Baby Boomers have jumped into the grandparent role in the same way that they engaged in other phases of their lives - with enthusiasm and active commitment. They have redefined what it means to be grandparents. But how can you form and maintain a connection with your young grandchildren when they live thousands of miles away and you see them only sporadically?
Allan talked about his six-year old grandson, Jake, and the joy he felt whenever they spoke on the phone. "He called me the other day and said, 'Papa, I just saw the moon! It looked like a smile turned on its side.' I could visualize the big smile on his face and that brought an even bigger one to mine. When Jake was just three and we were visiting him, I had shown him the full moon early one winter night. I had explained to him that, even though we lived very far away, we saw the same moon in our home that he saw in his. We decided that the moon would be 'our friend,' and ever since then we have shared this special connection."
If you are living far from your grandchildren, you too can bond in a profound way. Use the same sense of creativity that you have mastered in other areas of your life to build a relationship that grows through the years. Here are 5 original tips from other grandparents - see what worked for them and let your imagination run free as you decide what works for you.
1. Susan had enjoyed music all her life and had a soft, gentle voice. When her first grandchild was born, she picked a simple song and sung it sweetly to her whenever they were together. When they were apart, she sang it over the phone. Soon her little granddaughter began to recognize it as Nana's song. The song became a way for both of them to keep each other close through the distance.
2. Carol loved books. She had worked in a bookstore and was familiar with all of the children's classics. When her grandson was born, she picked one of her favorites and began to read it to him whenever she visited. She held him close and repeated the passages in her lilting voice. This special cuddle time became one of the most rewarding parts of her visits. Every year, on her grandson's birthday, she gave him another classic children's book with her inscription telling him why she had especially chosen it for him. Books grew to represent a deep bond between them.
3. Making movies had been Alex's hobby ever since he was a teenager. He had taken pictures of his own children over the years but never really compiled them in any meaningful way. It was different when his twin grandsons were born. For their first birthday, he edited a video of the highlights of their growth that year, complete with music and clever titles. Each year, he presented the boys with an edited version of their activities for the year. As they grew, they looked forward to getting their new videos and loved to watch them over an over again. Alex took great pleasure in making the videos, as he could watch his raw footage many times in order to pick the best shots and put them together. Creating the birthday videos was a win-win for both Alex and his grandsons.
4. A chemist by trade, Mort knew how materials combined to produce new substances. He was intrigued by the way foods did the same thing, and he was an innovative cook. As soon as his young granddaughter was able to hold a spoon, he helped her put the fruit into her cereal. When she was old enough, he began to cook with her whenever he came to visit. He taught her to measure the ingredients when they made chocolate chip cookies and to mix the batter when they made blueberry muffins. The kitchen became their special playground and they had the added bonus of eating their tasty handiwork. As she grew, their creations became more complex and they both looked forward to sharing new recipes as they cooked together on his visits.
5. Some boomers developed innovative means of connecting with their grandchildren, using talents they didn't even know they had. On a lark, Sara wrote a poem for her grandson on his first birthday. It reviewed the things she had done with him - watching his first smiles, seeing him sit up and eat in his high chair, having him crawl to her, holding his hand as he learned to walk. She found that she enjoyed the writing as it gave her an opportunity, during the process, to savor her pleasant memories. She began to write poems regularly, combining them on the page with pictures she had taken of them together. Her grandson looked forward to each new grandma poem and loved re-reading the old ones every time she came for a visit. His parents read the poems to him when Sara was back in her own home, keeping their attachment strong.
The legacy that you pass on to your grandchildren will be much more than money or possessions. It will be the priceless gift of yourself. Let them know who you are. You will enjoy the precious time you spend together and they will cherish the relationship with you for a lifetime.
(c) 2007, Her Mentor Center
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Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are founders of www.HerMentorCenter.com, a website for midlife women and www.NourishingRelationships.Blogspot.com, a Blog for the Sandwich Generation. They are authors of a forthcoming book about Baby Boomers and family relationships. They offer free newsletter Stepping Stones.
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