Bridging the Generations Gap with Grandparents
By Marisa Gooch
You probably have fond memories with your grandchildren: your granddaughter learning how to ride a bike for the very first time, your grandson ripping out your freshly grown petunias, and little, messy hands reaching on top of the kitchen counter to snatch the hot cookies you just pulled out of the oven.
Most importantly, you probably have cherished memories of them sitting on your lap during storytime, playing tag in your backyard, and fighting over who got to sit by you at the dinner table.
As your grandchildren grow older, you may realize that your relationship with them changes. They don’t visit you as often, they pay attention to their cellular devices more than they pay attention to you, and they prefer spending their Sunday nights watching the latest season of Stranger Things to eating your traditional Sunday roast. The bond you once had with them has, if not weakened, changed.
That connection is one worth fighting for, though. According to a Boston College study, having a strong relationship with your grandchildren can positively impact both you and them. Researchers have found fewer symptoms of depression among grandparents and grandchildren who were more emotionally connected to each other.
With that research in mind, you may be wondering how you can become more connected to your grandchildren when their lives are so disconnected from yours, especially when they are busy or live far away. While you both come from different generations and may contain different life outlooks, you can bridge the gap between your grandchildren by supporting them, maintaining contact through technology, and finding activities to do together that you both enjoy.
You may not approve of their hair color, the people they date, or their sense of fashion, but that doesn’t mean you can’t support them in their decisions.
Support them in their activities
Chances are you probably have grandchildren who are involved in sports, dance, theater, or music. If they live close, you should make an effort to watch them play or perform. If they live too far away, call them once their game or performance is over to find out how they did. Ask them to send you videos of them playing the violin, pictures of them post-volleyball games with their team or details about their upcoming play—what part they play, how many lines they have to memorize, etc.
Another way to support your grandchildren is to remember what it was like to be a teenager or a college student. You were having fun with friends, going to parties, staying out late, and swamped with schoolwork. Your older grandchildren are experiencing these same things.
So when your grandson decides to only stop by once a month rather than once a week because he is juggling a job and school, don’t get on his case. Consider telling him that you know how he feels. Make sure you ask him questions about his life and encourage him to reach his goals. If he expresses that he is stressed with finals or is scared to give a class presentation, tell him how much you believe in him.
Supporting your grandchildren in their activities will help form that emotional bond you long for.
Stay in contact through technology
If you’re anything like my grandpa, you use a flip phone. Recently, my grandpa decided to upgrade his phone so that he could text. This makes communication a thousand times easier, especially because he has a hard time understanding my “high pitched” voice that sounds like someone is “screaming” through the phone (his words, not mine). While I do occasionally receive texts that make NO sense whatsoever and require that I spend a solid 10 minutes deciphering what he is trying to say, I love that my grandpa is just a text away.
You probably weren’t born in the dinosaur age like my grandpa was. Chances are you have the new iPhone or a sleek tablet. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center, technology use among seniors is on the rise. Four out of ten seniors now have smartphones, and a third of seniors now have a social media profile. If you haven’t jumped on the social media bandwagon yet, now is the time.
Platforms like Facebook and Instagram are great ways to keep up with the lives of your grandchildren. My grandpa surprisingly has had a Facebook account for a long time. He frequently comments “I love you” on my photos. And he has created a private family group for his grandchildren to share updates and exciting news. This is great, especially because many of my cousins have moved to other states and don’t see the family as much as they wish.
If you are new to social media and don’t understand what a tweet or Instagram story is, ask your grandkids so that you can post things too. They love knowing about what is going on in your life as much as you love knowing what is going on in theirs, even if they don’t show it!
Famifi’s app is another platform you can use to increase communication with your grandchildren. The app lets you create a family group and send photos and videos within that group. You could even create a group just for you and your grandkids (no parents allowed). The app has tools to help start conversations and keep them going. For a more detailed explanation of how the app works, click here.
Staying connected to your grandchildren through technology will help you communicate with them on a regular basis, which will ultimately form a bond with them regardless of how far away they live or how busy they are.
Find common hobbies
Despite what you think about their interests, don’t worry: you don’t have to turn into a gamer or potato couch to spend time with them. I promise you, your grandkids enjoy activities that don’t involve technology too.
For example, I love to bake. When I lived in the same city as my grandpa, he would invite me over every December to bake pies that he would later give away as gifts. To this day, I still don’t know how to make the outer edge of the pie crust curly and cute. But my grandpa doesn’t care. He never complained that my pie making skills were awful, or that my pies were too deformed to give to his neighbors. He continued to invite me back each year to help so that we could spend one-on-one time together.
Baking isn’t the only activity you can do with your grandchildren. Other activities include going on walks, taking them out to lunch, and having a movie date at the theaters. If your grandkids love card games, buy types that they would like. Go Fish is fun—when you are eight. Visit a game store to see the new card and board games available—I think you’ll be surprised by the variety.
Watching their favorite TV shows can also help you connect with your grandchildren because it provides conversation opportunities. Invite them to watch NFL football with you on Sunday evenings or The Bachelor on Monday nights. (Yes, my grandma watches The Bachelor with me. She may complain that there is too much kissing, but she watches it nonetheless.) Then, talk about your favorite team or contestant. If your grandchildren live far away and can’t visit, still try to watch their favorite shows so that you have a conversation starter when you speak to them next. You’ll show your grandkids that you want to be able to relate to them and that you care about being part of their lives.
Connecting with your grandkids who are emotional teenagers and stressed college students can be hard. The gap may seem too wide for you to bridge. However, you can develop a strong emotional bond with them wherever they are in their lives as you continually support them, stay connected with them through technology, and find common hobbies you both enjoy. As you do these things, you will find that you and your grandchildren are more alike than you think, and you will form strong relationships that last for years and years.
Marisa is a writer and editor who lives in sunny Southern California. Her favorite hobbies include listening to podcasts, hiking in the hills behind her house, and attempting to surf alongside her husband who has years of experience.