National Grandparents Day, Sunday, September 8, 2013
Marion McQuade of West Virginia, founded National Grandparents Day to call attention to the lonely elderly in nursing homes. It was also her hope that children would connect with their grandparents and glean the wisdom and experience that many grandparents have. In 1978, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed the first National Grandparents Day, to be held each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. As a friend reminds me, being a grandparent does not necessarily guarantee wisdom, however, connection, communication, and showing our appreciation for one another are important. We are all capable of developing and nourishing these skills. It is possible for everyone to establish a better connection with not only their own grandparents but also with others who are “grandparent-like”. How we treat one another is one of the most important ways we nourish one another at any age.
Sometime our holidays take on such a materialistic and demanding air that no one really enjoys celebrating. Hopefully, we can focus on making National Grandparents Day about communicating, connecting, and appreciating one another and our mutual roles as parents, grandparents, and grandchildren.. The timing of Grandparents Day is probably not ideal for making it more fun to celebrate. Already families are caught up in the start of the school year and all the pressure and changes taking place at this time of the year. Perhaps we can make Grandparents Day about making a commitment to improving the ways we communicate with one another, and by showing our caring by providing support and understanding to one another rather than demanding that we get time or attention.
What are some ways we might celebrate and observe Grandparents Day with more of an emphasis of appreciation and better communication?
1. Express Your Gratitude and Appreciation. As Grandparents, we might express our delight and appreciation to our children and grandchildren for the privilege of being grandparents. I for one, cannot imagine putting any more pressure on my daughter at this time, to show me what she and my granddaughter show me year round...their love and respect. I can imagine however, writing a special note myself, to let both of them know how much they mean to me, and how much being a grandmother means to me. I can imagine doing something special for them. This year, I’m putting together some photos and creating a memory book for them. Once a year, I share all the photos I’ve taken of them over the last year (on a CD). This is something my Granddaughter loves (for she can look at the pictures over and over), and I believe my Daughter appreciates my keeping a photo archive of what I take. For those grandparents that are far away, a Skype or Facetime phone call can be something fun to share, or a letter. Most children love getting their own mail, and letter writing is still something special that we can share and pass along to both our children and grandchildren. What might you share of yourself that would pass along something unique? Perhaps you could teach your grandchildren to knit, crochet, or do needlepoint. This year I am canning and preserving, and my Granddaughter is excited to get homemade strawberry jam from her Yaya. Think of something special that you can teach or share with your Grandchildren.
2. Make Plans. Plan a special occasion that you can look forward to. One of my friends took her granddaughter to Europe for her graduation. For most of us, this would take some planning and saving, but if we set a goal and make plans to take a special trip together, that is something that unites us and we can do this together. It certainly does not have to be as elaborate as a trip to Europe (although sometimes it less expensive than traveling in country). This summer my Granddaughter and I made plans before my trips to visit her, and we made sure we did things together that gave us great joy. She took me to the Asian Art Museum where she had gone on several field trips throughout the year. We took our sketch pads and as she showed me her favorite pieces, we drew together. I then took her out to lunch in the Museum Cafe. Creating special moments together is something that we can share even when we are at a distance from one another.
3. Acknowledge Your Children. Our children often get short changed when the grandchildren arrive. For many of us, we have more time to spend with our grandchildren than we may have had when we were raising our children. Sometimes our children feel we are visiting or calling only to talk to the grandchildren. For most of us, this is not the case. Our children are important to us, and the thrill of being grandparents may seem to overshadow our relationships with our children.
4. Respect Your Children’s Time with Their Children. Also, we think we are taking the children off our children’s hands, but in fact, most families are so busy that they treasure their own time together as a family. When I was growing up (I just had to say that), my grandparents were far away. We had to travel a long ways to see them, and it was an occasion and part of a long vacation. Now travel is easier and we may go back and forth more frequently, and then we need to be careful about how we may be infringing on our children’s lives. In San Francisco, people tend to come to visit more frequently than they might if you lived in the middle of, say Nebraska, where it’s harder to make connections. There’s a lot more commuting by air, and that means we’re in and out of one another’s houses and lives more frequently. We, grandparents, need to remember that we change the dynamic of the family when we arrive.
5. Communicate and Show Respect. Our grandparenting experience revolves around our relationships with our children as well as our relationships with our grandchildren. Spend some time communicating about what works best for their schedules, the demands of their lives, and their time constraints and needs. For those of us who live in the same City, again, we still need to be respectful of boundaries, limits, and time. We all seem to want the ideal relationship with everyone in our lives, and we end up role playing and living out fantasies rather than dealing with life as it is for everyone. We teach good communication skills and respect through the way we treat others. If we want respect and if we want to communicate well, we need to practice what we preach.
6. Listen and Ask. Listen to what your grandchildren tell you about what is really important to them. Ask the to tell you about what matters, and then listen to what they say. Just as we had to watch our baby’s behavior to determine their needs, so too do we need to listen to, observe, and ask our grandchildren what matters to them. Once they are school age, their interests and needs revolve more and more around what is happening with school, friends, and activities related to growing up (birthday parties, family activities, work schedules, lessons, and other activities). Our roles change as well. For those who live within close proximity, you can become part of their life by getting involved in ways that support and enhance your grandchildren’s experience. Walking your grandchildren to or from school, getting them to lessons, or taking them for a special afternoon with a friend to the park and the carousel--all ways to maintain a close connection with your grandchildren. When you come to town, these are also things you can do. Going to the Exploratorium, doing lunch or yard duty at their school, or doing any number of activities they have told you are meaningful to them.
7. Share Your Best. Sometimes what we share with our children and grandchildren, stays with them for their entire lives. We want to make sure that does not include all our bad habits, attitudes, or behavior. If we have so much time on our hands that we only think of ourselves and overlook what really matters in the lives of our children and grandparents, we are wasting our lives. Remember when you were at the busiest time of your life. Remember staying up all night finishing a costume for Halloween when you had an exam the same day, and had to be at work after you drove your daughter to school...You get the picture. Remember when you were taking care of an older relative, handling a major program kickoff, end-of-the-year event, or some other major job-related activity, and ‘oh by the way’ you needed to make sure you were there for your own children throughout the day and the week.
Give your children and grandchildren the gift of understanding how hectic life can be, and when you’re in town or around, make life better where you are. Let the best of who you are come out to, and realize how very fortunate you are to be a grandparent and a parent. Do what you can to help support, heal, and enjoy the family you are part of. Adopt a cooperative spirit, and realize it is their turn to take the lead with how they want to live their lives. Our grandchildren will benefit more from our presence in their lives when they see us supporting, loving, and honoring our children as well.
National Grandparents Day can also be about us grandparents taking a more active role in getting and staying active, growing in our relationships with our children and grandchildren, and in celebrating and appreciating our good fortune of being grandparents. My granddaughter asked me recently if I was going to ‘be around’ when she grew up and when she decided to have her own baby. From a very early age, the relationships that mean the most to us become part of our own narrative and our understanding of what life is about. Let those in your life know what they mean to you, and share yourself with them, showing them through your actions and example, as well as your words, how proud you are of them and how much you love them. That’s really what our children and grandchildren need and want most. All the rest is icing on the cake. Open your heart and share that love today and every day.