Every occasion with grandma and grandpa can be a special one. The best way to make events particularly special is to make a tradition of doing them with you.
If you live nearby, you can schedule a regular outing with the baby and make it your special time together. You can be the one who takes the kids to the new G-rated film each time one opens. You can take them to dancing or martial arts lessons. Or out for breakfast on weekends.
If you live far away from your grandchildren, how about planning ahead for the ball game, the concert in the park, or even the circus? Or make the special event something as simple as feeding the ducks at the nearby pond. Your grandchild will come to associate the event with you, as the thing you like to do together. And this association is what always makes it so special.
Whether it’s twice a year or twice a month, as long as you share the activity on a consistent basis, almost anything will fit the bill.
Do you love to eat out? If so, you’ll naturally want to go out with your growing clan. Here’s a typical scenario: at first, you’ll pay for everyone. This is a generous attitude and you’ll all have a wonderful time. By the second time, the credit card bill for the first meal will have arrived, and you might be a tad less enthusiastic. Your son-in-law will probably be anxious to pay this time, but you’ll overrule him and say it’s your pleasure. By the third time, you will be reluctant to mention eating out and will be grateful when your daughter suggests you all go out “on them.” If you eat out with the family regularly and wish to settle the uncomfortable issue of paying, establish an understanding that everyone will pay their own way. Simply state that you (and your spouse) will contribute your share.
Another eating-out-related issue is the grandchildren’s lack of knowledge about restaurant etiquette. When you take the grandchildren out to eat, don’t expect them to behave like little adults — they are not. Bring toys, crayons, and patience. Avoid going at naptime and bedtime. Teach them about restaurant etiquette at a level they can understand and achieve. Plan a tour of the restaurant to stretch those little legs and burn off some of the energy that would drive everyone crazy if it stayed pent-up in the booth.
Family meals at home can be a struggle, as well. If you can, offer to help with groceries at their house, but do take “no” for an answer. For a meal at your house, asking them to pick up something specific — like beverages and dessert or a fresh flower centerpiece — is easier than divvying up the cost of a large family meal. Money is not a dirty word as long as you keep it out in the open. Once you can talk about it, you’ll all have more fun, and bartering for clean-up chores may be acceptable to everyone.
Some couples who want to mix time together with family vacations bring a babysitter along to help with the children. This arrangement, while giving the parents increased freedom, can present its own set of issues: can the babysitter be trusted in a strange place? Would she be just another child to be responsible for? Will everyone be comfortable living together for a week? How much time off would the sitter require? Her trip expenses would need to be paid for; how much salary would she require beyond that?
What if you go along instead of a babysitter? You’ll have the family’s trust; the children will be safe and happy, and you can take care of yourself. You won’t require a salary, but instead will enjoy together time with your grandkids plus a no- or low-cost vacation. You and your children can take turns doing things with the grandchildren and having time alone. If someone gets grumpy, you won’t have to worry about keeping a happy face in front of a stranger. If you go, be sure to give the family breathing room, and take time away to refresh yourself.
The moral of the story is, volunteer to go on vacation with your grandchildren: while the situation probably won’t be ideal all week long, you can come close. If you’re married or involved, you’ll need to work out the logistics with your mate. Either way, keep these points in mind: you’re better than a babysitter, you’ll share a memorable experience with the children, and you might get a free vacation out of it!
Do you dream of taking your grandchildren on world cruises, traveling to the Orient, visiting the Louvre, relaxing in the Caribbean … sharing the world with them? Vacationing with your grandchildren can be a wonderful experience. They are away from parental pressures and so are you. You have a constant companion who looks up to you and follows your lead. You can revisit places with a fresh perspective. You can explore new places as you never imagined them. Or you can relax and enjoy your grandchild’s company in a fun environment where bedtimes don’t matter and you don’t have to make the beds.
Most resort hotels now offer children’s programs, so you don’t have to be responsible for 24-hour entertainment. You can have both a good time and meet new friends. There are even tour packages specifically for grandparents and grandchildren (age eight to 16) to explore America together. Not only can you rediscover your heritage, but you can personally introduce your heirs to their ancestors. Visit your travel agent or map out your own road trip and plan a vacation that you and your grandchild will never forget!
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.