In a section of Christmas gifts for grandparents, a coffee mug had the words “spoil them and send them home”.
Whether it brings a smile or a smirk, it’s a saying grandparents and parents understand.
There is a certain amount of fun that one expects from grandparents. It can be as simple as letting the kids get double-dip ice cream cones – something parents might never let kids do, and something that makes children’s eyes sparkle.
But many parents can tell stories of waste that go too far. In a local parent group online, a mother said she stopped letting her kids spend the night with her parents because they came home like little monsters. They were cranky about staying up long after bedtime and had an upset stomach from all the junk food they ate. Letting the children have fun with Grandma and Grandpa was not worth it for her.
Another parent mentioned the excess of âstuffâ filling their children’s playroom. Toys given to children by his parents were everywhere. And for someone who preferred basic wooden blocks and simple toys, loud toys with flashing lights drove her crazy. She wondered how she could kindly let her parents know that enough was enough with all the toys.
Of course, not all parents feel this way. Some parents will tell you that letting their kids feel like they’re getting away with something or breaking harmless rules while they’re at their grandparents’ house is perfectly fine. Or, if giving gifts is the love language of grandparents, so be it.
Setting boundaries and then respecting the wishes of parents is essential to maintaining a healthy grandparent-parent-child relationship. And there’s a difference between Grandma letting the kids pick a new toy at Target and Grandma letting the kids watch a movie she knows they’re not allowed to watch.
Patty Banes is a grandmother of three boys who spent 35 years in early childhood education. She said the idea of ââ”spoiling them and sending them home” was becoming a thing of the past.
âMy generation of grandparents is not so much like that. We have a different view of what is good for children. We don’t want to send them away to have their parents cancel what we just did, âshe said.
For Banes and her husband, Jim, bonding emotionally has always been a priority rather than giving gifts or money.
Their idea to make children happy is to allow them to stay up a bit later to go on night walks with flashlights with their grandfather on their family vacation. They call them “Papa walks”, and now is the time for the boys to bond with their grandfather and do something they are not used to doing with their mom and dad.
As long-distance grandparents, Patty and Jim worked to create ideas for bonding with their grandchildren, making them feel loved and special across the miles.
This kind of indulgence in emotional love is healthy and just what kids need. Doing things parents may not want to do or have time to do, which can feel like spoiling children, bonding, and creating memories between grandparents and grandchildren. Taking the kids to the movies and sharing a big popcorn, taking them sledding, working on a craft together, building something with your hands, or growing something together are all ways to bond with kids.
Patty and Jim have a weekly Skype call with the grandkids to stay connected, but they’ve also found some very special things to do to make the kids feel loved and a little spoiled.
âWe sent them puppets and let them write the story and name the characters. Then we would watch the puppet show on Skype, âBanes said.
Another fun tradition she created is having kids choose a book, and then they all read and discuss it. Talking about the book and what they liked and disliked about it gives them something to say besides the norm: “How was school this week?” “
Loving grandparents through emotional connection is not as easy as the typical mess. But the gift of time – of reading the same book your grandchild is reading or helping them create a puppet show – is a more meaningful gift than something store-bought.
Banes recommends finding ways to create a one-on-one connection. It could be something as simple as splashing around in puddles after it rains. Children will remember that Grandma or Grandpa let them have fun and create havoc. Or it could be something more elaborate like the vacation care packages Banes sends to his grandsons. She creates a maze for the children to fill in the blanks to learn more about the holidays. For Cinco de Mayo, Patty filled the box with Mexican coins and snacks.
One gift that children may need to be older to appreciate, but which is important nonetheless, is family history.
âGrandparents are one of the few ties to the past,â Banes said. âWe send letters about the pets we had growing up, our first cars, the jobs we had, the schools we went to. I send a letter from time to time with photos. It gives them a reference to our past.
No one has ever been spoiled by letters from their grandmother. But if parents are worried about too much candy, toys, or watching TV, it might be time to talk about limits. It helps to gently remind grandparents of your own family rules rather than accusing them of doing something wrong. And letting grandparents know that their most precious gifts are time and connection can make them feel empowered.
Excessive giving is a real thing. Children who find themselves with an excess of toys, electronics, and other gifts after the holidays can sometimes end up not appreciating what they have or expect that same year.
When grandparents ask you what they can offer this year, think of experience gifts rather than more. Here are some ideas.
1. Music lessons
The guitar, violin or piano lessons for the year are a great gift and a big financial burden on parents. If you want to give something more, include the musical instrument.
2. Museum membership
Membership in Tulsa Zoo, Oklahoma Aquarium or the Tulsa Air and Space Museum makes a great gift. If you’re a local grandparent, include a promise to parents to take the kids on a fun day out using the membership. Membership when opening soon Discovery lab at the Gathering Place is another great idea.
3. Savings account
Even small children can understand the concept of savings, and having their own savings account is a great way for them to appreciate it. Adding money for birthdays and holidays to grandchildren’s savings accounts adds up and will be more and more important as children approach college age.
Find out if there is a series of books that the grandchildren are interested in and surprise them by completing the set. For small children, buy a stuffed animal to accompany a favorite book. Paddington Bear, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Madeline never go out of style. For the full experience, read the books together.
It’s important, but if you want to feel like the grandparent of the year, give your grandchildren the gift of spending time together. It can be as big as a Disney cruise or as simple as a weekend getaway to a nearby campsite.