Grandkids are a treasure for many women over 60 – but just as is the case with so many other aspects of our world and our new stage of life, many things are much different than previous generations might have expected.
Think back to relationship you had with your grandparents when you were growing up. Were you close with them? What are your fondest memories of your grandparents? If you had children, what was their relationship with your parents like? Did they spend lots of time at “grandma and grandpa’s” house? Were your grandparents strict, or likely to “spoil” their grandkids?
Whether we like it or not, our opinions about good grandparenting are strongly influenced by our own experiences. There’s nothing wrong with this. But, at the same time, it makes sense to understand the ways that the context has changes since we were children.
Here are a few of the ways that our grandchildren’s lives are different. By understanding these, we can build even better relationships with our grandchildren and their parents.
Today’s grandkids live in a world where technology is always on. It is pervasive in every aspect of their lives and they are always connected. How connected? Well, according to the Guardian, most kids are getting their first mobile phone around age 11.
Making the situation even more challenging is the fact that technology companies and video game developers intentionally make their products addictive. They are constantly searching for new ways to get children to spend more time with their product and less with their competitors’. Just try stopping your grandchild in the middle of a game and you’ll see what I mean.
Of course, technology is not all bad. Far from it. It can also be a powerful educational tool and there is nothing wrong with interactive entertainment, per say. But, for grandparents who want to get to know their grandkids, it can present a barrier to better understanding.
All that said, there is good news for grandparents. This is because everyone, not just kids, is addicted to technology; many kids subconsciously crave real attention. In my experience, after a little resistance, the great majority of kids respond warmly to an opportunity for the undivided attention that grandparents can provide. Of course, the kind of attention will vary by the age of the child, but, there is no reason that grandparents have to let technology rule their relationship with their grandkids.
Just remember that many kids today crave constant stimulation. There are many creative ways to separate your grandkids from their iPhones for a few hours. Just make sure that you have something fun and stimulating to fill the gap.
Today’s grandkids are growing up in a culturally diverse world. That’s a great thing. All children are naturally curious and absorb languages like sponges. The difference is that they are exposed to educational and travel experiences that most of us could never have dreamed of as children. There are two ways that grandparents can take advantage of this.
First, they can embrace their role as family story-teller. The technology around us may have changes, but, people still love to sit around the campfire (real or imagined) listening to adventures. Tell them about the wonderful places you visited. Don’t be afraid to tell them what you learned along the way. They will respect your honesty.
Second, grandparents can learn a lot from the opportunities that their grandkids have been given. If your grandkid is learning a second language, why not join them on the adventure? If they are interested in a particular country, why not learn how to cook its most delicious food together?
Kids today often seem to be growing up so fast! Access to the Internet from a young age exposes them to all kinds of information, some which enhances their life and other kinds that we would prefer they find out later.
If anything, this accelerated learning makes the relationship between grandparents and grandkids more important. After all, intelligence and wisdom are two very different things. Depending on the relationship that you have with your grandkids, and their age, they may even be more comfortable talking with you about the complex world around them than with their parents.
Try to forget about what is “normal” for a child to know at his or her age. Embrace their thoughts for all of their magical complexity and be a point of wisdom and stability in their life. Their worries and dreams may be accelerated, but, they are all things that you have experienced and can help them to unravel.
Many women over 60 live far away from their children and grandkids. Your grandkids probably don’t live in the same town or city that you do. Perhaps they even live in another country. The good news is that the same technologies that make it harder to connect with our grandkids in person make it easier to connect with them when they are far away.
Skype is a great tool for staying in touch over long distances. If both of you have a Skype account, you can talk for free and, in my experience, the call quality is even better than a normal phone. You may also want to ask your children to upload videos of your grandchildren’s adventures so that you can share in them. Who, knows, maybe your grandkids will become the next YouTube stars!
Parents have always been busy and stressed. If anything, parents today are more overwhelmed by previous generations. They are forced to balance their careers and their families in a time of accelerated change. Many are also recovering from the effects of the “great recession” and are anxious about their family’s future.
At the same time, today’s parents started having kids later than our generation did. As a result, they are somewhat more mature and better informed than we were when we had our first child. This doesn’t mean that they don’t need our help. But, it may mean that they feel that they should be in control of the family dynamic.
As with so many things in life, a gentle touch may be called for here. Today’s parents may respond negatively to what they consider “interfering.” But, they still value our opinion and most want us to play an active role in their children’s lives. The trick is to do this in a way that builds strong relationships with our grandkids and still gives their parents the room they need to manage their lives.
So, with all those “differences” out of the way, the truth is that kids today are the same below the surface as they have always been. They want to be loved unconditionally, praised for their accomplishments, given tools to learn and kept safe and happy. They also want to enjoy time with their favorite people, including, we hope, their grandparents!
What have you noticed that seems “different” about your grandkids’ lives compared to your kids’ childhood, or your own? Please join the conversation.
Looking for more tips on grandparenting? Here are 6 tips to help you build a great relationship with your grandkids.