Becoming a grandparent is one of the most magical experiences you can have. Yes, you get to leave the tougher daily discipline to your children. But being a grandparent comes with responsibilities, especially if you want to give the kids something more valuable than transient indulgences or more stuff.
I know you’ve heard the cliché – a great thing about being a grandparent is all the spoiling you get to do. That’s true, but it doesn’t go far enough. Sure, I like to treat my grandsons, Davis and Corbin, to ice cream. I like to buy them toys, clothes, and gear. But I also want to help them become well-adjusted adults. So, I’ve thought about more enduring things I can provide them with now that will also be a foundation for their future.
I’ve tried to distill many of the lessons I’ve learned about grandparenting over the past nine years into this article. These habits aren’t comprehensive, and at times, some are still aspirational for me, but they’ve helped me become a more effective grandparent, and maybe
they can help others, too.
1. Share stories.
Throughout human history, telling stories is how we bond and share experiences with one another. Grandkids love two kinds of stories. First, there are the stories about family members, including yourself, that illustrate who you and other family members are as individuals. Tell what you learned and experienced, share your strengths as well as weaknesses, and illuminate the personalities of their extended families. The second kind of stories grandkids love are the really scary ones. Be sure to have a few good ones on hand to tell at night, and especially if you’re around a campfire.
2. Find adventures.
Grandkids love going on adventures with their grandparents. I like taking them hiking and showing them the beauties of the great outdoors, especially national and state parks, where they can get a sense of awe from majestic scenery. This past summer my wife and I had the pleasure of taking our grandsons, along with our daughter, to two beautiful national parks in the West: Yellowstone and Grand Teton. I could talk all day to them about how incredible it was to experience the beauty of nature and the rugged outdoors. But none of that really registered until they saw the spectacular beauty in those parks. They were challenged and awed by hikes to waterfalls and hot pools and geysers. They were disconnected from the Internet and devices, encountered wildlife, and heard strange and scary sounds. And they loved staying in rustic cabins and using shared outdoor bathrooms. You would have thought these kids were staying at a Ritz-Carlton!
But just getting in the car and driving to an interesting new place in Richmond is also a great adventure if you approach it with an enthusiastic attitude. Just make sure you call it an adventure and imbue it with a sense of excitement.
3. Encourage courage.
If you have a grandchild who naturally gravitates to risk-taking, this tip doesn’t necessarily apply. But if you have a grandchild who is sometimes shy, or afraid to take on something new, then remember to explain to him or her that often, courage is having done the thing before. We tend to fear those things that are new. Learning to overcome fear and try new things is learning to be brave. Encourage kids to accept the idea of it being okay to be apprehensive about unfamiliar things and still try them. Try to instill in them the willingness to try and try again, and accept not always succeeding along the way as a worthy attitude.
4. Be there and listen.
I’ve combined these two things because they are inextricably bound. If your mind is elsewhere (tuned into your devices, for example) while you’re with your grandkids, you’re not there. And if you’re not listening carefully at all times to what they’re saying when you’re being given the gift of their words, you’re squandering a treasure.
5. Be alert to observe their passions.
It may take time, but your grandkids will reveal the things that really are exciting to them. Have your antenna up for those things and encourage them. Sure, you want to share whatever your passions are – sports or the arts or whatever – but make sure you give yourself and the kids the opportunity to see what really clicks for them.
6. Read to and with them.
This is the most important passion you can help them develop. Take them to your local library and get them a library card. Read them books, and when they’re old enough, ask them to read to you. Let them see you reading books. Show them articles in newspapers or magazines. Let your grandkids know that there is a world that awaits them beyond their electronic devices or TV screens.
7. Show, don’t tell.
If there are values you think are important to the development of your grandchildren, find ways to show those values in what you do. Don’t simply tell them what you believe. They’ll watch what you do and how you do it and learn. What you tell them will be fleeting; what they see you doing will be retained.
In closing, I offer one more important tip. As much as you have to teach them, find things to let them teach you about as well. And though I’ve said to stay off your devices, asking your grandkids to teach you how to deal with your smartphones, smart TVs, and computers is a great way to get closer to them. Letting them be your in-house IT consultants will bind you together and help you cross the looming tech divide most of us face.
Real granddad Alan Rudlin lives in Richmond with his wife and cherishes every moment he can spend with his grandsons.