The Utterly Exhaustive Guide to Being the Perfect Grandparent by Mary DeVries
Perfect is relative to whether you are the grandchild or parent.
There is tons of advice out there on how to be the perfect parent but not as much is written about how to grandparent properly. Are we assuming this is instinctive? I figure I’d better rush in quickly with my completely unsolicited grandparenting advice before I have any personal experience being one myself, since I’m sure reality will totally mess with my perfect preconceived notions.
Anyway, it’s not as if I have no experience in the matter. I was a grandchild myself. I am a parent to three grandchildren. In other words, I have strong opinions based on how grandparenting has affected me without ever having been in the position myself. As any mansplainer would be more than happy to tell you, that gives me all the authority I need.
Having firmly established my bona fides, let me present with no further ado, my complete and exhaustive guide to being the best grandparent ever.
First the bad news. Some of the advice is contradictory. Look, I’m sorry but it can’t be helped. Grandparenting isn’t quite as messy as parenting but still, you are dealing with immature human beings so not everything will be neat and tidy.
Perfection is all in the eye of the beholder after all. What passes as perfect is totally different based on who you are asking, the grandchild or the parent?
Perfect in the eyes of your grandchildThis is not challenging really. Think back to your childhood and do everything you would have wanted your grandparent to do regardless of whether their parents approve.
Offer treats no strings attachedMy grandparents ran a small country store when I was little. They lived in the apartment attached to the store. After dinner, if we had cleaned our plates, we were allowed to go into the store and choose one treat off the shelves for dessert.
It was a child’s dream. Except for that clean plate bit. Grandma had a bad habit of serving things like pea soup. Who could eat that? Watching Grandpa flick on the lights in the darkened shop and my eager brothers rush in to claim their treats, while I with my barely touched soup was denied access to the promised land is a memory forever etched upon my soul. Don’t be this grandparent.
My kids had a grandma with a cookie drawer. Whether our visit was planned or spontaneous the drawer was always well-stocked with their favorites. “You need a cookie for the road,” she would say when it was time for us to leave. My children would peer into the deep drawer and take their time choosing the perfect cookie.
“Take two,” she would say. “You need strength for the journey.” Be this grandparent
Praise everything they doEveryone deserves someone who thinks they are just the most perfect person possible. Good grandparents provide endless adoration. Author Roz Warren gives us a perfect example when she recalls pulling out photos of her grandson to show all her friends.
I worked at an infant-through-8th-grade school for years. Grandparent’s Day was the best. All the children showing off their artwork and projects to grandparents who oohed and aahed over every single scribble or sentence. I miss that kind of adoration.
Parents get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of creations offered up for approval and start dialing it in at some point. Good grandparents step into the gap and are ready to go gaga at the drop of a hat. After all, they don’t need to keep it up 24/7, 365 days a year.
Say yes more than noGood grandparents indulge their grandchildren. Where parents tend to have a knee-jerk “no” answer ready, which might change to a “maybe” with well-argued debate and possibly even a “yes” with enough persistence, grandparents come in at a “yes” and then sort out the details.
Yes, of course, we can bake cookies. Building a pillow fort out of couch cushions and camping out in the family room with your cousin is a brilliant idea. Let me drop everything I am doing and get you some extra blankets to help.
Jelly beans for dinner sounds like a fantastic idea. Let’s eat some chicken nuggets, too, so we don’t get a tummy ache later. Absolutely, let's read another book. Who cares about bedtime when you are snuggled on the couch with grannie?
Say funny thingsThe best grandparents say unintentionally funny things so their grandchildren have something to laugh about on the drive home. My personal favorite is the time grandma told us all that pea soup was her favorite meal but unfortunately it gave her gas.
Somehow my brothers and I held in our laughter at the time but this comment entertained us for the entire drive home from Minnesota to Michigan. We laughed and howled until Dad said, “Settle down or I’m going to have to turn this car around.” We would slowly regain control and gaze out the windows at the cows passing by until one of us, in a perfect imitation of grandma’s voice, would say, “I just love pea soup, but unfortunately it gives me gas” and we would all lose it again.
This entertainment travels far beyond what you might imagine. At larger family gatherings the cousins will huddle off in a corner and swap “Can you believe Grandma said this” stories. Kudos to you for providing such an excellent bonding experience for cousins who rarely get to see each other.
It’s a gift that keeps on giving well into the adulthood of your grandchildren. You’ll be enjoying your Thanksgiving dinner with all your children and their spouses eating off of the best china in the formal dining room. You’ll hear laughter coming from the living room where all the adult grandchildren and their significant others are sat at the folding tables eating off of the everyday plates.
What could they be laughing about, you wonder, and fleetingly wish you weren’t stuck in the dining room in a place of honor. Your wishes are reflected by the grandchildren who have produced great-grandchildren and thus are condemned to eat at the kitchen table off of plastic picnic plates with their small children who certainly can not be trusted to eat over carpeting.
Those isolated in the kitchen grandchildren know exactly what the laughter from the living room is about. Grandma’s pea soup flatulence. They love their children dearly but at the moment the cost of procreation seems unbearably high.
Tell funny stories about their parents when they were littleYou can be funny intentionally, too! Your grandchildren will be endlessly enthralled with stories about their parents as naughty children. The bonus is you get to delight your grandchildren and pay back your children for the frustration they caused you in one fell swoop.
This is one part of grandparenting I am seriously looking forward to should I ever be lucky enough to have grandchildren. I’m working on honing my stories now.
Perfect in the eyes of your childI’m not going to lie. This role is much harder to nail and a lot less fun. Realistically though, you don’t have a choice. Your child controls access to your grandchild. Figure out how to play by their rules and you can all be one big happy family.
Follow their rulesYes, you raised at least one child, maybe more, to adulthood. You’ve learned a thing or two. It doesn’t matter. They get to set the rules for their children. If they say “no sweets,” you’ll have to get creative and find other ways to indulge your precious angels.
Even if your child is a super strict worrywart in your eyes, if you think outside the box, you can still be a fun grandparent without crossing the line of undercutting their parental authority. It’s going to take a bit more effort for you than the grandpa who always has a pocket full of peppermints to pass out but it can be done.
It’s worth the effort to build a solid relationship within your child’s guidelines. After all, if you think they are too strict, how nice for your grandchild to have someone more relaxed like you to spend time with.
Praise your child’s parentingDo you go immediately from standing in the doorway waving goodbye to collapsed on the couch in exhaustion? Remember that your child is on duty all the time. And parenting is full of tough choices. What is the right thing to do and how do I avoid doing permanent damage to my child is a question parents are always asking themselves.
Your child needs encouragement and cheerleading as much as your grandchildren do. Give it to them. Generously. Find everything you can to genuinely compliment about their parenting.
If you play your cards carefully and well this might even open the opportunity for them to solicit your parenting advice. It’s usually best to wait to be asked. When in doubt keep your mouth shut.
Be available to babysitParenting is exhausting. If your health and distance allow, offer to babysit. Be prepared to do it on their terms. When parents walk away you still need to follow their rules. As soon as those little darlings can talk they will rat you out every time so don’t think you’ll get away with it.
Even staying within restrictive guidelines, you will find a wonderful opportunity to bond with your grandchild one-on-one if you are able to babysit.
Maybe your child isn’t comfortable having you babysit for whatever reason. You can still offer to hold the baby so the mom gets a chance to eat one meal without a child on her lap. You can entertain the toddler with dad nearby so he can get something done. Use your visits to interact with your grandchildren in a way that brings both of you joy and provides a break for the parents.
Don’t demand visitsUnless you live next door, it is unlikely you will see your grandchildren as much as you wish. Remember the multiple demands on parents in those early years and don’t become an additional obligation.
Grandparent in such a way that both your child and your grandchild are always delighted to greet you at the door.
There you have it. My utterly exhaustive guide to being the perfect grandparent. It boils down to this. Respect your child’s authority to set the rules. Cultivate a loving engaged relationship with your grandchild. Be the grandparent you wished you had had as a grandchild and as a parent.
Will I be able to do any of the above if I am ever lucky enough to join your ranks? I hope so. And I hope that, like Roz Warren, I’ll have the pictures to prove it.