grandparents. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter made it official and the Grandparent’s Day proclamation cited the day’s purpose was to honor grandparents, to give grandparents an opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help children become aware of strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.
Senior living communities are great venues to celebrate grandparenting and many of our clients have planned special themed brunches and parties geared for multi-generations to enjoy.
Keeping in touch with grandchildren is often a challenge facing grandparents regardless whether they live nearby or if the grandchildren are across the country. An AARP study showed that 45 percent of grandparents live more than 200 miles away from their grandchildren. Not only are many still working; many only have time for semi-annual or annual visits.
AARP advises that becoming part of a grandchild’s life requires a concerted effort and staying in close communications with the grandkid’s parents. Grandchildren’ parents need to help out too keeping grandparents abreast of grandchildren’s activities. If the parents inform Grandma and Grandpa about a grandchild’s soccer game or important school test, grandparents can call and inquire how things went.
It’s not necessary to pamper grandchildren by buying presents. Time is more meaningful. Sharing part of yourself and something you love is far more important. My mom includes her granddaughter when they take my mother’s dog to the local dog park. Each enjoys this simple outing. My niece entertains everyone at the park with her animated stories and certainly brightens everyone’s day.
At East Ridge at Cutler Bay, a life plan community, one grandmother I know who isn’t up on technology and isn’t comfortable emailing, still relies on the telephone. She makes a concerted effort to specifically call each of her grandchildren. Also, she has let them know how much she appreciates postcards they send her from various places they visit. She keeps these in an album. Not only does her album refresh her memory, it keeps her connected with them throughout the year. She started this years ago by sending the grandchildren personal post cards and then they started reciprocating.
According to AARP, grandparents offer a different level of acceptance than parents, who must focus on discipline. Children benefit the most from having caring adults in their life that pay attention to them, show interest, and listen to them. These actions show the child that the child is loved and cared about. It strengthens their sense of self.
I hope you will share your tips but here are some that I found in talking with many grandparents living at our clients’ communities:
Regular visits—Try to not only plan to visit for holidays and birthdays when quality time is fragmented, make an effort to carve out time for regular visits not related to a special event. A suggestion is to make a scrapbook of this visit and turn a visit into something that becomes a longer lasting memory. We’ve started relying on our cell phones for pictures but they don’t replace an old-fashioned photo album.
Technology—Stay in touch using the same technology the grandchildren use. Emailing, texting, Skype, Facebook, digital photos and videos all are helpful keeping those connections. Using technology to connect with grandchildren also may motivate seniors to become more tech savvy and comfortable with these tools. The internet offers opportunities to play games together online, such as video, card and computer games. This creates shared experiences between grandparent and grandchild, fodder for conversation, and commonalities.
Sharing books—Rather than just giving a book to a child, try to read it together. If not in person; grandparents can read sections of “Harry Potter” or other favorite children’s novels over the telephone, via Skype or even make a tape recording that the parents can play at night to help the grandchild go to sleep. East Ridge resident Pat Eaton passes along her hardback books she has read for the book club to her granddaughter who enjoys reading, too.
Photographs—Keep family pictures out in your home and somewhere where the grandchildren can see them. Grandchildren really enjoy seeing these pictures and they spark great conversations. Take family snapshots too. We’ve started relying on our cell phones for pictures but they don’t replace an old-fashioned photo album that people can sit and look over.
Old fashion mail—Grandkids love receiving mail and there’s nothing like a periodic letter in the mailbox to let your grandchildren know you are thinking of them. If you want your grandchildren to get in the habit of writing to you, maybe a box of pre-addressed and stamped post cards will make it easier. If you are traveling, remember to send post cards from your trip.
Share hobbies—Maybe you have a special knack for a hobby or skill such as knitting, woodworking, beading or cooking. Provide grandchildren some time to watch what you are doing and encourage them to try too. One grandmother I know makes incredible jam. She uses fruit her grandchildren pick and includes them when she’s making a batch. These are memories they’ll have forever. A passionate follower of baseball, Pat Eaton shares this interest with her granddaughter, Elise Allison. The two know every baseball team and often call each other to talk about a homerun they’ve just watched on TV.
Family trees—Both younger and older kids enjoy learning about their ancestors and relatives. Encourage grandparents to share stories of their families. You can even provide paper and drawing supplies so they can chart the family tree.
Grand parenting is much like Woody Allen once said, “90 percent of success is showing up”. I hope you have a wonderful Grandparents Day this year.