Did you know today is Grandparent’s Day? It always falls on the first Sunday in September after Labor Day.
My own grandparents lived several hours away. They had to do much of their encouraging and influencing from afar. But they still made a point of pouring into the lives of their children’s children.
In contrast, my husband and I spent our first decade together living just down the street from my parents. Our kids saw their grandparents almost daily. We could hop on our bikes and be at Nana and Papa’s house in three or four minutes flat.
Now we are grandparents ourselves.
We often reflect on how our own parents and grandparents fulfilled this role before us. And we intentionally try to mimic all their best practices, which include all of the following:
6 Smart Ways to Connect with Your Grandchildren
Pray for them
Prayer is the first and best thing you can do for your grandkids. And it doesn’t depend on proximity. Whether your grandkids live on the other side of the street or on the other side of the world, you can pray for them daily.
Pray for their health and safety. Pray for their relationships to family, to friends, and to God Himself. And pray for wisdom to know how you can best to encourage your grandchildren and build them up as individuals.
Spend time with them
Although mine were long-distance grandparents, we made lots of great memories together during the years they were alive.
Once in a blue moon, they came to Dallas to visit us. But Papa was hard of hearing in both ears and blind in his right eye. Consequently, he once drove off and left my grandma at a gas station inadvertently. He didn’t realize she wasn’t sitting in the truck beside him listening to him rant about gas prices until he’d traveled several miles down the highway.
Perhaps that explains why, more often, we drove to Oklahoma to see them. We celebrated most major holidays at their house in Oklahoma. We also went camping together, along with all the aunts and uncles and cousins.
And my sister and I spent an entire week with Mema and Papa almost every summer. They bought us fireworks. And baked us brownies. And took us swimming in the frigid spring-fed waters of Big Bear Falls in Sulphur. They also made us behave and took us to Sunday school and told us funny stories from when our daddy was little.
Cook for them
My grandmothers were both wonderful cooks, as my mother is still. My children love eating their Nana’s home cooking as much as I enjoyed eating all the homemade biscuits, home grown veggies, and home baked pies my grandmas spread on their tables whenever we visited.
Especially in the fast-food age we live in now, there is something almost magical about those old-school meals we used to feast on as children around our grandparents’ tables. Next time your grandkids pay you a visit, why not break out a well-loved recipe that has been in your family for generations and share it with the next?
Write to them
I grew up in an era before email or texting or video chat. In those days, long distance phone calls were charged by the minute, but first class postage stamps sold for less than a nickel. Accordingly, my grandparents were my earliest pen-pals.
My grandpa once wrote to thank me for a pet rock I’d painted him for Christmas. He told me “Pebbles” was a huge fan of rock music, especially the Rolling Stones, but had unfortunately fallen in with a rough crowd and come home stoned. He tried sending her to school, but her teacher sent home a note saying Pebbles was so hard-headed, nobody there could teach her anything.
“So I put her back in her box,” Papa concluded, “and haven’t heard a peep out of her since.” Forty-two years later, I still have that letter, which I reread this morning before penning this column.
My Mema also wrote me regularly. I can’t remember ever receiving a letter from her that didn’t have some sort of surprise tucked inside along with the correspondence: a stick of gum, a few coins, a coloring or activity page, a Cracker Jack prize, a dollar bill, a comic strip, or a handful of postage stamps for my growing collection.
Once she sent a photograph of my father in his army uniform, which I initially mistook for a picture of her postman. (Anybody else remember when mail carriers walked house to house in dress blues to deliver the post?) I still have many of her old letters, too, as well as that picture of Dad in his military duds!
Cheer for them
Celebrate your grandchildren’s milestones and achievements. Make a big deal of their accomplishments. Tell them often how proud you are of them.
If you live close enough, show up for their piano recitals and choir performances, their soccer games and graduations. If you can’t be there in person, root for them from a distance. And let them know you are with them in spirit.
Tell them stories
You can do as my grandmother did and tell stories about their own parent’s exploits growing up. Like the time she spied my preschool-aged father at the top of a 50-foot windmill. She promised him everything in the book to coax him into climbing back down, but the first thing he got when his feet were back on solid ground was a spanking!
Need inspiration for storytelling? Break out the scrapbooks and photo albums and go through them together, recalling details about the people and events pictured inside. Or, in the absence of true-life tales, you can do as the grandfather in Princess Bride did and read your grandkids the same stories your children loved growing up.
Some of my grandchildren live close enough that I see them almost every day. Some live hours away — two on another continent. But near or far, I count it a privilege to carry on with them many of the same traditions my own beloved grandparents started with me.
Jennifer Flanders is the proud grandmother of ten on the ground and two on the way. For a fly-on-the-wall look at more of her parenting philosophies and family traditions, check out her book, Glad Tidings: The First 25 Years of Flanders Family Christmas Letters.