Grandparents play a vital role in their lives of their grandkids. According to research by The Legacy Project, grandparents are key players in children’s emotional and social development. Time spent with grandkids also holds many benefits for adults, allowing them to share their values, keep active, and relive the joys of childhood play. Yet, time and distance are often stumbling blocks in building the relationship between kids and their grandparents.
More than half of today’s grandparents have at least one grandchild who lives more than 200 miles away, according to AARP research. Add in the fact that four in 10 grandparents are in the workforce and how busy kids’ schedules can be, and finding time to spend together can get tricky.
Here’s where the pandemic provided an unexpected silver lining. While lockdowns may have kept grandparents from seeing their grandkids in person, it forced them to find new ways to connect.
Ruth Nemzoff, Ed.D., a resident scholar at Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, has led a series of online seminars for grandparents during the pandemic. Ruth, who wrote Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children, says that non-tech-savvy grandparents had an “unbelievable learning curve” during this time, with some of her attendees going from zero online experience to navigating Zoom and FaceTime with ease.
As a grandmother of 11 herself, Ruth says the pandemic allowed her, and others like her, to focus on keeping in touch. “I had time to read the books [my grandkids] were reading and then to discuss them with them,” she says. She even took one of her grandsons “along with her” on her phone as she walked, describing and discussing nature with him via FaceTime.
How did these virtual meetings help forge the future of these relationships? “The whole closeness [my grandkids and I] shared will continue to grow, and we will continue to foster it,” Ruth says. “Because I know more about them now, and they know more about me.”
Steve and Nancy Chroninger of Grants Pass, Oregon, plan to keep their pandemic custom of having dinner via video chat every other Sunday night with their toddler grandson in California. “We just didn’t want to miss too much of his development,” they shared.
Now fully vaccinated, the Chroningers are making up for lost in-person time. As of this interview, they were preparing to welcome their grandson for a solo stay at their home. And that comes on the heels of a week-long visit with two of their other Californian grandkids, 10- and 12-year-old siblings.
“We were both very involved parents,” Steve says, “so when our kids started having kids, we were on it.” He says he and his wife spend as much time as they can with their grandchildren. “We love it. It is a joy for us. … When you have your own kids, you are just so busy all the time. You miss a lot. As a grandparent, you can just be.”
Nancy agrees, adding, “These little beings are so much like your own child — there’s that connection that is so powerful.”
When you have your own kids, you are just so busy all the time. You miss a lot. As a grandparent, you can just be.
Here are some ideas to help you spend more quality time with your grandkids.
1. Explore their interests
Ruth recommends asking specific questions to find common ground. For instance, instead of “How was school today?” — which will inevitably get you the answer of “Fine” — ask little ones, “Did you play in the sand again today?” or ask older kids, “What books are you reading?” Then, look for ways to build on that interest together.
2. Play games together
Playing games together, especially board games and card games, is an opportunity to learn and grow together while having fun. Ruth shares that you can play traditional games like I Spy or Hangman over video chat. You can even play a game like Monopoly virtually, with one board and one person moving the pieces.
3. Take field trips
Steve and Nancy’s daughter jokingly calls them the “field trip grandparents” — and the name is well deserved. The two of them love taking their grandkids to parks, zoos, museums, and cultural events when they come for an extended stay. Visits to the public library are also part of the usual itinerary.
4. Have plenty of unstructured time
The Chroningers also like to balance out their time with the grandkids with some downtime. “You don’t have to dazzle them with fancy things,” Steve says. Nancy shares, as an example, that during one visit her grandkids enjoyed something as simple as watching the growth of baby squirrels in a backyard nest. And Steve calls time spent reading to his grandkids “the best part of being a grandparent.”
5. Share experiences
Lots of objects in your home have a personal story attached to them. Ruth recommends using a favorite souvenir or piece of art as a starting-off place for a conversation. “These stories give them a chance to see you as someone who was young once, and you can also use them as a way to share your heritage, which is incredibly important,” she says.
6. Teach skills
Sharing your hobbies and talents is another way to spend quality time with your grandkids. Whether it’s woodworking, knitting, painting, or baking, children can learn these skills with the help of your guidance and expertise. Nancy says she often cooks with her grandkids, and now her 12-year-old granddaughter plans to make the family dinner by herself when she comes for her next visit.
7. Be open to new experiences
As your grandkids grow, be ready to give them more choices in how they spend time with you. Listen to their suggestions and be willing to give new ideas a try. Ruth shares that she enjoyed leaning on her older grandchildren’s social media expertise at the start of the pandemic.
Here’s another example. You might be curious about that new virtual reality game the kids have been raving about, and they will enjoy the opportunity to teach you something for a change.
Grandchildren help us realize how important it is to spend our time in a meaningful way. As Steve puts it: “We’re only here for so long, and when you are lucky enough to have these wonderfully creative creatures in your life, you just need to enjoy the heck out of them while you can.”