There are few greater pleasures in life than being a grandparent, but with grandparent-hood sometimes comes a bit of uncertainty – can you survive as a grandparent to a group of energetic, talkative, and rambunctious little people?
There’s no denying that grandchildren can be tiring, and if you’ve been enjoying a quiet, relaxed retirement, the thought of your slow-paced, tranquil days suddenly being turned upside down can be a touch nerve wracking to say the least. However, surviving grandparent-hood and enjoying a peaceful retirement at the same time doesn’t have to be difficult, and it can even be a lot of fun – not to mention good for our health! The good news is that you’re not alone – here’s the ultimate survival guide for grandparents to help you connect with your grandchildren, maintain a healthy relationship with your own children, and enjoy a good balance of family time and personal time to promote overall health and wellbeing:
Maintain Regular Contact
For some grandparents, maintaining contact with grandchildren is simple – families that live near to one another enjoy plenty of opportunities for socializing, and grandparents often play a valuable role in the everyday life of their grandkids, including making the school run for working parents. However, if grandchildren live some distance away, maintaining regular contact can be a challenge, particularly if time differences are present. This can be frustrating, and both parties can suffer in terms of overall wellbeing and happiness.
Experts in the field agree that ‘grandparents can play a crucial role in the lives of their grandchildren in terms of education’, so it’s important for both grandkids and grandparents that efforts are made to build and retain a solid relationship, regardless of physical distance. Telephone calls can be beneficial for older children, but for babies and toddlers who are unable to engage in conversation, it’s worth utilising modern technology, especially video calling. Believe it or not, babies can recognise faces as early as 4 months old, long before they’re able to distinguish shapes or other objects.
Have a Life Outside of Grandchildren
While regular contact is important, there can be too much of a good thing! Some researchers studying the effects of grandparent-grandchild relationships have suggested that overbearing grandparents who are present in abundance could actually affect a child’s development, leading to potential behavioural and emotional problems in adulthood.
Additionally, not only can too strong a focus on grandchildren be detrimental for the kids, it can also affect the lives of grandparents. As children grow, they become their own people with their own interests, and with hobbies, friends, and school responsibilities, children will naturally have less time to spend with grandparents than they do when they’re younger, contributing towards feelings of loneliness and isolation amongst older communities.
It’s vital that grandparents enjoy their own life that’s separate from the lives of their grandchildren. This includes maintaining independence, staying mobile inside the home (and outside!), and building a happy, healthy social life within the community.
Remember That Things Have Changed
Although it can be difficult, survival as a grandparent largely depends on a great deal of tongue biting! Medical advice regarding the care of babies and small children changes constantly due to revelations made by modern research, and what was believed to be best for your children may not be what experts believe to be best for children today.
Consider sleeping etiquette, for example. Before the 1990s, putting a child to sleep on its stomach was widely recommended – children sleep better in this position, and it meant that, should a child vomit during the night, they would be unlikely to choke. Today, however, in response to findings of studies into sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it’s now advised that babies sleep on their backs. As a grandparent, it’s important to listen to the parents, and respect their wishes regarding how they want to raise their children.
Many grandparents disagree with how their children raise their offspring, with roughly 36 percent thinking parents spoil their children, but unless our grandchildren are put at risk by individual parenting methods, it’s best to sit back and go with the flow. Image Source: Wikimedia
Bring Something to the Table
There is a definite way that grandparents are supposed to behave when they have grandchildren – it’s almost socially expected for grandparents to provide some form of support, most notably in terms of finances. Some grandparents will contribute to a bank account, for example, whereas others will opt to buy necessities such as a cot or pram. However, contributing financially to a grandchild’s upbringing during retirement can be challenging, and not all of us are in a position to be able to do this.
The good news is that many of us are in a position to bring something else to the table and contribute towards development, growth and skills. While finances may be tight, an advantage of retirement is having more time to spend with family. Consider teaching the grandchildren to cook, or even to swim. Teaching skills can be just as beneficial as contributing financially, if not more so, for both parties. If teaching the kids to swim, for example, you’ll be helping them reach the recommended 180 minutes of physical activity for under 5’s, and you’ll also be helping yourself by building bone mass and becoming healthier and fitter.
Take an Interest
Being a grandparent to a ‘digital native’ can be daunting, and surviving in the digital world can be a bit of a challenge for those who are unfamiliar with the latest technologies. Smartphones and tablet PCs are second nature to today’s kids – they’re brought up using them – while some of us struggle to get the hang of touchscreen technology. The trick is not to worry – you don’t need to be an expert, you simply need to take an interest in your grandchildren’s passions, and they’ll likely be more than happy to show you the ropes.
Taking an interest is key, and unfortunately it’s something that busy working parents don’t always have the time to do. Statistics indicate that the average working mother has just 30 minutes free time each day to talk to her child, while men spend even less time chatting – just 15 minutes on average. One of the primary advantages of retirement is that we’re free of many of the responsibilities we had when we were younger, and have much more free time to spend with family. Even if your grandchild’s passion seems completely alien at first, you never know what you might learn!
Enjoy Suitable Activities
One of the most important survival techniques for grandparents is not to overexert themselves. Even the healthiest of grandparents could be putting themselves at risk of physical injury, or of mental exhaustion, by attempting to take things at a 5 year old’s pace. That’s why it’s essential that grandparents identify fun and educational activities to partake in together that are suitable for the whole family. While this may sound challenging, there’s actually a wide range of activities that tick all the boxes, including dance. Grandparents and grandchildren can bond and have fun dancing, while also enjoying many other benefits.
Music has been found to improve learning in the majority of young children, while low intensity aerobic exercise such as simple dance moves can increase flexibility within the knee and boost mobility amongst the older generation who may be struggling due to natural bone and muscle changes that come with age. Although the grandkids may want to whizz down slides, race down pathways, or climb trees; try to find some activities that you can both enjoy together safely.
Don’t Worry About Being the ‘Perfect Grandparent’
To survive as a grandparent, it’s important to remember one very important fact: perfection is relative. There’s an idea of the perfect grandparent that’s portrayed socially – a grandparent that’s present, attentive, generous with money, active, informed, and so on. Reality, however, dictates otherwise. Striving to be the type of grandparent portrayed in stories or in movies is a sure fire way to burn out, both physically and in terms of personal resources. Aiming for ‘perfection’ will dominate retirement – a time that’s meant to be enjoyed, and a time when you’re allowed to take things at a slower, more relaxed pace. Be your own version of a perfect grandparent, not the version you think you’re supposed to be – that’s the secret to surviving grandparent-hood