Savta, Grandma, Bubby, Nana

If new parents have a complaint “no one prepared me for parenthood” and parents of newly married children realize there is no road map to being a mother/father-in-law, there is another path that is far more uncharted. How does one be a grandparent?

You see, most people have been around new babies. They have watched friends or siblings or cousins be new parents. They observe comforting techniques, clever holds, and parent-initiated play. But being a parent-in-law and being a grandparent are far harder skills to learn.

We may have learned that in-laws were outlaws. Comedians told us that mixed feelings were what happened when you saw your mother-in-law driving off a cliff in your new Cadillac. Our own parents may have complained of in-laws’ meddling or of their disinterest. It seems that very few families hit a good balance.

But perhaps, even more problematic is how to define ourselves in the roles of grandparents. For many of us, our own grandparents seemed ancient when we were young, and seeing them as people separate from their grandparent role was so very difficult. They were obviously created only for our comfort, the real purveyors of unconditional positive regard.

At first, it’s not that hard. We coo and we smile and we hold and rock the infants. They are so lovable. I never really understood the word “delicious” until I looked at my first grandchild and now the youngest is just as delicious. But what do we do as they grow older?

Early on I decided that I was not into buying their love. First of all, Israeli homes are small. Secondly, my children buy their children everything they need and much of what they want. They lack for nothing. I didn’t want my grandchildren to look forward to my visits as a gift extravaganza. I also didn’t want to force hugs or kisses on them, as much as they were so very appealing. I remember as a child feeling smothered in my grandmother’s ample bosom. I didn’t want my grandchildren to feel that.

So how do we build healthy relationships with them? How do we let these precious young people know that we love them?

I decided that my home should have interesting things for the children to do when they come. Boxes of Legos, wooden blocks, small cars, little plastic people, and hand puppets are available. We have checkers and chess and playing cards. We have childrens’ videos and books. We sometimes show them home videos of interesting places we’ve been. We placed in the garden little figures in both ceramic and plastic of animals and gnomes that the children enjoy identifying, visiting, and often moving around from one place to another in the garden. Some of the figures are on the ground, some are hanging from trees, and one gorilla is climbing up a large pottery urn. As the seasonal fruits ripen on our trees and vines, together we pick plums, pomegranates, clementines, and lemons. We harvest grapes. We are growing kumquats and in another couple of years, when the fruit may be eaten, they will join the cycle. And we usually have an ample supply of pretzels and chocolate milk. In fact, when the children visit, often they home in on the chocolate milk as if it is a ritual. Of course the other thing we have done is the special trips that by now we have taken 7 of the grandchildren on.

We, of course, talk with them, listen to them, tell them stories about when their parents were young and tell them of our own adventures.

My maternal grandparents and their 6 oldest grandchildren

My maternal grandparents and their 6 oldest grandchildren 1955

My paternal grandmother and my two oldest children (her great-grandchildren) 1973

My paternal grandmother and my two oldest children (her great-grandchildren) 1973

My parents with their grandchildren, 1983

My parents with their grandchildren, 1983

What do you/your parents do as grandparents to foster close relationships with your/their grandchildren?

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  1. My daughter loves the songs that my mom sings with her – “Open, shut them,” “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” and “Baby Leelee” all with hand motions.

    My children LOVE their grandparents!

  2. It’s amazing how much you and Vicki still look the same as you did then.

  3. Savta…I love the blog! What do I do? I began teaching my granddaughters, Sophie and Riley, to tap dance when they were toddlers. It was lots of fun. Today, “Rainy Day Tea Parties” are my specialty. We do it by candlelight. Nana (Susan Nolan)

  4. I’ve noticed your name in a number of comments recently and thought I’d pop over to get aquainted. This was a very nice post with a thought provoking question at the end. My daughter works so I tend my two grandson’s daily and the three granddaughters frequently as my other daughter gets busy and needs a little help. I see them on a daily basis. So I am going to stew over your question today. Sometimes it’s hard to find what’s special when it’s part of the daily routine. But I do love being a grandmother more than anything.

    • I find being a grandmother really wonderful, but I too am struggling to define the relationship, especially when some of the grandchildren are close by (a short walk) and others are a drive of 40-50 minutes away (still not far, but it’s a different experience.)

  5. Thank you for visiting. I was at the beach (when I shot the photo of the choked-up seagull) with my two children and their children. It is a favourite place to
    meet in the summer, they living on Long Island and me living in Manhattan. Thank you for your comments about achieving a good balance of relating as
    a grandparent.

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