QUESTION: I’ll admit it — I wasn’t the greatest dad to my kids. But now I’m a grandfather and want to do a better job. Got any suggestions?
ANSWER: Sure! Here are some excellent ways to be an active, involved part of your grandchild’s life.
- Stay connected. Call, write, email, fax. Do whatever you have to do to keep in close (but not too close) contact with your grandchild.
- Watch the unsolicited advice. Part of what makes the grandchild-grandparent relationship so satisfying for the grandchild is that it doesn’t include a lot of the natural conflicts inherent in his relationship with his parents. Remember, if you act like a parent, you’ll be treated like one — and get rejected.
- Be there. If you live nearby, mark as many of your grandkids’ special occasions as possible: birthdays, soccer games, school plays, music recitals, graduations, performances and so on. If you don’t live close by, at least try to mark those special occasions with a call or a card.
- Expose them to a wide variety of things. Take them to museums and concerts, share your hobbies with them, read to them or, better yet, tell them about your childhood and the “good old days” (even if you have to make some up).
- Get to know them. Learn about what they’re interested in — the kind of music they listen to, the books they read, their hobbies. At the very least, you’ll learn a lot about popular culture. You’ll also get a ton of great birthday-present ideas.
- Get to know them one at a time. If you have more than one grandchild, you’ll probably spend most of your time together in groups. But try to log some one-on-one hours, too. This has a number of advantages, starting with not having to waste time breaking up fights between siblings or cousins. In addition, it will give you and your grandchildren a wonderful chance to truly get to know each other a lot better.
- Get to know their friends. Know their names and what your grandkids see in them. Asking about the friends, having them over to dinner, or inviting one or two along on an outing, and otherwise supporting the friendships shows your grandchildren you’re interested in them.
- Don’t be a Disneyland grandpa. The term Disneyland dad usually applies to noncustodial, divorced fathers who try to fill every second of time with their kids with fun and games and treats. Plenty of grandparents do the same kind of thing, buying the grandkids extravagant gifts, eating every meal out, taking them on expensive trips, giving in to their every whim, throwing discipline to the wind, and generally treating them like visiting royalty instead of children.
Falling into this trap is easy, but you won’t be able to keep it up for very long. Sooner or later, you’ll run out of money or ideas. And when that happens, your grandkids will have gotten so spoiled that they’ll do one of two things (maybe even both): resent you for not giving them “their due,” or think you don’t love them anymore. The solution is to try to make their time with you a little more normal. Of course, you’re going to indulge them a little — that’s what grandparents are for. But don’t go overboard.
- Be patient. Preteens and teens may back away from you during their I-must-reject-everything phase. Don’t judge; just be there and let them know they have a safe place to land if they need anything.
- Don’t take sides. Never, ever get in the middle of an argument between your children and theirs. And never, ever tell your grandchild anything negative about either of his parents.
- Support their parents. No matter what you think, never undermine your grandkids’ parents in front of them. If you really disagree with something either one is doing, save it for later.
- Back off. The bottom line here is that you need to let your adult children live their own lives. Yes, you’re interested in their job prospects. And sure, you want to make sure their finances are in order, that they aren’t drowning in credit card debt, and that they’re putting aside enough money to put your grandchildren through college. And you probably want to make sure they’re happily married to the right person.
But the truth of the matter is that none of that is your business. It’s fine to clip out an occasional article on a topic you think your child might find interesting. But aside from that, unless there’s real danger to life or limb, keep your advice (including telling your child that he or she married an idiot) to yourself unless it’s specifically asked for.
Armin Brott is a syndicated columnist and author of eight books on fatherhood. Visit his website, www.DadSoup.com, or follow him on Twitter @mrdad.