- Written by Robert Martin Robert Martin
Grandparents today are taking a larger role in the lives of their grandchildren, sharing the kids’ worries and joys, giving them love and support, and helping out harried and exhausted parents.
With the retirement of the baby boomer generation, there are more grandparents than ever — an estimated 70 million in the U.S.
Compared to previous generations, today’s grandparents are generally younger, more active, and more affluent, allowing many to travel frequently to visit their kids and grandkids.
One in five grandparents provides childcare regularly to their grandchildren, while increasing numbers are raising their grandkids alone, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins testified last year before the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
These “custodial grandparents” are called on to help for a number of reasons, including alcohol and drug addiction, physical abuse, incarceration, divorce, financial difficulties, military deployment, and even death.
When grandparents are forced by often tragic circumstances to take on the role of parents, it’s an extremely challenging situation for both kids and the grandparents who raise them.
However, as Collins pointed out, “Grandparents who help raise grandkids together with the child’s parents can support healthy aging and be a positive experience for all concerned.”
Millions of grandparents intentionally live close to their children and grandchildren so they can give much-needed help.
This includes offering support to many of the estimated 21 million children being raised by 13.6 million single parents in the U.S., as well as in households where both parents work fulltime. Grandparents can provide childcare while parents work, transport kids to and from school and appointments, attend school events and teacher conferences, and give parents a much-needed break.
Many parents today raise their kids without much community support or in the face of negative influences, such as poverty, gangs, crime, and drugs. And regardless of socioeconomic status, all kids face challenges — some old, some new.
Bullying has always existed, yet previous generations did not have to cope with cyberbullying or contend with the amplifying effect social media has on who feels “in” and who is “out.”
In a time when the worst kinds of negative influences are a click away for many kids, grandparents can provide love, support, and positive influences.
Here are some ways you can show your grandkids you love them, care about them, and are there for them:
1. Listen non-judgmentally, rather than correcting or disputing their ideas. Sometimes you may have to be a disciplinarian. But when your grandkids share thoughts, ideas, and feelings, put away criticism. Just listen, reflect, and ask questions.
2. Share compassionately. If you ask how they are doing, kids’ response will almost always be “fine.” Getting them to open up means first earning their trust. Try sharing a story about how you went through something similar when you were growing up. Showing your vulnerability will help them open up.
3. Celebrate what they do well. Encourage your grandkids to share what they love to do and uplift them with praise for good grades in school, acts of good citizenship with their friends and classmates, and their creative endeavors. By praising your grandkids for specific accomplishments, you can help them understand the difference between recognition that is earned and hyperbole.
Some additional ways you can be a loving, involved grandparent for the kids in your life:
• Help them with their homework. Maybe you can help tutor them, provide an extra pair of hands for their school projects, or brainstorm ideas together.
• Support them by attending their sports, dance, and other extracurricular events.
• Model healthy, active lifestyles by taking them hiking, fishing, skating, walking dogs, or doing other fun activities.
• Teach them the value of good nutrition by preparing and cooking healthy meals together.
• Join them in creative projects, writing a story, drawing a picture, or creating a song, skit, or video.
• Volunteer as a tutor or mentor at a local school or Boys & Girls Club.
As a grandparent, you can be a wise friend, a playful elder, and the go-to person for your grandkids when their parents aren’t available. By spending time together and staying in touch, you can uplift them and give them the sense of safety and stability they need to thrive and grow.
Children’s advocate and author Robert Martin writes books with his granddaughter, Keira Ely, including the bestsellers The Case of the Missing Crown Jewels and SuperClara — A Young Girl’s Story of Cancer, Bravery and Courage. SuperClara was inspired by his other granddaughter (and Keira’s younger sister), Clara, who lost her battle with brain cancer in 2017. Martin founded the nonprofit Bridge to a Cure Foundation to encourage the development of pediatric cancer treatments and cures. www.RobertMartinAuthor.com