One of my early memories is that of gardening with my grandpa in Minnesota. He had a large plot of land with a big vegetable garden and several honey bee colonies. He patiently let me work alongside of him, giving me advice and helping when needed. To this day, I love gardening partly because of how my grandpa took the time to pass along his knowledge, making me feel like I was really contributing.
Grandparents' Day, which falls on the first Sunday after Labor Day, is the perfect time to be intentional about your children's relationship with their grandparents. Not only does this honor your parents and in-laws, but it also encourages an even stronger connection between the generations.
Passing on the story
Some grandparents want to be a part of their grandchildren's lives, but they don't want to tread on a family's way of doing things. Together with your kids' grandparents, talk about how they might support your role as a parent and how they can be involved with your kids' lives.
Whether grandparents live far away or next door, parents set the tone for this relationship. Merely saying, "We'd love for you to spend some time with the kids" opens the door for a deeper connection that can benefit your children. Schedule special times that your parents can hang out with your child. Invite them to pass on their personal stories from their generation to your children. Often grandparents will enjoy talking about family traditions and imparting knowledge of their shared culture to their grandchildren. Encourage your kids to ask questions about the history and traditions that are unique to your family.
As you encourage your kids to listen — and perhaps record these stories in a shared journal or as an audio file — also suggest that they tell grandparents some of their own stories. This give-and-take will help grandparents connect their life wisdom with the lives of their grandchildren.
A legacy of faith
Another way to help Christian grandparents be more involved in your family is through cooperation in teaching a common faith principle. Decide what you want your kids to learn each month. For example, you could use the fruits of the spirit from Galatians 5 or the armor of God from Ephesians 6. Ask your children's grandparents to reinforce these ideas in their conversations or activities with your kids that month.
Give your kids freedom to ask about their grandparents' faith, perhaps by asking how they first came to know God or what verses have really helped their faith over the years. Also, during family prayer time, encourage kids to pray for their grandparents' needs, and they can ask their grandparents to pray for them.
Where to start? Sit down with the grandparents and the grandkids to set a vision together. Ask your children, "How would you like Grandma and Grandpa to be a part of our family?" That doesn't mean they are the decision-makers, but they can be a part of the discussion.
Reaching out to your kids' grandparents in front of your kids lets them know that it's OK if their grandparents initiate activities. Once they come up with an idea together, verify there is room on the calendar. My mom is a Spanish teacher at a local Christian school. Although I speak Spanish, my kids have not been interested in learning Spanish from me. So I have not been able to pass that gift on to my children. However, during the summer, my mom will come over whenever she can and give my kids Spanish lessons. They listen and learn from her. This activity helps facilitate relationship by giving them a shared experience, independent of my wife and me.
Some grandparents don't want to be a big part of your family's life. Or they may not be physically able to do so. In those cases, talk to your kids about ways you can reach out to build a relationship with their grandparents. Sending a note that says, "Thinking of you" or "Praying for you" and having kids draw a picture can go a long way with grandparents. You can also have your children record videos, write stories or take photographs to send to their grandparents.
Even if grandparents aren't ready to give back, your kids can be ready and open to give. The focus settles on finding ways for kids to connect with and serve their grandparents.
Other grandparents are still trying to meet their own emotional needs. They may try to give you guilt trips, such as "I never see the grandkids," or "You don't love us anymore." You don't have to ignore them or push them out, but they are needy people, and you have to set boundaries.
Still others are used to being in control. If they want to be involved in your family's life, talk with them first. Let them know that you would love for them to contribute, but you are the parent. What you want first and foremost is their support and backing. If that is too hard for them to do, then you'll need to set clear boundaries.
The goal in celebrating the grandparent-grandchild relationship is to find a way for both sides to communicate and relate. Board games, painting together, walking to an ice-cream shop — the point is to have fun and do something together.
My parents love to take the kids to museums whenever they can. My wife and I don't usually go to museums, so this is a special tradition for the kids to do with their grandparents. My mother-in-law loves to bake. When she is around, she makes healthy desserts with the kids. It is their special tradition. My father-in-law takes the kids in his "fancy rides," which is how the kids refer to Grandpa's really nice car. (I'm still in the practical stage of driving an old, reliable Honda Civic, so the kids love getting to go for a ride in a super nice car with their grandpa.)
Whatever your kids do with their grandparents, have it be a unique experience that helps grandparents get to know your children and your children get to know their grandparents. Don't limit these activities just to Grandparents' Day.
After all, the value of Grandparents' Day is to intentionally deepen your children's relationship with their grandparents. So commit to doing something with them, even if it's just for the day.
To find projects for kids to make for grandparents, search "Grandparents' Day" at ClubhouseJr.com or google "Free things to do with grandparents on Grandparents' Day."
Daniel Huerta is the executive director of parenting and youth at Focus on the Family.