In many ways, it's a difficult time to be raising kids. Parents struggle in an unpredictable economy to balance work with family and teach values in an "anything-goes" culture. Kids have new stresses and new levels of old stresses: violence at school and in the news, negative peer influences, pressure to perform and substance abuse at very young ages, to name just a few.
Grandparents are an often overlooked asset for the modern family. Indeed, grandparents are needed today more than ever — not only to support fatigued parents, but also to be trusted allies who provide a much-needed sense of stability, security and unconditional love to kids, whether those kids are 2 years old or 18. Here are a few "first steps" that can help you build strong relationships between your children and their grandparents:
Passing the baton
Each of us has skills we pass on to the next generation. Teaching these skills and introducing our kids to new experiences are key privileges we enjoy as parents. But why not let grandparents be involved in sharing their skills and talents with your kids, too? Learning a skill from a grandparent can have a powerful influence on your children, and even little things can build memories. When possible, allow your kids to have the time and space with a grandparent to learn how to whistle or tell time, make cookies or fix a bicycle tire. Whatever the lesson, kids will remember who they learned it from.
And how about a grandparent's hobbies and passions? Children, especially young children, enjoy doing what grown-ups are doing — they love having a chance to join in. Recently, I've encountered several grandparents who use all manner of hobbies and interests to stay connected with their grandkids. From sharing a passion for photography or the history of the Civil War to ongoing lessons in gardening and hospitality — the time spent with grandparents can strengthen relationships and be educational for kids. Whenever possible, encourage your kids and their grandparents to develop hobbies and interests together, and support those passions by making time for them in daily family life.
Online and engaged
Modern technology has helped bridge the distance between kids and grandparents who live in different places. In recent years, I've noticed a surge of improvements in terms of reliability, convenience and ease of use, and this allows grandparents to use technology not just for occasional chats, but to be a regular voice in the lives of their grandkids. Personally, I'm a big fan of using the webcam on my smartphone to Skype, so I can chat with my grandkids, see their smiling faces and listen to their stories.
Parents can harness the power of technology to provide opportunities for their kids to connect with Grandpa and Grandma. Younger kids can chat with grandparents over homework or read stories together over the phone or via Skype or Facetime. Older kids can share photos via email or apps and follow each other through social media. Social media, such as Facebook, helps keep both up to date on what the other is doing and kids accountable with their posts when they know their grandparents will be reading them.
The handwritten connection
There's something special about real mail. Yes, modern technology makes communication easy, but children of all ages still love to receive mail. While postage is more expensive these days, letters, cards and printed pictures are still a great investment in a relationship with grandparents. Regular contact is important to maintaining these relationships, and handwritten messages can create a special and supportive bond.
Give your kids writing supplies, including bright paper, pencils, stickers or markers, and encourage them to write a note or draw a picture to send to their grandparents. Tuck in a recent photo. If your kids say, "I don't know what to write!" make simple, specific suggestions about events from their daily lives, such as, "Why don't you tell them about last Saturday's soccer game?" or, "Draw a picture of the bunny we saw in the backyard."
When the grandparents send letters and cards, let them read their mail alone, if they like, or share them with you. If they don't yet read, you can read the letters or cards to your child and put them up on the refrigerator or bulletin board. If grandparents send a gift, encourage your child to call or write a thank-you note. You'll not only be helping their writing skills improve, but also instilling gratitude and good manners — and you'll be helping your children send little rays of sunshine into Grandpa's and Grandma's lives.