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Grandparenting – How Different Is It From Being a Parent?

Credit: iStock

by Denis Wuestman

Today, September 10th, is GRANDPARENTS DAY!

As a relatively new Grandparent, when I talk to others about this experience – they all say the same thing: best thing in the world.   Now I know what they mean – yep agreed!

I decided to look at some statistics about grandparents in the United States as I think about the kind of grandparent I want to be. So, thanks to Grandparents.com [i]here are some things that jumped out at me:

  • There are 70 Million grandparents in the nation today and they lead 37% of all households in this country.
  • 72% think being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life
  • 90% enjoy talking about their grandkids to just about everyone
  • 63% say they can do a better job caring for grandchildren than they did with their own
  • 43% exercise or play sports
  • 75% are online
  • 60% live close to their grandchildren
  • 70% see the kids at least once a week
  • 66% travel with their grandkids
  • 81% have their grandkids for part or all of their summer vacation
  • 92% have changed their grandchild’s diaper

Ok – got it… and I am sure I fit into a lot of these groups – even the diaper part. They are engaged with their families, active, Internet savvy and love being grandparents.

Two Core Elements – Teaching & Playing

What I do think about is the difference between being a grandparent vs. a parent. While there are a lot of similarities between parenting and grandparenting, there are some areas where there can be nuances. Although I am fairly new to this role, here are two such areas where I have some early observations.

Teaching – as a parent I tried to teach my kids by being active and present in their lives, talking with them and modeling behavior. Volunteering at school, helping with school work, coaching sports, and sharing their first moments with them were all part of the parenting experience.   As a grandparent, I am starting to understand that it is important to teach by reading to them, telling them simple stories, repeating lessons like the alphabet, numbers and colors.   Finally, sharing key moments with them but being careful to let their parents have the firsts (a good example of this is their first trip to the playground – I prefer that their parents have that experience),

Playing – I recall a series of ways that I had fun with my kids as their parent. Proud to say that I participated in all these activities including: dancing, playing house, playing sports, bike rides, running, family board games and good old playing cards.   As a grandparent, I believe the level of activity may shift perhaps due to proximity, time available and physical limitations. What is clear to me is that play time is certainly on the agenda. I will not miss the opportunity to participate in a game they enjoy, play house, dance, walk, bike or make a mess with my grandchildren. I remember the joy and memories I had with my kids when we played – getting a chance to do it with the next generation is a special opportunity not to be missed.

Showing Love, Support and Fostering Growth

As a parent or grandparent, giving unconditional love is probably the most powerful gift of all for us and for them. If I had to describe the core of this great gift it would include: providing encouragement, hugging them and telling them that you love them, spending time with them, listening to them when they talk about their lives, showing them direction by setting examples and keeping them close as they grow. As parents we need to be strong and fair when course corrections are necessary and we need to ride the fine line between being involved in their lives versus running their lives. As a rookie grandparent, I am not sure how involved I will be in course correction as they grow. I guess that will become clearer over time. Right now my focus is a combination of being the best cheerleader and friend I can be to help establish a solid bond. I will do things like:

  • Smile a lot
  • Ask them to share stories (when they can talk)
  • Listen with focus
  • Encourage and support
  • Refrain from criticism

Showing love with words and simple actions will hopefully create the gift that keeps on giving.

Admire Your Hard Work

Finally, enjoy watching your kids become parents. You taught, played with them and loved them – now it’s their turn to do the same for their children. Of course they will experience the ups and downs of parenthood but take the time to notice how your groundwork helped them become the parents they are today. The focus is always on the cute little child and the joy of that next generation but don’t forget to continue to love and encourage your own children (without meddling of course. I didn’t say it is easy!). I do know that I will support my kids and follow the model they want to set for their kids.   As grandparents we can experience and be part of sharing two great gifts – seeing our children experience parenthood and seeing our grandchildren grow. Enjoy every moment and become a proud member of the group that believes being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their lives!

 

[i] “Surprising Facts About Grandparents” (2013, Editors of Grandparents.com)

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