NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–While many of the approximately 50 million grandparents in the United States are playing an increasing role in American families, many more have little contact with their grandchildren. Finding ways to bring the generations together can mean great benefits for both young and old.
Grandparents serve as role models, teachers, nurturers, providers and mentors.
It is physically, spiritually and emotionally healthy for children to have a close relationship with someone at the opposite end of the age spectrum.
The grandparent-grandchild bond is second in emotional importance only to the bond between parents and children, says Arthur Kornhaber, author of “The Grandparent Guide” and founder and president of the Foundation for Grandparenting (www.grandparenting.org).
“It’s the only relationship in which people are crazy about each other simply because they’re breathing,” Kornhaber says. “Grandparents and grandchildren are hard-wired to connect in ways different from parents and children. They have this adoration and unconditional love and joy in one another’s existence.”
A MULTITUDE OF BENEFITS
Most grandparents long to be involved in the lives of their grandchildren, and there are a multitude of benefits for families who bring generations together.
Children learn through close intergenerational relationships that they belong to something larger than themselves — a real blessing in this “me, me, me” society. Children whose grandparents are living the active lives typical of older adults today want to be actively involved with them.
Grandparents can offer unconditional love, encouragement and support. They also can share their wisdom and a wealth of experience.
Children can absorb from their grandparents a sense of history, identity, heritage and the vital connection with the past. Their elders’ life stories will grow in value as the children become adults. Grandparents also can teach values and pass on family traditions.
Wise parents will do everything they can to foster strong relationships between grandparents and grandchildren. Obstacles, such as geographical location, can make family togetherness difficult, but it is not impossible.
Here are some helpful ideas for closing the generation gap:
— Schedule regular multi-generation get-togethers. Studies show that only one-third of grandparents live near enough to a grandchild to see him once or twice a week. But it is important to make face-to-face contact, even if it is just a few times a year.
— Allow one-on-one time. Perhaps when grandparents and grandchildren are together they can play a particular board game or go to a favorite restaurant. “The more time a grandparent and grandchild share undivided attention, the more the grandchild can soak up the grandparent relationship in his heart and mind,” Kornhaber says.
— Relax. Do not try to pack too many activities into a visit or force a relationship. Simply allow things to develop naturally.
— Get connected. With the Internet, grandparents and grandchildren can now play games, tell stories and do puzzles together in real time, despite the miles between them. With e-mail, they can exchange letters and scan photos.
— Extend visits. If grandparents are traveling some distance to be with the family for a holiday, parents can encourage them to stay for longer periods of time.
— Share skills. Grandparents can teach grandchildren skills not readily taught today, such as baking, quilting or chess. In turn, children can demonstrate their skills at roller-blading, video games or soccer.
— Go on vacation together. A multi-generation vacation can help everyone enjoy one another’s company in a relaxed setting. Or if Grandma loves amusement parks, go for it!
— Use school breaks wisely. Many families opt to have children spend a week or more with grandparents during summer or holiday school breaks.
— Be creative. Grandparents and grandchildren can plant matching gardens and compare their progress. Or take turns composing a joint story and mailing the latest installment back and forth.
— Take some snapshots. Some of the best memories can be made with a camera. Keep current photos of grandparents prominently displayed. Create a family tree, complete with photographs.
— Video and audio options. Using video and audiotapes preserves special moments for present and future generations. Ask grandparents to tape themselves reading one of your child’s favorite books. Encourage grandparents to share on tape about their journey of faith. Videotape your child at a special event or demonstrating his latest skill and send it to the grandparents.
While child-rearing philosophies have changed over the generations, not all grandparents’ ideas are outdated. Grandparents have the perspective of already having raised children. The Scripture often links wisdom with age and experience: “Wisdom is found with the elderly, and understanding comes with long life” (Job 12:12). Be willing to listen and realize that all family members have the child’s best interests at heart.
Grandparents really are “grand.” Regular intergenerational contact reflects a high a value for family togetherness. The connection between generations benefits both the young and the old. Grandchildren will keep grandparents feeling younger, and grandchildren will be wiser because of their grandparents.
Adapted from the article, ” Surviving the Holidays?” in the December issue ParentLife, a magazine published by LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. Subscription information can be obtained by sending an e-mail to [email protected] or calling customer service at 1-800-458-2772.