We are blessed to have grandparents that live nearby. We moved back to Kansas City so that our kids could grow up close to their grandparents. It is such a treat to be able to wake up on Christmas Day in our own home and then have less than 5 miles to go and spend the day celebrating with grandparents.
But what about the rest of the year? When my kids were younger, it was enough to just have Grandma and Grandpa over for dinner. It would thrill everyone – kids would entertain the grandparents by dancing around the living room, and grandparents would happily watch.
As my kids get older, the entertainment factor of having Grandma and Grandpa for dinner has slid down to a 3 on the scale of 1 to 10. They love their grandparents, but just hanging out with them doesn’t have quite the appeal that it did when they were younger.
Here are some of the things that have helped strengthen the bond between my teen and her grandparents:
Focus on making memories. Instead of asking for things on birthdays and Christmas, I have my kids ask for experiences. Some of these experiences might be with both kids at the same time, but real connection happens when they get individual attention. For example, my in-laws took each of my daughters to Branson for their own special long weekend. They took my guitar-playing daughter to a concert and my gymnast daughter to an acrobatic show. Another benefit of having just one grandchild along for the experience is that there has to be interaction, since they are the only other person with their grandparents.
The experiences don’t need to be lavish. You don’t need to plan a weekend out of town; it could be as simple as an afternoon wandering The Country Club Plaza trying to find the perfect Instagram photo. And speaking of Instagram, if your kids are on Instagram, they can spend time teaching their grandparents how to use Instagram. They can use it to communicate with each other and to find accounts they both want to follow. Laughing about a silly cat meme may seem shallow and trivial, but realizing that grandparents have the same sense of humor as them can make a lasting impact on your teen.
Have your kids initiate activities — like an impromptu ice cream trip or bike ride! When my kids were younger and school was out, I would ask the grandparents to take them for the afternoon while I worked. Now, my kids don’t need supervision, but they still like to go for ice cream; however, if I arranged this ice cream break, they would consider it an imposition on their time. If I mention that I know grandpa is available today if they want to text him and go get ice cream, it becomes their idea to reach out to him and they are thrilled when he says “yes.” If texting isn’t an option, a phone call works too!
We also give the grandparents experiences as gifts. We find things that we all enjoy – dinner theater, ax throwing, escape rooms, museum visits, sporting events, etc. — and give them tickets to these events. As a group, we all get to plan for the event and look forward to it together, and, of course, we get the great memories afterwards!
Have grandparents act as chauffeurs for kid activities. My final suggestion was something that started as a necessity. My daughter wanted to take a certain dance class, but the only way for her to get there was for her to be picked up from school, instead of coming home on the bus. My work schedule didn’t allow me to do this, but grandma was willing to do it. I felt guilty having her do this, but then both my daughter and my mother-in-law shared with me how much fun they had talking during the ride from school to dance. I realized that having grandparents act as chauffeurs for kids activities is a great way to get them involved in what the kids are doing, and it gives them some of that very precious one-on-one car time that always results in better conversations than when they are talking in front of me.
We still have plenty of nights when grandparents come for dinner and the girls quickly eat and then retreat to their room, but I don’t stress about it quite as much now that I feel like they are getting other opportunities to connect with their grandparents.