Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Grandparents Can Make The Holidays Special

December 15, 2005

Ah, the holidays! There’s nothing quite like going to the grandparents for the holidays. Or having them come to visit. The closeness of grandchildren and grandparents make these days truly special.

Being a wonderful grandparent is easy if you had wonderful grandparents in your life. If not, you'll have to work at it a little bit more and invent the role with love and creativity. Besides birthdays and other holidays, getting together at the holidays is an opportunity for grandparents and grandchildren to nurture family bonds.

Here’s some advice on how grandparents can develop loving bonds with their grandchildren during the holidays.

Tell children why the holidays are important. Use the occasion to teach important family values and religious traditions. You offer a unique perspective and different information than from any other relationship. Think of yourself as a carrier of family tradition. You are their link to the past and a key to helping them understand themselves.

Connect them with their roots. Tell them stories about your past holidays and what you did when you were little. That way they’ll learn about their great-grandparents too. Tell stories about your son or daughter when he or she was little. Grandchildren are never too old to enjoy those kinds of stories.

The holiday decorations and heirlooms that come down through the family have special stories behind them. As you decorate, talk about the memories behind the holiday keepsakes.

Be with them. Have one-on-one time with your grandchildren. Each relationship is different. Give of yourself completely with the one you are with. Make each one go away thinking he or she is your favorite. Go on special outings. Read to them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Have fun and make memories.

Teach them something only you can teach them. Share your talents and work together on one of your projects - Swedish bread, lasagna, special cookies or whatever you do that is special.

Show up even if you can't be there. Grandchildren need to know special people love and adore them. The holidays are a wonderful time to establish and build on your relationships. If you can't be there in person, telephone calls, letters, E-mail, faxes, videotapes and gifts will remind them of you and your love.

Gifts have great power. In choosing gifts, we also choose what we value. Gifts can introduce the grandchildren to something. For example, giving tapes or CD’s can introduce a child to music. Giving a subscription to a children's magazine will be a monthly reminder of you to them. For young adults, a special gift may be a family heirloom, something you may want to give away someday anyway.

Help take the materialism out of the holidays. Give handmade gifts. Don't bombard them with so many gifts that your gifts don't have any meaning. One or two choice, well-selected gifts can make a memory or a bond. For younger children, a lot of inexpensive gifts in a stuffed stocking can bring great delight. Giving money or a generic gift to the whole family doesn’t create memories like a specific gift.

Another gift is the gift of time together. A gift of a visit to your home or a future trip together will be a treasured memory.

Don't overwhelm your grandchildren with too many or too expensive gifts. Consult with the parents on the extent of your gift-giving. Don't compete with their other grandparents. Downplay any comparisons. Don't get hung up on making your gifts so equal that you don't recognize the personality and special needs of each grandchild. Make your gifts from the heart - particular to each grandchild.

We now have thirteen grandchildren. My wife, Darlene, thinks ahead all year long to come up with gifts that will make an impression on the grandchildren. It isn’t easy and can’t be done at the last minute.

Go with the flow. Remain the grown up. Roll with the punches. Don't be uptight, demanding, judgmental or too particular. Give unconditional love and leave the parenting to the parents. You are not in charge. The holiday isn't about you. It is about them. Be tolerant and flexible.

If your grandchildren are visiting in your home, explain the rules and then give gentle and patient reminders. If you are a guest in their home, fit into their family's schedule. It is not your kitchen, your schedule or your needs that count. Let go. It is your children's time to shape their own holiday routines.

Honor the other side of the family and how they celebrate. If there is diversity in the family, respect those traditions. Be supportive of your grandchildrens' relationship with their other extended family members. Be flexible and accepting of where your children need to be for the holidays.

Don't play favorites between families or between grandchildren. Sibling rivalry between children is natural and may continue into adulthood. Don't compare grandchildren to each other or with grandchildren from another family. Don't compare grandchildren with their parents. Don't hold up one member of the family as an example for others.

It is fun being a grandparent at the holidays! Every year is a new adventure in making the holidays count.