Written by Dr Miriam Stoppard OBE
Becoming a grandparent is worth waiting for. Grandparents are, or can be, the bedrock on which the rest of the family stands, adding stability and encompassing strong and lasting relationships across the generations.
They’re a kind of human cement which holds the family together, whether nuclear or extended; a family in which a child can grow up secure and loved, where she feels important and listened to. In helping children relate to people of all ages and to be unafraid among friends and relatives who are older, grandparents help prepare them for life outside the nurturing environment of home and family.
Grandparents are the enablers of their grandchildren, encouraging them to develop their personalities and achieve their goals. By virtue of their age, grandparents can generally be more patient, philosophical, long-suffering and sympathetic than parents. Handling children with ease is a knack acquired through long practice and grandchildren love it. The best grandparents have, over the years, honed their skills of interpreting warning signs. They’re able to anticipate problems and head them off – and more often than not pacify a distraction and persuade with patience.
“Granny will help”, “Grandpa will show”
The fact that grandparents are less stressed means that they have the time to give explanations and the patience to suggest alternatives and help calm a frustrated child who is facing a difficult task. If Granny’s mantra is “Granny will help” and she does, the time will soon arrive when your grandchild invites you into her world with “Granny, help me”. And if Grandpa indulges his hobby of gardening or taking the car to pieces with “Grandpa will show you”, Grandpa will soon be assailed with “Grandpa, show me”. So quite quickly your grandchildren come to see you as their coach, their manager, their cheerleader and their number one fan, and there’s no role you’d rather have: you have a place in their hearts no one else can fill.
Through your grandchildren you recapture the love you felt for your own children when they were babies. And maybe I’m getting emotionally incontinent here, but I suspect, rather ashamedly, that love for my grandchildren may exceed what I felt for my children.
Things only you can do
Every grandparent enjoys a unique position in their grandchildren’s lives. You don’t have to strive to be special. You are special by definition. And you can come into your own as a grandparent if you put your own distinctive stamp on your role by being inimitably who you are. If you do, you’ll find you have a devoted fan in your grandchild. And the summer holidays offer the perfect opportunity to spend priceless bonding time with your grandchildren, either one on one or as part of a family group.
Something to share
Perhaps you enjoy an activity (gardening) or a hobby (bird watching) or you have a particular skill (perhaps drawing, knitting, needlework, or playing tennis) which you can share with your grandchildren. This can provide an opportunity for them to accompany you into a world all of your own, one that only you can introduce them to.
The great thing is that you will have boundless enthusiasm for the activity. That’s infectious, and your enthusiasm will carry your grandchild with you. You communicate that energy to your grandchildren so that it becomes a thrilling journey you undertake together, with you as benevolent teacher and your grandchild as willing student.
And of course you open up your grandchild’s world in a way that’s special to you. It can be anything, from finding out about insects to stamp collecting or jewellery making – the possibilities are endless. Encourage your grandchild in all sorts of different activities. It’s the doing it together that counts.
Outings with young children
Special days out don’t have to cost a lot of money. If you’re able to take one grandchild at a time you’ll find that they are so happy with the extra attention, they’ll enjoy the simplest of activities. Whether it is a walk in the country or a day at the seaside, be prepared to make endless stops to look at anything that catches his attention. You have the luxury of time, so enjoy it.
When planning an outing, always try to consider what your grandchild’s personality can cope with best. If he’s a quiet child who has a long concentration span, you can take him anywhere, from a museum to a garden centre, and point out the things around him. If, on the other hand, he’s very active, he’ll need more space to run around in and a trip to a playground might be more appropriate. Always take enough drinks and snacks to keep your grandchild happy for the full duration of the trip.
Your outing checklist
As with any kind of outing with your grandchildren, the essential thing is to plan and prepare well in advance. The following tips will all help to make things go more smoothly for you:
- Try to travel early in the morning or at night, when the roads are quiet.
- Carry a large bag of spare clothes for your grandchild, be philosophical about accidents, and change him readily into dry clothes.
- For safety, tape cutlery to the inside of food containers.
- Have a supply of bags into which cartons, bottles, and wrappers can be put after use.
- Take a box of wipes to clean dirty hands and faces, and some tissues.
- Your grandchildren’s tablet with favourite programmes.
- Assemble a “snack bag” of healthy snacks and drinks.
- A small first aid kit with suncream, plasters, antiseptic cream etc.