October 1997

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Grandparents are Special

By Beth Weiss, Copyright 1997

“Grandparents are special” is something we all hear, and most of us have wonderful memories of our grandparents, but for me, there’s been nothing quite like watching my children with their grandparents.  Due to a series of modern, but non-traditional family happenings in the grandparent generation, my kids have either six or seven grandparents, depending on how you count.  And somehow or another, even with the distance involved, the kids know that these people are different, and more important than, other people they see only rarely.

Like many moms, I love to ask my two year old “Whose little girl are you?” and when I do, Jennica starts to giggle.  “Are you mama’s little girl?”, I ask.  “No”, she giggles back.  “Are you Daddy’s little girl?”  She replies with more giggles and “No”.  “Are you Jordan’s little girl?”.  “No.”   “Then whose little girl are you?” I ask.  And in the midst of all of her giggles, I hear “Grampa Ed’s little girl!”

Jordan knows that Grandmar collects banana stickers, and so he pulls the stickers off of bananas, presses them onto a small sheet of paper, asks how to write “I love you, Grandmar”, and then asks us to mail it to her.

Granddad sends letters to the kids—about 50% words and 50% pictures.  Jordan has been helping me read them for about two years.  I read the text part, and pause at each picture, and he fills in those parts.  Those letters stay on the refrigerator for months.

When the Big Backyard magazine arrives each month, Jordan knows that Grandmommy sent it to him, and Jennica says “me want visit Grandmommy and Linda again!”.

My mother’s visits always seem to include at least one trip to the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.  If I suggest a visit to the museum, Jordan wants to know if Grandma is coming to visit, too.  “We can pick her up at the airport”, he tells me.

Sometimes I find myself wistfully envious of families who have grandparents across town—or sometimes, just down the street.  Besides the convenient babysitting advantages, there are all the connection advantages.  With children, out of sight really is out of mind.  Both my mother and my mother-in-law live on the other side of the country; frequent visits just aren’t possible.  If we manage two visits a year with each of them, we’re doing pretty well.  But we’ve learned that “out of state” doesn’t have to mean “out of sight”.

We’ve learned a few things that help the children stay close to their grandparents between the not-frequent-enough visits.  (These work for aunts and uncles, too, and so we use them for children we don’t get to see frequently enough, too.)

1)  A right-after-birth visits counts for a long time.  It helps the grandparent connect with the child, so that the adult feels a bond right away, and it provides picture opportunities that can be shared with the child as the child gets older.

2)  We keep a photoalbum of family member pictures, especially pictures of the grandparents with the child. Children tend to like going through the pictures, and the grandparent’s faces will become familiar.  A framed picture on the wall is even better (I’ve got to get organized).

3)  Obviously, frequent visits are the best way for grandchildren and grandparents to be close, but they’re not the only way.  Visits at key points in the child's development can go a long way.  Two or three visits time very close together can really pay off, since even a toddler or preschooler will remember Grampa from the visits 2 months earlier.  Even if the next visit isn’t for close to a year, you may find the child is still talking about “When Grampa came to visit.”

4)  It’s so tempting for Grandma to want to come for the major events.  But if they’re coming from far away, and the child isn’t used to the grandparent, a quiet weekend might be better than a busy one. For toddlers and preschoolers, the weekend before the 2nd birthday made my mom’s visit more memorable to Jennica than if she had come on her birthday when my husband’s whole family came in from northern Ohio.

5)  Talk to your parents about how  important it is to you for them to be close to your child.  Suggest that they send pictures, short notes, e-mail—anything you can show to the children to help them keep Nana in their minds.  Toys aren't necessary here--all that's needed is a short note in an envelope so that Mom and Dad can say 'look what you got from Nana".

6)  When possible, have the grandparents give toys and other gifts in person, so that the child associates Grandpop with the toy.  Even a two year old can say "Grandpop give book". This isn't "buying" love; it's keeping the distant grandparent in the child's mind.  I always read the inscriptions when I read books that were received as gifts.  (Using a picture of the giver as a bookmark is helpful, too.)

With today’s mobile world, few of us are lucky enough to live close to all of our families.  My children’s grandparents are in four different states.  Their aunts and uncles are spread out over five states.  But with a little (or sometimes a lot) of parental effort, they’ll be able to experience the love that families bring, even if it’s at more of a distance than we would have chosen.

Best wishes,


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