Being an Involved Grandfather

Dear Mr. Dad: When my kids were young I worked a lot and wasn’t around as much as I wanted to be. But now that I’m retired and a grandfather, how can I make up for it and build strong relationships with my grandkids?

A: There’s no way to make up for lost time, but there are some excellent ways to be an active, involved part of your grandchildren’s life.

  • Stay connected. Call, write, email, text, Skype, or twitter. There are tons of ways to keep in touch.

  • Watch the unsolicited advice. Part of what makes the grandchild-grandparent relationship so satisfying for the child is that it doesn’t include most of the natural conflicts inherent in the relationship with parents. If you act like a parent, you’ll get treated like one – rejection included.
  • Be there. If you live nearby, mark as many of their special occasions as possible (if you don’t, call or send a card). Spend some one-on-one time with each grandchild getting to know one another.
  • Encourage variety. Take them to museums and concerts, share your hobbies with them, read to them, or better yet, tell them about your childhood and the “good old days” (even if you have to make something up!)
  • Get to know them. Learn about what they’re interested in. Have them burn you a CD of their favorite bands, send you links to the blogs they read, and tell you about their hobbies. At the very least you’ll learn a ton about popular culture. You’ll also pick up some great birthday present ideas.
  • Know their friends. Find out their names and what your grandkids see in them. Asking about friends and otherwise supporting the friendships shows your grandchildren you’re interested in them.
  • Don’t be a Disneyland Grandpa. The term Disneyland Dad usually applies to non-custodial divorced fathers who try to fill every second with their kids with fun and games and treats. Plenty of grandparents do the same thing, buying extravagant gifts, eating every meal out, giving into their every whim, throwing discipline to the wind, and treating them like visiting royalty instead of children. It’s an easy trap to fall into, but eventually you’ll either run out of money or treats. When that happens, your grandkids will be so spoiled that they’ll either resent you for not giving them “their due,” or think you don’t love them anymore. Or both. Instead, try to make their time with you as normal as possible. Naturally, you’re going to indulge them a little – that’s what grandparents do. But don’t go overboard.
  • Be patient. Tweens and teens may back away from you during their I-must-reject-everything phase. Don’t judge, just be there and let them know they have a safe place to land if they need anything.
  • Don’t take sides. Never, ever, get in the middle of an argument between your children and grandchildren.
  • Let your adult children live their own lives. Yes, you’re interested in their job prospects and you want to make sure they’re saving enough money to put your grandchildren through college. And yes, you want to make sure they’re married to the right person. But really and truly, none of that is your business. It’s fine to clip out an occasional article on something you think might interest your child. But barring real danger to life or limb, keep your advice to yourself unless it’s specifically asked for (including telling your child that he or she married an idiot).