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Keeping Grandparents Connected: It’s a Parent’s Job
by Susan Newman, Ph.D.

Your parents can—and should—play a pivotal role in your children’s lives. An analysis of intergenerational relationships conducted by the Legacy Project shows that in order for children to completely develop socially and emotionally, they need at least four to six involved, concerned adults who interact with them. In today’s world, parents’ time is stretched thin by work, care-giving and social responsibilities leaving plenty of room for grandparents to step in. Grandparents need only encouragement and reassurance from you to become those crucial “involved, concerned adults.”

As many as nine out of ten adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their standards and morals, according to the Legacy Project. Without grandparent influence, children may experience challenges and conflict not only within the family but also outside it. As a parent it is your job to help your parents cement the grandparent-grandchild bonds.

Spell Out the Benefits

Most grandparents are aware of the positives and uniqueness they offer. Nonetheless, make sure your parents know that it is important to you for them to play a big part in your children’s childhoods. Say the words, “I’m so happy you are here to be part of (children’s names and events, this celebration…).” Your parents can’t read your mind. And, even if they know you so well that they realize what you’re thinking, it’s nice to hear the words, to be valued and appreciated out loud.

Tell them that you are grateful for the advantages they provide, which include:

Additional support, love, and friendship for your children
Being a part of a growing child’s life and being able to share in his or her experiences and successes—large or small
Helping your offspring develop a positive attitude about aging and allowing him or her to gain a better understanding of the life process
Educating grandchildren about the family’s history and origins
Teaching family traditions first hand
Sharing stories from their parent’s past

The pluses and sense of security grandparents give can be monumental in a child’s life, but it can be difficult for grandparents to gage how much participation is appropriate and how much you want. 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.

Tips for Overcoming Miles

One of the biggest challenges for grandparents today is not living near their grandchildren. AARP reports that 66% of all grandparents live more than a day’s drive away from their grandchildren. Distance can put a strain on the grandparent-grandchild relationship, make it non-existent, if you, the parent, don’t keep the lines of communication open and encourage both your parents and your children to follow through on all possibilities for keeping the relationship close.

Try these tips to make sure your parents feel involved in your children’s life:
Videotape your children’s special activities (school plays, church outings, sporting events) and send tapes to your parents.
Allow your children to make video messages for grandma and grandpa. Record them saying hello or singing their favorite songs. Then, encourage your parents to make video greetings for your children in return. Suggest they read a book or tell a story about when you were little.
Mail your parents any drawings your children create for them
Send newspaper articles about your children and the events they participate in.
Encourage your parents to begin using the internet, no matter how daunting it may seem to them at first. Children are becoming more and more computer savvy at very young ages, and it might be easier for them to keep in touch through emails rather than letters.

The best way to stay connected and keep grandparents in the foreground is to keep them informed and up-to-date. If your parents are aware of what’s going on in your children’s lives, their next visit will seem less awkward and conversation will flow easily.

Here, some starters to keep your children connected to grandparents they don’t see frequently:

Regular phone conversations to say I’m thinking about you, I love you
Phone calls to report major and minor accomplishments
Put a picture of grandparents in a prominent spot in your home
Talk about your parents often
Have children sign holiday and birthday cards to grandparents; encourage them to create their own
Comment on something a grandparent would enjoy if he or she were there
Point out similarities between your child and a grandparent—a talent, an interest, a resemblance

Whether your parents live around the corner or several states away, they can make your children’s lives richer and more meaningful. Be sure that you help to facilitate their relationships by seizing every opportunity to enhance them, always bearing in mind that young children can never have too many caring adults in their lives.

Adapted from Little Things Mean A Lot: Creating Happy Memories with Your Grandchildren (Random House/Crown).

Susan Newman, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and author of The Book of NO: 250 Ways to Say It—and Mean It and Stop People-Pleasing Forever (McGraw-Hill), - Parenting an Only Child, The Joys and Challenges of Raising Your One and Only (Broadway/Doubleday), and Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day (Random House/Crown), among others. See: www.susannewmanphd.com

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