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Kids and Grandparents

Columnist reflects on the importance of children spending time with their grandparents.

Today was the third morning in a row that I have awakened without the responsibility of caring for my children hanging over my head. It’s weird.

My boys are with my mother-in-law on the Central Coast. She offered to let them spend a week with her and it’s hard to say no to that kind of offer. I should be ecstatic about my sudden abundance of free time, but I miss them like crazy.

This is not the first time my kids have been away from us. They have spent weeks with my parents and in-laws before and they always do well.

The difference is this time my husband and I aren’t on vacation ourselves. I don’t have as much to occupy my mind and my time. I’m alone in my house and it just feels wrong.

But it’s important for our kids to spend time with their grandparents. In a grandparentstoday.com article entitled “Simply Grand: The Importance of Grandparents,” Dawn Marie Barhyte writes: “It is vital to allow the intergenerational bond to bloom early. Letting kids and grandparents work out their own special relationship sets up a strong connection for the future.”

My own maternal grandfather — Poppa — was a constant presence in my life when I was a child and young adult. He and I had a very close relationship. Because of the early deaths of my other three grandparents, he was the only one I really knew and he was, in a way, like a third parent to me and my sister.

Some of my favorite childhood memories are of going on walks together, eating cheese and crackers in front of The Young and the Restless and — when I was in upper elementary school — getting involved in stamp collecting together.

My grandpa adored all of his grandchildren and bonded with all of us in different ways. For those of us who lived near him, he never missed a dance recital, concert, big sporting event or graduation (kindergarten through college). He also made it a priority to frequently visit his other grandchildren who lived across the country.

Poppa wasn’t a traditional grandfather by any means. Because one can hardly call somebody who beats on the bedroom window with a stick and calls himself the Boogeyman — as a method of inducing sleep in talkative grandchildren — a traditionalist.

Instead of slipping us money to buy Hostess snack cakes at the grocery store or some cheap trinket on our frequent walks to the dollar store, he made us count our pennies and refused to pay the tax when we came up short.

When I announced my first pregnancy to him his response was not “Congratulations!” but a delighted cackle and a crude joke at my own expense. (I loved it.)

But he was the only grandparent I knew. I grew up surrounded by his passions for nature (he was an avid gardener) and music (he learned to play the organ when in his 60s) and whatever else he happened to be interested in at the time (cooking, orchid cultivation, Asian-inspired home décor with a side of garage sale chic).

The fact that he took an interest in my interests made me feel very special. I miss him every day and think about him often — especially when I see my boys enjoying things he would have enjoyed. My younger son loves nature and my older son has a talent for music.

Unlike Poppa, my kids’ grandparents live hours away. I can’t speak to the experience of grandparenting, but I’m sure it’s very different when you see your grandkids every few months rather than every few days.

At least we are all in the same state again. In fact, one of the main factors that drove our decision to move back to California was the opportunity to raise our kids closer to family — grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins and all of my husband’s grandparents.

They are not as actively involved as my parents and in-laws are, but my kids are fortunate to have so many loving grandparents in their lives (I am, too—I have known my husband’s grandparents since I was 16).

So as hard as it may be, I have to allow my kids this time to have their own experiences and build their own traditions with their grandparents.

My dad doesn’t pretend to be the “Boogeyman” and my mother-in-law doesn’t watch The Young and the Restless. But my kids know that my dad is the one to go to for ice cream bars, that my mom is the one who likes to play cards and board games and that my mother-in-law will help them create costumes for pretend play. Which is pretty awesome because they are not always going to get those things from me.

Are your kids close to their grandparents or grandparent-like adults? What do you do to help foster those relationships? Let us know in the comments.

John N June 29, 2011 at 09:22 PM
Enjoy all the time you can with your grand kids or with your grandparents. I had a wonderful relationship with my grandparents up until their deaths and would love to have that with my grand children. But no matter how hard you try you cannot keep them young and yourself as the only game in town. No matter how much I tried to convince myself it would never happen, when my grandson turned 15 I was not that "special" anymore. So enjoy them while you have them and put everything you have into these relationships.
Linda Park June 29, 2011 at 10:44 PM
I was always so envious of my friends and their grandparents when I was growing up. All of my living grandparents lived in Vietnam, and I only heard stories about them. I was only able to meet my maternal grandmother once when I traveled back to Vietnam at 17. All of my grandparents are deceased now, and I always felt a little robbed of that experience. Which is why I am so happy that my children have all of their grandparents around. They're all very loving and caring, and of course, love to spoil the kids. My kids see all of their grandparents very often. I love it and I know just how special and important it is for them.
Creek Diva June 30, 2011 at 02:50 AM
Love it!! My 8 year-old and I spent the weekend with my grandpa, his Great-grandpa, Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles and cousins last weekend. I'm so grateful at my age that I still have two living Grandparents who I get to spend time with. My sons other grandma and him are extremely close, a bond that is quite remarkable and I'm very thankful for it.

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