As we struggle to juggle all the balls we have in the air, we are often focused so much on our own roles that we forget to pay attention to the grandchildren’s role.
Grandparent-grandchild relationships are like no other. Do you remember being spoiled by your grandparents? Life lessons they taught you in an offhand manner? Habits you picked up from them or quirks you still tell your kids about? Even if your parents can no longer live independently and even if they are suffering from dementia, they have much to teach your children.
At the same time, the elderly get much joy from the company of children. They love to hear what the young people are doing and are energized from the electricity that children exude. Hanging out with the grandchildren is a guaranteed mood lifter.
Younger grandchildren can be “babysat” by grandparents while the parents are busy doing chores in the house. Older kids can read to their grandparents or ask for their assistance with homework. Teens can drive their grandparents around or take them for a walk in the park.
This all sounds fairly simple, but what do you do when the grandparents are moody, unruly or have no filter? It is useful to explain to kids in language they understand what is wrong with their grandparents and how it affects their behavior. Kids learn to accept their reality as normal fairly quickly, so except in extreme cases, they can deal with bad behavior. Let them know that they shouldn’t take this behavior personally and that they can disengage when necessary. Tell them lots of stories about the “olden days” so they get to know their grandparents’ true characters and can shrug off problematic behavior brought about by age, dementia or pain.
Spending time with elderly grandparents teaches children an extremely valuable lesson: that of compassion. When they see you interact with your parents in a loving manner, they will model this behavior in their own lives. When they have the opportunity to practice compassion on a regular basis during childhood, they will grow up to be kind and caring people who will contribute much to our society.