To see how your young grandchildren view you, ask them to draw you a picture. As the saying goes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.
Children are first capable of drawing faces between the ages of three and four. Once the young artists mature and their hand-eye coordination is honed, they learn to add more details. Nevertheless, arms, legs, eyelashes, and clothing will not change the essence of your portrait. The differences between the artwork of one child and another depends less on each child's specific talents and more on how each child understands the subject ... how they see you in their mind's eye. The real contrast between two children's portraits will be determined by your relationship.
Ideally, your face will be full and round. Your eyes will be open and your mouth will be smiling. It doesn't matter if you have a body or not, as long as you fill most of the page. When this child thinks of you, you are the center of the universe. If you are on the left side of the page, the child has a strong attachment to you, but draws your likeness from a hazy memory. Your image is likely borrowed from grandparents in books or on television. If your picture is very small or your face is in profile, the relationship has little to draw on - literally. Sometimes a child will draw a doll or a puppet figure with old-fashioned clothes and no expression. This means the child can only imagine grandma or grandpa. It's time to pick up the phone.
Psychologists use pictures a great deal when working with young children. They concentrate on the children's ability to develop small motor ability to draw recognizable forms, rather than on the picture's style or content. In other words, children are not sophisticated enough to fabricate an image. Their pictures don't lie. So, don't ask for a portrait unless you truly want one. If you get a big happy face, frame it!
Just Grandma, Just Grandpa
Do you ever feel pressured about being Super Grandma or Super Grandpa? Concerned that your true talents might not fit the bill? Or exhausted from trying too hard already? Don't worry, it's a hard image to live up to. In fact it's impossible - and unnecessary. You don't have to be the best at everything. You don't even have to try everything. You undoubtedly have your share of talents (after all, you have other things in your life besides your role as a grandparent). Many of these things will add zest to the love you have to offer your grandchildren. Don't try so hard to know all things, teach all things, and be all things - simply offer what you know. Perfection is not the goal - neither for you nor for your grandchild. The goal is to have a good relationship. Relax and enjoy each other.
Most people have a treasured memory of one special time spent with grandma or grandpa. When asked about their favorite memories of grandparents, adult grandchildren have similar answers in almost every case. They relive time spent just relaxing and talking with their grandparents, getting to know them ... and getting to love them. What is your favorite memory of your grandparents? What do you want your grandchildren to remember? Share yourself.
Nature vs. Nurture
Nature's role is predetermined. Those chromosomes are pretty darned influential. In fact, if you have a daughter, your genetic power is even clearer: her baby's genes were partially formed while she was inside you. In addition, you have another role that is at least as important - the role of nurturer.
What comes to mind when you think of the word "grandma"? The old-fashioned vision of a soft, aproned woman, stirring a steaming pot and removing a sheet of sticky buns from the oven? Maybe that doesn't describe you but it does, believe it or not, hint at what you're all about to a grandchild. Here's why. The greatest human needs are food, clothing, and shelter. Notice the order these fall in. Food is number one. Food is an accessory to love, and is the easiest and most obvious way to express your love. It provides sustenance of the most basic sort. Therefore, this traditional stereotype of grandmother in the kitchen is not a threat to you. On the contrary, it reinforces your very essence. Consequently, the kitchen is an honorable place.
Although legendary family dinners may be a relic of our collective past, you can still feed your grandchildren. If you don't like to cook, so what? A child won't care that lack of cooking time is the reason your cupboard is bare. He'll only see that his friends' grandmas feed them and you don't feed him. Fulfilling this minimum requirement for grandmothers is easy: keep your cupboards stocked. As long as you have some version of Cheerios, apple juice, chocolate pudding, and hugs, your grandchildren will know you to be the Great Nurturer. You can be a legend in your own time.
Dr. Bettye M. Caldwell Ph.D. Professor of Pediatrics in Child Development and Education
Parenting advice is given as a suggestion only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider.