By Kendra Johnson
The tale of two grandparents.
Growing up, I had two vastly different experiences with my maternal vs my paternal grandparents. Surprisingly, although my father was out of the picture for most of my childhood, my paternal grandparents were always there and I love them dearly. They were and still are a consistent presence in my life that I am grateful to have.
My maternal grandparents are another story. As a child I would see them once a year and although from what I could tell they were kind and decent people, I never felt a connection to them or felt like they cared.
I believe all grandparents long to have a positive relationship with their grandchildren as they age into their teen years, but the grandparents don't always know how to do that. And so, I want to offer my suggestions from the perspective of the grandchild.
Here are all of the things that made a difference in my life, that helped me build a strong relationship and a close bond with my paternal grandparents.
How to connect with middle school grandchildren.
If you have grandkids in their middle school years (ages 11-14), here are some tips for connecting with them:
Monthly game days:
Set aside a regular day each month to play games with your grandkids. It could be board games, card games, video games, or anything else they enjoy. The key is to spend quality time together in a fun and relaxed setting.
My husband Ben remembers fondly his monthly card game days with his grandma Helen. To this day, him and his siblings have a fondness for all types of games, but especially card games. And it was all thanks to grandma Helen.
Attend their sporting and arts events:
Show your support for your grandkids by attending their sporting events, concerts, and other performances. They'll appreciate your presence and it's a great opportunity to bond over shared interests.
Even if you never even make eye contact with, let alone speak to your grandchildren at these special events... trust me! They know you are there and it means a lot. I did theatre as a teen and Gram (my father's mother) was always there. I believe my maternal grandmother attended one show once but I was told she didn't enjoy it or approve of the content so that was a bust.
Get to know their ever-changing interests:
Keep up with what your grandkids are interested in by asking them questions and showing genuine curiosity. You may discover new interests of your own or find common ground to bond over.
One somewhat funny predicament my husband has with his grandma Esther came from when he was a teenage. One day he was particularly hungry (as teenage boys are known to be) and he ate an entire angel food cake within minutes. Since then, his grandma is always bringing him angel food cake. This is so lovely and sweet, however, he doesn't even really like angel food cake. He was just a hungry teenage boy and it was there.
He of course, accepts the cake with grace and appreciation, but be aware that what your grandchild loved last year may not be their favorite today. So ask them questions! Get to know their ever-changing likes and dislikes.
Sending regular birthday cards:
It's a small gesture, but sending a birthday card each year can make your grandkids feel loved and remembered. Will they probably just throw it in the trash within a few minutes of opening it? Yes. But will they remember that you sent it? Also yes.
To this day, I joyfully anticipate the birthday cards that my grandmother sends not only me but my entire family. She never misses a birthday for any of her grandchildren or great grandchildren (and she has A LOT of them).
Have meaningful conversations:
Take the time to listen to your grandkids and ask them about their lives. Share stories from your own experiences and offer guidance and support when needed.
How to connect with teenage grandchildren (the high school years):
Attend their extracurricular activities:
This doesn't change from the middle school year to the high school years. Whether it's a sports game, theater performance, or debate tournament, make an effort to attend your grandkids' extracurricular activities. It's a great way to show your support and interest in their lives.
Help with college planning:
If your grandkids are getting ready to apply for college or pick a career, offer to help them with the process. Share your own experiences and offer guidance on selecting schools and filling out applications.
Be careful not to insist they pick a specific career, just let them speak about their goals and dreams. Even if you are itching to explain to them that a business degree may be a wiser investment than a career as an influencer, just listen and encourage and offer advice when they ask.
Support their independence:
As your grandkids grow older, they'll naturally become more independent. Respect their autonomy while still being available for guidance and support when needed.
Remember, there is a very strong chance that your grandchildren will not have the same political beliefs as you. They may not have the same religious beliefs as you, or the same social beliefs as you. The teenage years are a time of rapid education and moral exploration. Support them in their quest for finding their own voice and values.
Don't treat them like tech-support:
I know! It's so tempting when our phones and entertainment options are constantly changing. And teens are so much better at troubleshooting and can usually fix the problem much faster than you could.
I'm not saying you shouldn't ever request their help, but be sure to spend time filling their cup, so to speak, before asking them to help you with your latest IT problem.
Share your life experiences:
Your grandkids can learn a lot from your own life experiences. Share stories and wisdom from your own life, and encourage them to learn from your successes and mistakes.
I personally love hearing stories about my grandmother's childhood and how things were different for them compared to my life.
Offer advice and guidance when appropriate:
As a grandparent, you have a unique perspective and wisdom to offer. Offer advice and guidance when appropriate, but be careful not to overstep boundaries or become too critical.
How to connect with your grandchildren when you live far away
Living far away from your teenage grandchildren can make it challenging to maintain a close relationship with them. However, distance doesn't have to be a barrier to staying connected. Here are some ways you can connect with your teenage grandchildren, even when you live far away:
Schedule regular video calls:
Video calls are a great way to stay in touch with your teenage grandchildren. Schedule regular calls and use platforms like Zoom, Skype, or Facetime to connect face-to-face.
Send care packages:
Sending care packages filled with small gifts or treats is a great way to show your teenage grandchildren that you're thinking of them. Include items like their favorite snacks, a handwritten letter, or a small gift.
Play online games together:
If your teenage grandchild is into online gaming, ask them to show you how to play or join them in a game. It's a fun way to spend time together and learn more about their interests.
Share your hobbies:
Share your hobbies with your teenage grandchildren by sending them instructions for a craft project or a recipe for a favorite dish. Encourage them to try it out and share their results with you.
Attend virtual events together:
Many events are now being held virtually, from concerts to art shows. Check out virtual events that align with your teenage grandchild's interests and attend them together, even if you're in different locations.
By using these strategies, you can stay connected with your teenage grandchildren and continue to build a strong relationship with them, even if you're miles apart.
A note on how to deal with disrespectful teenage grandchildren
Finally, it's important to address the challenge of dealing with disrespectful teenage grandchildren. Remember that teenagers are going through a lot of changes and may be struggling to express themselves appropriately. Here are some tips for dealing with challenging behavior from teenage grandchildren:
Set boundaries and expectations: Let your grandkids know what kind of behavior is acceptable and what is not.
Be consistent and firm: If your grandkids are testing your boundaries, it's important to remain consistent and firm in your response.
- Continue to be present. Even if you feel like they have no interest in seeing you, simply being present when it matters can go a long way.
Every grandparent-grandchild relationship is unique and special. I would love to hear how you maintain a relationship with your grandchildren. Share you thoughts in the comments below!