One of the most significant things you are giving to your children and grandchildren, no matter the age, is memories. Thinking about your own growing up years, it’s easy to think of times, events, and people that impacted your life. Each day there were incidents that shaped your thinking, piqued your curiosity, inspired your dreams, and captured your spirit. We don't remember each day, but we do remember those that were special in some way. Many times it was because these events were repeated, becoming a habit for the family. Many times it was because the activity took us by surprise and left an indelible imprint. Sometimes it was because in the moment, love was exchanged, changing our hearts and connecting us to another individual in an unforgettable way. Given the choice, the preferred impact would be a genuinely positive one, where that mark can be made and the memory can be captured. Negative memories have different impact on their lives altogether. But for the sake of this article, we’re going to emphasize the positive.
You may not realize this, but your grandchildren are expecting certain things from you. Yes, that’s right. They have expectations about what a grandparent’s role is in their life. It’s almost inherent in them to define the role so much easier that we can. It’s easy to know they have expectations, simply by how they react to you.
One of the very first expectations is that they want you to be excited to see them. Does your voice go up a few octaves as you shout their name from across the parking lot or driveway? Do you open your arms out wide, hoping, like in the movies, they will come running towards you and leap into your arms? Do your eyes light up when they enter the room and in return theirs light up even brighter? Can they tell on the phone that you are happy and can’t stop smiling simply because you are talking to them? I have seen my husband toss his inhibitions out the window as his excitement to see our granddaughter grows in just the few seconds he lays eyes on her. He screams her name as if seeing a long, lost friend for the first time in decades. She responds in almost the exact same way, with her “cute-ish” little grin and her high pitched chuckle as she tries to contain her excitement. But his enthusiasm is so contagious, it’s not long before she’s running down the sidewalk, jumps into his arms and they both twirl around in love-soaked passion that only a grandfather can have for a granddaughter. It’s a beautiful thing to watch! Then, when they catch their breath, she realizes that I’m right behind them and the whole thing starts over again. We scream, we twirl, and we hug. And it feels so good to be loved. She feels it, you feel it, there’s nothing like it. Let yourself go, don’t care about what the world thinks, at that moment, there’s only one person who cares how your face shines simply because you are in their presence.
Another thing your grandchild expects is that you will have boundaries and rules at your house. Of course, they would never say this, but the reality is they are much happier if you do. Do you value what’s yours enough to provide direction and instruction for them, knowing that accidents do happen? I mean, letting them play on your computer is ok, with supervision. But left alone, there are just too many keys to press that do cool stuff! Next thing you know, nothing is in its right place and your email doesn’t receive mail any longer. Do you have a special place chosen for them to keep their toys when they are all finished playing? Do you encourage them to be the ones to pick them up? At our age, we are a lot farther from the floor than they are, and it hurts a lot more to pick them all up! Do you allow them to jump on the sofa or the bed? Do you have rules about what and when to eat? All of these rules, and plenty of others, are important because at their own home, there are rules, schedules, boundaries that are put into place for a reason. Be respectful of this fact by discussing with the parents, before a grandchild stays over, what a normal day/night looks like for that child. Some children can stay up late, some need to hit the bed early. Wouldn’t you rather have them at their best by giving them the routine that works best for them already? And this includes their food choices. Sure, treats are special, but they aren’t on the regular daily menu.
Probably the most significant expectation is that you will spend time with them. You might have seen Cinderella or Toy Story a million times, but this one time is so special to them. Just the fact that you would be with them, doing something of their choosing, really gives significance and value to that grandchild in so many ways. You value their choice, you value their company, you value the experience together and they know it. And truthfully, your life together is built around these choices and experiences. Do you have any activities that you can do repeatedly with your grandchild? Bake cookies and let them help you, work in the yard and let them rake or plant flowers, engage in working on a craft and allow them to work alongside you, go to the park and always go on the swings. These are not out-of-the-ordinary things, these don’t cost a lot of money, and they don’t take a lot of planning. Allow the grandchildren to join you in whatever you love doing, whatever was planned for the day, whatever two people can do together in a shared experience. This is what they will remember about your time with them. Discuss with them ahead of time what it is they can anticipate when you are together. Hear the excitement in their voice, see their eyes light up, and inevitably, in their little bodies, the adrenaline is already flowing. They can’t wait to be with you and get to that list of things to do.
The alternative is a sad reality for some children. Their grandparents never call, they don’t seem excited to see them, the make the grandchildren feel like they are in the way or are an imposition on their day. Some think that child’s play is beneath them. I’ve witnessed the broken spirit in a child simply because a grandparent didn’t show up when they were expected or a grandparent chose not to spend time with the grandchild simply because they weren’t really “into” a particular activity in which the child wanted to engage. The sadness, the feeling disconnected, the disappointment and wondering of “why?” can be read on a child’s face if you look closely. If you are willing to feel for just a second the way that child feels, perhaps a different choice might be made. Choosing to care about what is interesting to them is choosing to love. Choosing to do nothing in particular over spending time with them is not choosing love. Choosing to let them sit on your lap for a story is choosing love. Choosing not to attend special, significant events in their life, for no particular reason, is not choosing love. Love is what the child learns from the experience. Love is what the child sees on your face. Love is what the child will remember.
As you walk with your children and grandchildren through their growing up years and share experiences, capture them in photos or in a journal in order to have memories to talk about in later years. Just a sentence or two will be enough to allow the feelings of the moment to surface long enough to explore the value of each one. Being able to pass on stories about your child will prove to be a priceless treasure as they grow up and have families of their own. They will see themselves then and now and realize how precious they are and the significance of their life. At the same time, while your child is still small, help them cultivate their dreams about the future by modeling values and actions that will enrich their life. Along the way, highlight these events and articulate the significance. The more your child has to draw from their past, the more confidently they will walk into their future. And one day, it will all come back to you, a thousand times over.
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