Being caught in the middle of your kids and your parents can often feel like, well, being caught in the middle! You want your kids to have a great relationship with their grandparents but you also want to be respectful, and mindful, of everyone’s roles. So what should you know about kids visiting their grandparents’ house?
Kids learn how grandparents’ house is different; to respect grandparents’ house rules; and what to do when visiting grandparents. Parents should know it’s equally important for kids and grandparents to have a meaningful relationship, which means visiting grandparents’ house regularly.
As parents of four, we have experience navigating between kids and grandparents. But now we’re also grandparents ourselves, giving us a new perspective on the relationship dynamics. I’m happy to share with you some things we’ve learned from our parenting role as well as grandparenting role, mistakes and all!
How Grandparents’ House is Different from Parents’
Once grandparents find themselves with an empty nest, it’s common for them to want to downsize. But whether they remain in the same home they raised a family or move to smaller digs, a grandparent’s home is distinct. What is different about grandparents’ house from parents’?
Unlike a parents’ house, which often is about size or location, grandparents’ house is about meaning. Every item in their home, whether it’s a farmhouse or apartment rental, has a story to tell. And regardless of space, there always should be room at grandparents’ house.
You’ll find that your grandparents are like most older people in that they have items such as furniture, flatware, and knick knacks that they’ve had for many years. It’s rare for most grandparents to buy new things because they hang on to what they’ve already had. And being older adults they’ve had many years to accumulate simple things.
Grandparents’ things hold meaning as much as usefulness. Many of the every day items in a grandparent’s house mark moments in time for them, giving the item more meaning than the original design purpose.
This opens irreplaceable teachable moments for children and grandchildren. Experience is the ultimate determiner of wisdom. Knowledge can be accumulated through education of all types. Yet, only time brings wisdom. Whether grandparents have a little of a lot, any of it is valuable for little forming minds.
Since they’ve had things for many years, they have stories attached to those items, making them even more noteworthy to keep. For example, grandparents will remember when they first purchased the light yellow bowls or when they bought the faded checked chair and those memories make those things more important.
I know now with my own aging parents, I can point out just about anything in their house and be given a well-detailed story. For example, I mentioned I liked a clear glass vase on mom’s coffee table and was immediately told a story of the lady in her church who gave it to her, why the lady gave it to mom, what’s happened to the lady since, and a few tidbits about her children to boot!
As well, I was promised matter-of-factly, “You can have that when I die” guaranteeing the story lives on. Though thinking of my mother’s inevitable end doesn’t brighten my day, having a connection to her story does. We make no sense as children and grandchildren without parents and grandparents. At their house, we find our meaning.
For parents, their house usually has items bought from the local Walmart or some other neighborhood big box store for their direct usefulness.
There may be a few aesthetic items in the house, but rarely do they yet hold meaning more than their intended decorative purpose, unlike the various mismatched glassware and chotskies taking up space in Grandma’s cupboards. This only comes with time and infused narrative.
Kids soon learn upon visiting grandparents’ house that not only do items have meaning beyond design, but that items are old. Most things grandparents have are actually older than how long the grandkids and sometimes even parents have been alive!
This can sometimes make it challenging for toddlers or even ‘big kids’ to move around in grandparents’ house without knocking stuff over and breaking it, but that’s okay. Grandpa knows how to duct tape or superglue just about anything!
My grandparents also had things you rarely see anymore from old kitchen gadgets to quilting items. Because grandparents hold on to things, it’s common for the items to ‘go out’ of production or lose mass appeal, making them less likely to find at common stores.
It’s also noticeable that grandparents’ house even smells different from parents’. One reason is because of the older items already mentioned, which may hold musty smells. But also, grandparents typically cook foods different from what grandkids are used to being served daily.
This is because grandparents have older taste buds and affections for more odorous foods like strong green vegetables and meat organs such as liver. Also, grandparents typically eat foods that were more common during their younger years like spam and bologna, which have changed from what’s popular today, making the smells more foreign to kids.
Thus, grandparents’ house is different from parents’ in more sense than one!
Tip: Ask questions about items that seem particularly different or peculiar in order to learn its story. Take pictures of the items, including grandparents too, and briefly note the details on the back for posterity. Let your kids see you do this as well. It will teach them the value of their shared stories and of the experience grandparents’ houses hold.
Grandparents’ House Rules
Believe it or not, grandparents have house rules! They just don’t have the same focus as parents’ rules. So what are typical grandparents’ house rules?
Grandparents’ house rules are intended for grandkids who visit, not reside permanently at grandparents’ house like at home. Instead of rules about child nutrition and safety, grandparents’ house rules are more about not sitting in grandpa’s chair or interrupting grandma’s TV show.
Problems arise, however, as reported in one study, when grandparents take on a more direct role such as when children and grandchildren live with grandparents. This is often due to monetary issues where grandparents are relied upon for housing support and child care.
Ideally, grandparents are able to remain in their grandparenting role. This means grandparents aren’t ‘raising’ grandchildren or involved in their upbringing. That’s what parents are for. Rather grandparents can enjoy a different relationship with their grandkids than what they did with their own children.
Yet, it also doesn’t mean grandparents negate the parents’ role either. Grandparents are not meant to compete with parents for attention or importance. Grandparents can and should love their grandchildren, but not do so at the expense of the parents’ valid responsibility to properly be parents to their children (the grandchildren).
When grandparents and parents don’t stay in their roles, the true victims are grandchildren.
What is a grandparent’s role?
- Passing down the family shared narrative
- Uplifting parents in a child’s eyes
- Supporting character filled roles
- Inspiring children to be contributing members of the family
- Being a unifying symbol for all family members
For grandparents honoring their grandparenting role, their house rules will be different from parents,’ and that should be expected! Grandparents will seemingly focus more on trivial things because they don’t have the expectation to raise properly adjusted adults. However, it’s not to say grandparents don’t offer vital life lessons.
|Grandparents’ House Rules||Parents’ House Rules|
|Don’t sit in Grandpa’s chair.||Clean your room.|
|Don’t interrupt Grandma watching Judge Judy.||Everyone watches movies together.|
|Lights out when Grandpa says.||Bedtime is flexible depending if it’s a school night or weekend.|
|Ice cream is okay sometimes before dinner.||Eat your dinner before a snack or treat.|
|Bathing and brushing your teeth may be optional.||Brush your teeth and hair multiple times per day.|
|Helping Grandpa complete the crossword puzzle is educational.||Do your homework before playing.|
When grandparents spend time with their grandkids via working crossword puzzles, puttering in the garden, or eating ice cream, they’re building memories for grandkids that will live on long after grandparents pass.
Taking time for simple, mundane moments as long as you’re spending it with family is the biggest life lesson grandparents can teach their grandchildren. The importance of enjoying moments with each other in spite of life’s stresses is something a grandparent can teach grandchildren.
But this isn’t to say grandchildren shouldn’t follow house rules while at grandparents’ house. On the contrary, grandchildren must!
Even what may seem like silly rules like not to sit in Grandpa’s chair or going to bed early and rising before the sun should be respected. Children show respect to their grandparents by respecting their house rules, whether it’s fun or not and even if it’s different than parents’.
Special Note: Of course, Grandparents’ House Rules should not be directly in contrast to parents’. Having ice cream for dinner, although not typical on a regular basis, is okay now and then. However, permitting grandchildren to talk back, curse, watch immoral movies, or stay out unsupervised shouldn’t be accepted anywhere, even if Grandma said it’s okay.
Parents must ensure morals and ethics aren’t compromised just because kids are visiting grandparents’ house.
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How Often Is Reasonable for Kids to See Grandparents?
If you ask some grandparents, they are likely to say they don’t see grandkids enough. As a grandparent whose grandchildren live states away, I certainly attest to that! It’s reasonable to expect common ground between what a parent thinks is appropriate for visiting, and what a grandparent thinks. Thus, how often is reasonable for kids to see grandparents?
It is reasonable for kids visit a grandparents’ house once or twice a month, work schedules and location constraints permitting and given that grandparents’ house is suitable. This means the relationship with grandparents is healthy for children’s well-being to maintain such a routine.
A study from 2018 found that grandparents play a wide and varied role in grandkids’ lives. Though few may stick out as co-parents for grandchildren, most grandparents take a less direct role, albeit still active and regular, seeing grandchildren often.
It’s important to not take grandparents for granted, because as hard as it is to discuss, they won’t be with you, or available for visits, forever.
As a child, I lived across the street from my maternal grandparents, seeing them just about everyday. I often went next door to get mamaw’s fresh-made biscuits and to hear papaw’s jokes. My paternal grandparents lived further away, but still in the same town. They picked us kids up every Sunday for years, taking us to church with them and treating us to ice cream afterwards. My grandparents have been gone physically for years now, but they live on through memories with me.
Unfortunately, we did take this for granted as parents. When our children were little, we moved away not thinking about what we were giving up and the ramifications it caused grandparents/grandchildren.
So for 16 plus years, grandparent visits were once a year at the most, and more often relegated to phone calls. Even with technology making face-to-face easier with Skype/Face Tiime and so on, it’s a poor substitute to real, actual time for grandparent visits, and we admit it cost precious moments we can’t get back.
But even though we can’t change the past, we can do our best to make up for it when given the chance, which we were eventually able to do by moving closer to aging parents/grandparents for our children.
Now as grandparents, we find ourselves in the same situation with our own grandchildren who live far away. In cases like this, there’s not much more you can do other than keep communication via technology regular, visit if you can in person, and hope that one day you will be closer in spirit and body.
Tips for Making Visits to Grandparents’ Regular:
- Schedule a time that works for everyone and put it on the calendar.
- Make grandparent visits important to avoid cancellations.
- Talk it up with your children so they know it’s special.
- Keep it short and simple. The less complicated the visits are, the more likely you’ll be able to stick to it.
- Grandparents’ visits don’t have to be overnight, but should be long enough to do some meaningful activities together.
- Be flexible if interference happens such as illness, but always come back to it.
- Remember family time is vital for your family’s well-being so don’t take it for granted.
- If grandparents live far away, schedule regular ‘visits’ via Skype/Face Time. And visit in person when feasible.
What Do You Do When You Visit Grandparents’ House?
When visiting grandparents’ house, grandchildren will likely find the routine is different from their regular home. From little kids to adults, when visiting grandparents, you’re likely going to be following the grandparents’ routine more than your own. So what does it actually look like when you visit grandparents’ house?
When you visit grandparents’ house, the grandparents will likely have lots in mind to do, but it’s good to be prepared with ideas of your own, too. Most grandparents like to spend time playing games, doing puzzles, shopping, or just catching up about recent activities and interests.
However, it’s also helpful if to bring some ideas too, like movies to watch with them or new games to share.
When I went to my grandparents’ house ‘who lived in the country’, I spent time there doing ‘country things’ that they liked to do. My grandparents had gardens, so we’d pick beans (and ate them later). They had chickens, so they taught me about the coops and gathering fresh eggs. They also enjoyed watching reruns of Mash and Sanford and Son, so I begrudgingly endured those ‘boring’ shows, too.
Grandpas differ like the shows they feel comfortable watching. Some love to teach grandkids how to fish, some love to tinker in workshops with them, and others love to just follow them around and share stories back and forth. Even watching these old ‘boring’ television shows build memories that last.
I still get nostalgic when I hear that old Sanford and Son theme song… I miss you grandad.
The important thing for you, or your kids, to learn is that it’s not what you do at grandparents’ house that’s important, though there are are likely some life lessons to gain from the activities too. What’s important is time spent with grandparents, learning about them, and showing them through visits that they’re still relevant, even if ‘old’, and appreciated.
Suggestions for What to Do At Grandparents’ House:
- Do what they like. After all, most days you do what you like, so it’s little to ask you to put them first. And you just might find you enjoy something new!
- Bring along some games or movies you particularly enjoy in order to share the experience with grandparents. It’s a way for you to let them get to know you better.
- Talk, talk, talk. Grandparents have lived long lives and have had many experiences. Ask the questions now, and listen to the stories now, because you won’t always have the chance!
- Take walks. You don’t have to go far, but walks are a cheap, natural way to engage conversation and it’s good for your grandparents who might not get enough outdoor time.
The Takeaway About Kids Visiting Grandparents’ House
I look back at the time I had with my own grandparents and treasure those memories, and let them guide my future with my grandchildren as they grow up. I hope to have many years making memories, and hope you do too if given the gift of grandparents and/or grandchildren!
I’ve heard it said that, ‘love is the greatest gift one generation can leave to the next’ and I believe grandparents are at the heart of this!
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