I have watched my newborn child with her grandparents and each interaction seems to be a little different. I am wondering how relationships are formed between children and their grandparents when all their personalities and ages are so different. Is it generally the same for everyone; you just connect because you are family?
First, as a grandparent, let me say it is wonderful to hear that you are observing your newborn with her grandparents and thinking about how family relationships are formed. Most grandparents, especially firsttime grandparents, are in awe of their grandchildren. Just like in any relationship, that is the best way to start. Truly wanting to get to know another person is the doorway to a positive, loving relationship.
I think back to when I was a child. I remember my grandparents as somewhat remote and yet caring. My grandma on my mother’s side lived with us for a while, but she was old and not healthy. I would stand by her bedside and she would talk to me, but I really did not know her. I do remember her asking my mom in Italian what I wanted when I asked for something, and that let me know she cared about me. My grandpa on my dad’s side was old, too, and he came to visit every Sunday for dinner; but he spoke Italian, and I did not understand much of what he said. Yet, I looked forward to his visits. He would talk to me in Italian and that let me know he cared about me.
When grandparents interact in the best way they can, whether they are younger or older, have “old world” ways or are modern thinkers and young at heart, a relationship begins to form. Some relationships are stronger than others, and there can always be a bond when the doors of communication are opened. That is how I have approached my relationships with my grandchildren. I want them to know that I am interested in their lives. From infancy I have held them, looked into their eyes and talked to each one about who they are, their unique attributes, and what I hope for them through every stage of their lives. I believe this leads to strong and lasting attachments.
Research will tell you that children can become attached to more than one person. Attachment is important for a strong parent and child relationship, but children can also become attached to other significant adults, especially grandparents when both make a connection and bond. It is more difficult for some grandparents than for others. Sometimes geography makes it more difficult, but that can be overcome through shared stories, pictures, and notes sent across the miles. Today when we can’t see each other in person, we can still talk face-to-face through technology, even though miles apart.
Beginning with that first smile between grandparent and grandchild, a long and loving relationship can grow throughout a lifetime. I would encourage you to be open with your child’s grandparents by sharing your dreams for your child’s future and letting them know your expectations for her guidance as she grows and develops into a toddler, preschooler, tween, teenager, and young adult. This will help to establish the bond between you and them as well. When children see their parents love and respect their grandparents, this will lead them to do the same. Grandparents who show their respect for their children’s wishes for their offspring also help to make the bond stronger with their grandchild. Relationships are formed when we can be open, communicate, and respect each other.
I think of the things that helped me form my relationships with my grandchildren. Hearing what they do from day to day as tiny infants or as teenagers is very important to me. Seeing pictures of their adventures or just ordinary days, talking with them in person, by phone, or now even texting with the older ones, gives me an opportunity to be a part of their lives. Sending little ones books or stickers in the mail and receiving a simple thank you with childlike drawings or comments (actually written by mom for baby) links us together in a special way. These small gestures that say “I love you,” “I like being with you,” and “I miss you” build the grandparent-grandchild relationship even though we are from very different generations.
Let your parents know how much you like seeing them in awe of and falling in love with their grandchild, and let your child know how much you like seeing them with their grandparents. It will all come together quite naturally.
Carol Osborn is the Director of the Virginia Preschool Initiative with the Department of Family Services Office for Children in Fairfax County and Piedmont Family Magazine’s Parenting Matters columnist.