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A Grand Influence: How to Bond With Your Grandkids

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The Beautiful Mess
Most grandparents want to be an asset to their grandchildren — provide a listening ear, welcome heart and safe place for kids to emotionally land. But how does one do this?

I remember the day like it was yesterday. My husband and I, along with our young children, were
relocating to a town three hours away so my husband could study full time. My mother cried as we
said goodbye. She was so sure that her grandkids would grow up not knowing her.

In time, however, she and Dad bonded with each of our kids, even at a distance. And here I am,
31 years later, wanting to make a difference in my own grandchildren’s lives. I want to be an asset
to them, providing a listening ear, a welcoming heart and a safe place to rest when life gets hard.
Most of all, I want to help introduce them to the faith that will sustain them through life’s challenges.

This relationship is important, but it doesn’t happen overnight. In the grandchild-bonding game, I’ve
learned that slow and steady is the best way to run this race.

Watch your expectations

I once heard someone say, “Expectations are preconceived resentments.” It’s often true that our
disappointments are fueled by unmet expectations. Pay attention to the “ought” and “should” statements
rolling around in your head, particularly concerning your relationship with your children and grandchildren.
He should call more. She should consult me about this. These unrealistic expectations feed
disappointment and discouragement, while realistic expectations keep you engaged and content with
where your relationship is right now.

If your preschool-aged grandchild FaceTimes all of 15 seconds
with you and then heads off to another activity, that’s normal. If your teenage grandson doesn’t
call back or respond to your text right away, that’s also normal. Don’t make it about you. Life
doesn’t always happen the way we think it should, and grandparents must allow for busy seasons of
life and a grandchild’s growing maturity.

There’s no grandparent prerogative

Sally is a grandmother whose son and daughter-in-law don’t let her have the kids overnight.
They used to, but Sally didn’t follow their instructions for caring for the kids. Bedtime was 8 p.m.,
but Sally usually got them to bed an hour or more later. She also sometimes brought out cookies when
Mom and Dad asked for a sugar-free evening.

“It’s Grandma’s prerogative to spoil them a bit,” Sally would say. “I don’t get
to see them very often.”

There’s no “Grandma’s prerogative” when it comes to grandkids. Even if
you’re not doing anything wrong or spoiling your grandchildren, I encourage you to bite your tongue
and do things the parents’ way. They are the authority in their kids’ lives, and they need your
respect and support. You don’t want to break trust with your adult children and their spouses,
jeopardizing future connections with your grandkids.

Remember that you are now extended family for
your children and grandchildren. Your son or daughter has a family he or she must consider ahead of
you. This is a hard, but important, transition. In our family, my husband and I had to make that
transition with holidays. We now give our kids the gift of holiday freedom. Thanksgiving and
Christmas are flexible with no obligation to connect on those specific calendar dates. We get
together when it works best for everyone.

Influence, but don’t control

Grandparents have years of experience they long to leverage in their kids’ and grandkids’
lives, but sometimes that desire moves from seeking influence to wanting control. This can alienate

When there are two valid ways to do something and I want it done my way, it becomes a control
issue, and it isn’t about the relationship anymore. My marching orders are to love, encourage,
accept and give wisdom when it’s requested — and pray persistently. Indeed, perhaps my most important
work is praying for changes I sincerely believe need to be made — without trying to control anyone’s

When I sense my desire to control creeping in, it’s usually because my identity in Christ
has slipped to second place and I’m using my kids’ and grandkids’ choices as an identity barometer.
My identity is secure in Christ. Yours is, too.

Replace judgment with love

There will be things your grandkids’ parents do that you don’t agree with. There will be choices
your grandchildren make that you won’t agree with. Never sacrifice your relationship on the altar of
disagreement. Orange hair? Let it go and love. Tattoos? Let it go and love. Some friends of ours have
a grandson who said he was gay. Their response to their grandson balanced God’s truth with their love
for their grandson: “We don’t feel this is God’s best for you (truth), but you’ll always be ours
(unconditional love). We love you.”

Acceptance doesn’t mean agreeing. It means accepting the reality of your grandchild’s circumstances
and loving him through it, even as you pray for a changed heart.

Intentionally stay connected

My mother grandmothered from a distance before there was FaceTime or social media. She used the phone,
mail and personal visits. When our children were young and not yet readers, she signed all her cards
and notes with a simple, curly-haired caricature of herself. When they would open up a card from
their grandmother, the kids always knew who had sent it because of that drawing.

Staying connected on a regular basis builds trust and strengthens the relationship. Learn how to
navigate social media to connect with your kids and older grandchildren. Our grade-school grandkids
are all set up on Kids Messenger, and they communicate a lot with us that way.

Recently, our son-in-law secured a new job that was going to require a move to a new community.
On the night our daughter and her husband told the kids, 8-year-old Rilyn sent a message to me, pouring
out her heart. She told me how hard it would be to leave her school and her friends. She needed someone
to listen and offer empathy. I’m so glad our connectedness had already laid the groundwork for those

Engage in their world

Take an interest in their activities, ask them to share their school papers, show delight when
they get their first job. If you live close enough, help with homework or attend their sporting
events or choir concerts. My parents often made a two-and-a-half hour trip for a choir concert or
school play. The kids loved having them there. Sometimes they stayed the night, and sometimes they
drove back home the same night. If you live too far away to attend, ask for a video or to FaceTime
during the event so you can still be part of your grandkids’ world.

Find one-on-one time

As a mother of five kids, I often parented “the herd.” I herded everyone to church, herded them out
the door to school and herded them to appointments. I’m trying not to do that with our grandkids.
I’m trying to see them as the individuals they are and attempting to figure out what excites them,
what they struggle with and how God has uniquely made them.

Even from a distance, you can interact one-on-one with your grandkids. As they get older, talk to
them directly to learn about the things they’re doing, who their friends are and what they’re passionate
about. When you do get to see them in person, try to get some one-on-one time. Almost all of our kids
made a cross-country trip with us at one time or another to see extended family in Colorado. It was a
special time for them and for us.

Hopefully, those strategies have your wheels turning and you’re already thinking of ways you can
connect with your grandkids. Grandparenting allows us a second chance to influence the life of a
child. It’s an encore of sorts, where we become part of the supporting cast. A little bit of
intentionality partnered with a realistic perspective can forge a special relationship between you
and your grandchildren for years to come.

Jill Savage is the author of 14 books, including her upcoming release, Empty Nest, Full Life.

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