Dear Mr. Dad: When my kids were young I worked a lot and wasn’t around as much as I wanted to be. But now that I’m retired and a grandfather, how can I make up for it and build strong relationships with my grandkids?
A: There’s no way to make up for lost time, but there are some excellent ways to be an active, involved part of your grandchildren’s life:
•Stay connected. Call, write, e-mail, text, Skype or twitter. There are tons of ways to keep in touch.
•Be there. If you live nearby, mark as many of their special occasions as possible (if you don’t, call or send a card).
•Encourage variety. Take them to museums and concerts, share your hobbies with them, read to them, or better yet, tell them about your childhood and the “good old days” (even if you have to make something up).
•Get to know them. Have them burn you a CD of their favorite bands, send you links to the blogs they read, and tell you about their hobbies. At the very least, you’ll pick up some great birthday present ideas.
•Know their friends. Find out their names and what your grandkids see in them. Asking about friends and otherwise supporting the friendships shows your grandchildren you’re interested in them.
•Don’t be a Disneyland Grandpa. The term Disneyland Dad usually applies to non-custodial divorced fathers who try to fill every second with their kids with fun and games and treats.
It’s an easy trap to fall into, but eventually you’ll either run out of money or treats. When that happens, your grandkids will be so spoiled that they’ll either resent you for not giving them “their due.” Instead, try to make their time with you as normal as possible.
•Watch the unsolicited advice. Part of what makes the grandchild-grandparent relationship so satisfying for the child is that it doesn’t include most of the natural conflicts inherent in the relationship with parents. If you act like a parent, you’ll get treated like one.
•Be patient. Tweens and teens may back away from you during their I-must-reject-everything phase. Don’t judge, just be there and let them know they have a safe place to land if they need anything.
•Don’t take sides. Never, ever, get in the middle of an argument between your children and grandchildren.