A Grandparents' Guide (page 3)
The Wonder Years
The most exciting thing about being a grandparent is watching your own child become nurturing. The miracle of a new baby is overwhelming, but to watch your son or daughter becoming a parent is just as miraculous. We watch with awe, pride and, sometimes, trepidation as our sons and daughters do their best to raise strong and healthy offspring. We know how demanding a job that is. We want to help. We should help. And we do.
We want to keep our grandchildren safe and sound. We want to make our homes and theirs safe havens where nothing bad can happen to them. We want to share with our own children the lessons we learned-and learn a few new tips ourselves.
The contributions grandparents make to their families are extraordinary. Some, like baby-sitting or giving them safe cribs or strollers, are tangible. Others, like providing a role model for grandchildren, are intangible but just as powerful and real. We do know that virtually every study of child development shows that youngsters lucky enough to have loving grandparents are destined to be winners. All research on single parents shows that the future of the children is correlated with support from grandparents.
We also know that grandparents can make their children's job of parenting a lot easier. When you lend a sympathetic ear to an upset parent you provide a safe outlet for often difficult emotions. When you give your children a night off by baby-sitting, you give them and your grandchild a much-needed break from the inevitable strains of the nuclear family. When your children know that, in a pinch, there is someone to step in to love their children and keep them safe, you give them the most valuable kind of support.
More and more, we see grandparents providing reliable and dedicated child care. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates that about 1.3 million children are entrusted to their grandparents every day. That same 1994 study says another 2.4 million children live in households headed by a grandparent. It means that numbers of grandparents make it possible for the young ones to grow up in stable homes and communities.
But it's the daily acknowledgment that we get from our children and grandchildren that inspires us to develop and maintain those loving connections. What fun to watch their eyes widen and sparkle when you tell your grandchildren about how their mommy was as a small child! We know it's not always easy, that it takes thought, finesse and devotion. It requires us to be emotionally flexible and nurturing. We have to be vigilant and make our homes safe for children. We need to take our role modeling seriously-for our children and grandchildren.
We hope we can help. Because when grandparenting works, there's nothing better. We know. We're grandparents too.
|Dr. T. Berry Brazelton
Clinical Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and Chairman, Pampers Parenting Institute
Chairman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
Bridging the Generations and Building the Bonds
T. Berry Brazelton
Take your role seriously-you have a lot to give. With babies and toddlers, you can be an additional source of love and care. For school-age children, you can teach family values and history. You can inspire older children and adolescents to want to grow up to be like you. To do that, you have to be a consistent presence in their lives. If you can, offer to babysit regularly or when needed. That allows you to lavish all your special attention on your grandchildren. At the same time, you'll win the eternal gratitude of your children, who need downtime.
- In between visits, fill in the gaps with a weekly phone call to the child at a pre-arranged time. Encourage each child to share a "news" item with you, something only he or she can reveal. That way a phone call becomes an event that everyone looks forward to.
- Videotapes are another wonderful way of keeping up with your grandchildren's everyday experiences and milestones. Of course, exchange letters or e-mail and ask for packages of drawings and schoolwork. They give you insight into how they're developing and what interests them. Your positive-feedback-praise helps to build self-esteem they'll need to get along in the world.
Read a story or conjure up a fantasy for them on videotape. Let them hear it at bedtime. That way, they'll remember you between visits.
Grandparents make profound contributions to their families, so take your role seriously.
Babysit on a regular or as-needed basis, if you can. It allows you and your grandchildren to develop trust and understanding, and gives parents much-needed downtime.
- Your active participation instills a sense of family and continuity that adds to your grandchildren's feeling of belonging and security. You can magnify that by sharing your family history. Children love stories about when their parents were young-the time Mommy fell out of the apple tree and didn't break a bone, or when Daddy woke up at 3:00 in the morning because he couldn't wait for his birthday presents.
- Holidays are another opportunity to bring the family tradition to children and create memories that help make your family close. Encourage everyone to celebrate them at your house. When that's not possible, link up by phone and take time to talk about family beliefs and rituals. Even when there is resistance about getting together, it is worth it. They never forget rituals. We need values for our children and grandchildren, and this is a way to perpetuate them.
For those of us who live too far away, or are not able to babysit, there are lots of other ways to stay close. Arrange for regular visits with your grandchildren and have them visit you. See each grandchild separately if you can. The kind of individual attention you give is key. My 14-year-old granddaughter, Lil, and I love to go shopping together. Tommy, 9, comes down for a Dallas-Redskins game with Grandpa. And Abigail, 11, loves to swim with me.
- Making rituals out of meeting with your grandchildren, having things that you do only with them, makes them feel unique. Besides, taking them to the zoo or to a special restaurant is fun for you, too.
- One of the things I have always loved doing with my grandchildren is taking them to the nearby playground. It's a wonderful place for children to have fun and run off steam.
But, as caretakers of our grandchildren, even for an afternoon, we need to be careful. Most serious injuries on playgrounds come from falls onto hard surfaces. In fact, grass is one of the worst surfaces because it can become hard, packed dirt.
Checking for playground surfacing that "gives" is extremely important. Wood chips, mulch, sand, pea gravel, or rubber matting are all good choices. After all, you want your time together to be full of fun, not tears. Even today, I have scars on my knees from falls on my old neighborhood playground.
Have special things that you do with each grandchild on an individual basis. It makes them feel unique and important.
Share family history, traditions, and holidays with your grandchildren. It helps instill a sense of family, belonging, continuity and security.
- The constant contact with your grandchildren teaches you how to really listen to them, to understand what they mean to say, not just the words they use. There was a time I brought my granddaughter Lil to my office for the annual "Take Our Daughters To Work Day." I asked all the girls, "Who wears a bike helmet?" Almost all of them except Lil raised their hands. I asked her why, and she said, "Gramma Ann, I look like a dork." I figured if she felt that way, so must hundreds of others who would rather go without protection than look unhip. A project we did with the Automobile Association of America confirmed the fear. So we went to the bike helmet manufacturers who redesigned them-put in bright colors and sparkle. Now my granddaughter tells me, "You know, Gramma Ann, they're awesome."
- When we take our grandchildren's words seriously and respect their opinions, they do let us know what's going on. That strengthens the growing bonds between you and your grandchild.
Making it Work
T. Berry Brazelton
Even with all the advantages of an extended family, the course of those relationships doesn't always run smooth. Parents and grandparents are bound to disagree over child-rearing choices. The trick is in knowing how to cool the friction before the fire gets out of hand.
- What most young parents need from their own parents is sympathetic support, not advice and criticism. While it's sometimes painful to watch your children go through the trial-and-error of parenthood, it's part of their learning curve. It's best to let them know you're there for them, that you're willing and eager to listen and that you'd be glad to offer the wisdom of your own experience if and when they want it. A regular "date" with them to let your child unload is a sure way of keeping in touch.
- Occasionally, our children or grandchildren will do something we feel so strongly about, we'll want to intervene right then and there. Resist temptation. It only undermines the parents in front of the children and sets up tensions. The time to talk about the problem is calmly and reasonably and privately. Even if you ultimately disagree, it inspires trust when you accept their parenting decisions. Remind your children of their own childhood crises and how they handled them.
- Grandparents must respect their children as the parents. Grandparents are notorious for overindulging their young charges, and parents often worry that this will undercut their own child-rearing efforts. However, Grandma and Grandpa's treats, no matter how frequent, are just one more sign to children that they are cherished. Grandparents can be tolerant, loving and supportive, without having to discipline and instruct the way parents must. They can afford to see all the good things in a child and ignore the bad. That's a wonderful mirror into which a child can look.
Respect the rules and limits that your children set for their children. Grandparents should indulge their grandchildren-within reason. When it comes to the major issues, abide by the parental guidelines.
- Children always know that their parents' insistence on proper nutrition and a sensible bedtime is good and loving in the most profound sense. So when it comes to major issues, grandparents should always abide by the limits set by the parents to avoid confusion and bad feeling on all sides.
- One of the great gifts we have is our ability to influence young children. Removed from the power struggles of the immediate family a grandparent isn't likely to meet with as much resistance as a parent would in suggesting a child do some homework or set the table. It is one way grandparents help parents by reinforcing the values that parents want to instill.
Let your children know that you made more than your share of mistakes when they were little, and that, just as they do now, you had to learn how to take good care of them. I will never forget the time when my baby daughter Laura was about to swallow something that looked to her like a piece of cherry candy. It wasn't candy. It was a bright-red glue pellet from a craft set. That is how I learned the importance of baby-proofing our home.
- Then my grown-up daughter had the fun of reminding me of those lessons when my own grandchildren were little and she brought them to visit me. She went around my house to be sure I had put all the peanuts and candies up high- and locked away the pills-and put safety plugs on the electrical outlets.
- Where babies are concerned, we can all use good advice. But as a grandparent, I try hard not to give it unless I'm asked. It's much better if I wait until I hear, "Mom, I need advice."
- It may be our privilege as grandparents to indulge and maybe even spoil our grandchildren a bit. For example, I may buy more toys or treats for my grandchildren than I did for my daughters. But you need to be careful, too. A friend of mine, a new grandmother, proudly showed me the toy she bought for her two-year-old grandson. The age label on the toy was for an older child. Like me, she thought she had the smartest grandchild imaginable, and the toy would challenge him. But those age labels on toys are often safety recommendations, not measures of skill or ability. By providing appropriate playthings, you can spoil your grandchildren and keep them safe at the same time.
Be sympathetic and supportive when your children run into parenting difficulties. Resist the temptation to intervene with advice and criticism.
Never take your grandchildren's side in a dispute they may have with their parents. It undermines parental authority.
- We're there with the power of example. Try not to force your beliefs. Rather, in a loving and con- versational way, set a good example. For instance, my grandchildren see me in my job giving back to society. They've got the idea that's a good thing from watching what I do and how much I care about child safety. They've become safety ambassadors, very interested in safety for themselves and for their friends. It's your very presence that affects them. You're a grandparent figure. If you're informal, loving, friendly and casual, and you set a good example, it's the best way to encourage learning, values and connection that go beyond your family to the community and society at large.
Reprinted with the permission of the Federal Citizen Information Center.
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