Turns out all those stories about apple-cheeked grandmas and genial grandpas are right; kids really do thrive on the extra attention and wisdom of experience that loving grandparents can provide. A recent survey by the Legacy Project showed that 9 out of 10 adults feel their grandparents impacted their standards and morals, and concluded that children need a minimum of 4-6 concerned adults in their lives to thrive.
“Your parents can – and should – play a pivotal role in your children’s lives,” says Susan Newman, Ph.D, author of Little Things Mean A Lot: Creating Happy Memories With Your Grandchildren. “Make sure your parents know that it is important to you to play a big part in your children’s childhoods. Say the words, ‘I’m so happy you are here to be part of …’”
If your relationship with your parents is less than ideal, or if you’re carrying some baggage over things that happened in the past, it can be hard to watch them gushing over your kids. While you should never compromise your children’s safety or well-being, if your issues with your parents are more run of the mill, it may be time to grant them a second chance, recognizing that people often do mellow with age. Decide in advance what role you would like your parents to play in your children’s lives, and make the boundaries clear. (Can they set rules? Do you want parenting advice?) As Newman says, “you need to have an active voice because you are the parent, and be comfortable with your parents’ involvement, which should remain a supporting one, not one that undermines your authority.”
There are lots of things you can do to foster good grandchild/grandparent relationships, whether your parents live across the street or across the world. Here's a few:
- Ask your parents to talk about your family history and teach your child family traditions. Let your mom show junior how to prepare her legendary jao tze while your dad goes over the genealogy chart.
- Utilize technology: send e-mails, buy a webcam, use photo sharing sites to share photos and videos of your kids.
- Ask your parents to tape-record themselves telling bedtime stories for your children. This will act as a reminder of their presence long after they are gone.
- Encourage your kids to go to their grandparents with questions and concerns. If your parents have any areas of expertise, like teaching or carpentry, let your kids know they’re a resource.
- There’s usually room on the grandparents’ fridge for excess artwork and extra photos. Be sure to send them yearly school photos, finger painting, and craft projects.
- Tell your kids funny stories about your childhood and what the grandparents were like when they were young. And, though it may make you squirm, encourage your parents to tell your kids stories of when you were their age.
Keeping kids in contact with their grandparents not only strengthens family relationships, it also gives children a sense of where they came from, and an idea of where they're going. And your parent's stories and memories will be passed down through generations, keeping family alive forever.