On September 5, this year, my eldest son will be married to his childhood sweetheart. It seems like no time has passed since he was a toddler and now, at age 26, he is getting married and might soon have children of his own. I have therefore started reflecting on the role I might have as a grandfather.
When our two boys were growing up, they had amazing relationships with my wife’s parents. Her mom would come over from England, three or four times a year and they always looked forward to her visits. Their “grandma”, as she was called, would get down on the floor with them and just talk about things. She would neither judge nor admonish but instead strive for an equal relationship, listening for hours to what they had to say. At her death both boys, now in their twenties, expressed the deep love and caring they had for her and what they learned from her over the years. She became a role model to them.
Their relationship with my wife’s father was different. He also visited and entertained them at his home in England, but they saw him less. Still he helped them learn to play cricket and golf. He regaled them with stories from World War 2 as well as writing a synopsis of his life for one of their class projects. They loved and respected him as well. But the relationship was different.
My parents had died before the boys were born.
So how do I think I shall interact with my eventual grandchildren? Hopefully well. I want a close relationship with them just as my wife’s parents had with our boys.
Firstly, I believe that grandparents can play a huge role in helping bring up children from an early age. And children, many years later, will cherish the time they have spent with their grandparents.
What is the Typical Role of the Grandparents?
While Grandma typically dotes on a new baby, Grandpa does not, normally, enjoy changing diapers! But as a child grows up and, before he/she goes off to kindergarten, there is a huge set of values and social skills that a child will learn from their parents, their caregivers and their grandparents.
Many parents use grandparents for childcare – whether it be for a few hours or for a week while they take a much-needed vacation. Grandparents can use this time to “spoil them rotten” before “giving them back” and retreating to the peace and quiet of their own home where the breakables have not all been moved to the highest shelves.
However, I believe that there is an opportunity for grandparents to contribute more to a child’s development beyond “baby sitting”. We can use all the experience and wisdom we have gained over the years to teach in an age appropriate and fun way. This is an opportunity which should be grasped!
What role should a grandfather play?
I strongly believe that grandparents, including a grandfather can, and should, involve themselves in teaching their grandchildren skills through telling stories about the family history, teaching them gardening, riding a bike and knitting. But beyond this, some of the greatest joys for both grandparents and young children is in selecting and reading a story while cuddling together. By choosing the right book, it is possible to open conversations with a child and impart valuable lessons in a relaxed, natural and non-stressful way. I feel so strongly about this that this was one of the major rationales for building the Five Enchanted Mermaids brand.
Can there be conflicts between parents and grandparents?
Obviously, but to overcome any potential conflict it is important to have an open communication and discuss upfront the role that you would like to play. While parents are involved in the day-to-day issues, grandparents can take a loftier role guiding the child in such important values as, kindness, confidence, independence, courage, and honesty.
What are the skills that the grandparents should address?
Grandparents are not present all the time, so at each visit strive to plan and execute just one skill. You should also try to make the teaching a fun/entertaining experience for the child. Like most things in life, grandparents need to think it through and not just “wing it”.
Everyone has a unique set of skills and grandparents should do the things that they enjoy and do best. If grandpa likes building things and does not like reading much, he should complete a building project – build a doll’s house, build a frontier fort. While reading to your grandchild is important, do not saddle him with reading a book if he does not enjoy doing it, your child will pick up on this. The child may then regard reading as not very enjoyable.
The skills to be taught also partly depend on their proximity and frequency of visits. Often, and more so now with the coronavirus threat, grandparents rarely are able to visit in person. In these cases, technology can help. Friends of ours have a Facetime call with their granddaughters every week and use the time to develop their social skills. We encourage grandparents to embrace technologies such as Zoom, Google Meet, Skype, and Facetime.
Unless grandparents visit often do not have them engage in math and reading skills which need a more concerted effort but encourage them to teach the higher-level skills such as confidence, independence, honesty.
Parents should enlist grandparents from both sides of the marriage to fill in the gaps and provide another resource for teaching.
What is the alternative?
It may be easier to just sit there in front of a screen, but what a wasted opportunity!
The Five Enchanted Mermaids celebrate diversity in our world and the belief that each child deserves to have a mermaid that looks like them. Through their individual personalities and traits, they weave stories that help teach skills for children in this age group.
The idea for the Five Enchanted Mermaids was born to provide a fun but educational backdrop for girls aged 3 to 7 years. The characters address emotional skills (making friends, resolving conflicts, coping with change, making their own choices and “being good people”) and educational skills (learning to read, the alphabet, counting, symmetrical shapes, time, value of monetary coins/notes) that are important at that age in the development of young girls.
The stories use each of the diverse mermaids as a role model for behavior and values.
LifeMadeSimple, LLC and acclaimed children’s book author, Lois Petren, are collaborating to provide a series of books, party accessories and other appropriate items to support these goals.
Visit us at www.fiveenchantedmermaids.com.