Ideas for Grandparents

This article builds off of the previous post, which can be read here.

My dad’s parents taught me to play card games and told stories about my Grandpa beating all the other soldiers at Cribbage. My mom’s mom taught me to bake — real, old-world baking with lots of butter, yeast, and white flour. And the stories she told about my mom’s dad taught me about farming and life in the American Midwest. We lived a plane flight away from both sides of the family, and still my grandparents had a profound impact on my life.

Today, grandparents often play an even bigger role in children’s lives. In general, their health is better and they live longer. As more families include two working parents, grandparents are picking up the slack with childcare. And for the grandparents who do live far away, technology like Skype and social media make it easier than ever to stay in touch. Last week we looked at the importance of children having a strong family identity. This week we’ll look at how grandparents specifically can connect with teens and help give them that sense of identity.

How can grandparents connect with their grandkids? There are several obvious disconnects between grandparents and teens. They are separated by not just one generation gap, but several. Their interests, abilities, and experiences are very different. They may not even live anywhere close to each other! Yet intentional steps taken by grandparents and parents can facilitate good connections, which hopefully a teen will quickly reciprocate. Here are some ideas, written as steps a grandparent could take:

  • Invite each grandchild to do something unique with you — just the two or three of you.
  • Teach your grandchildren a hobby or skill, such as fishing, cooking, woodworking, etc.
  • Attend their events, even the boring ones: recitals, baseball games, marching band parades.
  • Plan an event, outing or vacation for either all the men or all the women in the family. This is especially beneficial when teens hit 12 or 13 and are going through puberty.
  • Invite your grandchildren to events and social gatherings that are important to you, whether that’s church, the local VFW, or Rotary club. Let them meet your friends.
  • Ask your grandchildren to teach you a new skill, such as digital photography, or game, such as Minecraft.
  • Use texting and Skype to communicate, even if it feels difficult to learn.
  • If you speak a second language, teach your grandchildren some of it. Have a few words that can become part of the family vocabulary even if the kids don’t become fluent.
  • Talk about family traditions you enjoyed from your own childhood. If the tradition hasn’t continued, find a way to restart it.
  • Gather a few time honored recipes and teach them to your grandchildren.
  • Keep track of special events, or big games or tests, and call or text your grandchildren on those days.
  • Start a collection together (dolls, stamps, postcards) and build it, whether you are together or far apart.

Share this post with the grandparents you know. I hope there will be one or two new ideas for building family connectedness.

Sadly, I know there are many cases where family brokenness makes forming a strong family identity difficult. Next week, we’ll look at navigating the ups and downs in a family.

*Several ideas from this post were first shared in this article, which is a faith-focused article about passing on religious beliefs to grandchildren.

Telling Your Family’s Story

My parents, circa a long time ago.
My parents. We won’t talk about how much I might look like my mom.

A few months ago, my husband and I said good-bye to the last of our grandparents, my husband’s Grandma. For the last decade or more, every 4th of July, her children and their families would gather at a lake house — a group that grew by one or two (or five) each year. She lived to see 25 great-grandchildren born! Today, if you want to know what our family is about, you only have to stop by that lake house this July 4. I expect all of the traditions will continue, from shooting off our own fireworks, to building some new addition to the house, to taking the requisite family photo — more difficult as the family grows each year. The family is competitive, stubborn in its generosity, efficient as only engineers know efficiency, and completely devoted to each other.

As those 25 great-grandchildren age, their family identity will keep them grounded. Research backs this up. Family stories and a child’s ability to see herself as part of a bigger picture play an important role in helping children navigate challenges and stress. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“[Researchers] developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions.

“Examples included: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

“Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families…. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”

So how do you create a strong family identity? I offer some suggestions below, and then next week, we’ll continue the discussion by looking specifically at grandparents.

  • Family artifacts. Share stories about items that belonged to other family members or which have been passed down through generations. They don’t have to be valuable! My husband keeps a few of his Poppy’s books (some of which still have Poppy’s old business cards tucked in as bookmarks). I have a pair of my Grandma’s shoes — the ones she got in Germany as a refugee during WWII. When we visit my parents’ house, we use a tablecloth made by my Grandma and her sisters, and hear again how incredible it is that they crocheted the whole thing by hand.
  • Make and keep traditions. If you don’t have any traditions yet, it is never too late to start. You could look through old photos to get ideas of activities you want to repeat — family memories you may have already forgotten but want to rekindle. Or, decide as a family what would be really special to do, and to keep doing. My friend’s family picks up take-out Chinese for dinner every Christmas eve. Why? No one knows. But it has become tradition.
  • Share photos. This can mean looking at albums together, but it can also be an opportunity to leverage social media. Throwback Thursday is an internet tradition of posting pictures from way back when — why not start including some from WAY back. Scan family photos using one of these methods or at a local convenience store with photo services. Then they are ready to share — and you may be surprised at what your kids are willing to post on their social media. Grandpa bowling with a handlebar moustache? Awesome!
  • Family Core Values. Like a business, sit down together and identify what your family’s core values are. Let everyone contribute. Write them down. If you have younger children, write down values on popsicle sticks and use them to build a house together. Repeat these to each other. “Remember guys, we’re the Smiths. And Smiths stick together.”

In the coming weeks, we’ll continue to explore the topic of family stories and how they can help us be better parents. In the comments section, share a way that you keep family traditions!


Family Meals with Teens

I’ve seen plenty of articles and blogs about family meals, their importance, and how to do them, but almost all of those articles focus on families with younger children. How do you keep up (or start) the tradition with teenagers? Here are some ideas for family dinners with teens. If you have more, please share them in the comments section!

Be Portable

Teens often have plenty of after-school activities. Find ways that you can bring the family along to share a meal and a little quality time on-the-go, such as:

  • Sandwiches, grapes, and carrot sticks shared picnic-style out of the trunk of your car before a game or between activities.
  • A crock-pot of chili brought along and eaten out of mini bags of Fritos — or just a bowl for a healthier option.
  • A full-scale tailgate during an extra-long day (my regional track meet comes to mind…).

Think Past Dinner

Fresh blueberries and granola
If it is too hard to gather the family at dinner time, try breakfast.

Breakfast, lunch, and snacks all provide opportunities to share a meal together. If family dinner isn’t possible due to work schedules, maybe breakfast would work better? Pancakes on the weekends, eggs and toast, making ahead and freezing waffles (no need to buy the ones from the store, though I do enjoy the blueberry ones from Trader Joe’s) — all provide an opportunity to sit down together around a meal. Many high schools now have occasional late-start days that provide an opportunity for an extended breakfast. If you can adjust your work schedule with advanced notice, try scheduling family time for those mornings!

Let the Kids Cook

You’ve made it past the years of utter dependence, so make the kids start pitching in! Teens will feel empowered if they can master one or two recipes as their “specialty.” Give them a night to be in charge and let them make dinner happen. Simple meal ideas that will (hopefully) not burn the house down include:

  • Pita bread/bagel/or English muffin pizzas
  • Breakfast for dinner
  • Tacos (assuming you trust them to chop toppings without hurting themselves)
  • Pasta and sauce — and for the advanced chef, adding sausage or meatballs

Invite Friends

Pick a meal that is extra special for your family or your son or daughter, and let your children invite their friends to join in. One of my friends spent a few years in England with her family, so they invited me over to share a traditional English dinner with them. Another friend’s Italian family made a big deal out of Polenta night (or should I say, Polenta all-day-affair) and invited several of us to come over and experience it. As children get older, they are becoming more aware of other cultures and traditions besides their own. This awareness might be your open door for meeting your children’s friends.

Dress it Up

My mom has a thing for fancy dishes, so when she told me to invite my friends over for lunch one day, they arrived to a table decked out with our nicest china. They thought it was “so cool” of my mom to go to that trouble — even the boys! I think that as teens, it felt really good to be treated with that kind of respect and thoughtfulness. Dressing up or using nice things tends to put people on their best behavior and lends significance to even simple meals. Use that to your advantage!


Distracted Teens Slow to Finish Tasks

Students tend to think they’re good at doing multiple things at the same time.  Truth be told, some of us adults are also deluded into thinking we are great at multitasking as well!  But a study from the National Academy of Sciences showed that multitaskers understand less of what they’re doing, and the next day they aren’t able to remember what they learned while multitasking. The article by Commonsense Media discussing this research helps parents determine if their children are being negatively affected by multitasking, and provides tips for managing multitasking among kids of all ages. Commonsense Media’s article suggests that parents:

  • Encourage your kids to read more. Reading helps strengthen the brain’s ability to focus. The more people read, the better they become at reflection and analysis.
  • Start good habits early. Establish boundaries when your kids are young. No TV, Facebook, YouTube, IM, texting or other digital distractions during homework.
  • Model what you preach. This means no checking your phone while asking your kids how their days were.
  • Keep distractions to a minimum. Try to help your kids do one thing at a time. Granted, this is easier with younger kids. Consider putting the TV and computer in separate rooms. For older kids, make sure social networks and chatting happen after homework is completed — or at timed intervals.
  • Pay attention and connect the dots. If you see your kids’ grades slipping, make the connection between listening to a favorite band and doing algebra homework. If your children begin handing in work late or if they are staying up too late to complete homework, consider turning off the Internet, the cell phone, and the TV, and see if the situation reverses itself. The grades will tell if multitasking is taking its toll.

Home Alone…and Having Sex

When I get teens talking about situations to avoid, one of the ideas they come up with is “Don’t be home alone.”  Indeed, this is a WISE idea.   One study of urban teens showed that “Among the respondents who had had intercourse, 91% said that the last time had been in a home setting.”  More often it was at the boy’s house.   So teens on a Saturday night date making out in the back seat of the car may NOT be the most common impetus to sex.  Instead, it’s an overabundance of unsupervised time…after school…during the summer…when parents are at work.   “The likelihood of intercourse, the number of partners for intercourse, and substance use increased as the amount of unsupervised time increased.”

This is not surprising, of course.  But what the researchers pondered about this bears thinking about.  It might not JUST be a lack of opportunity that keeps some kids from having sex.  It could be that parents whose children have less unsupervised time consequently have more time relating to their parents and siblings.  They may be pursuing clubs, sports or other activities that give them a sense of purpose and self-esteem…and keep them occupied.  Two teens, with hormones, and too many hours with nothing fun to do might just be bored.  And that’s a recipe for a pregnancy or an STD.   If the summer is stretching on, help your teen keep out of trouble by helping him or her come up with some plans to do something fun and productive.

Your Child and the Pain of Rejection

As parents, we will almost certainly watch our children experience the pain of social rejection, either by friends, or by a boyfriend or girlfriend.  There are two pitfalls to watch out for as a parent.  One is that we will internalize it, and empathize so deeply that we will have sleepless nights, or worse, interfere in the relationship (I hate to admit this, but my observation is that moms seem to struggle more with this).  The other is that we will miss the pain that they are experiencing.  I once missed an opportunity to support my child when her friend died, because I didn’t realize how close she and this girl had become.  I regret that I wasn’t there for her more at the time.  Or we might be tempted to dismiss or minimize the hurt.  “Oh, there are other better guys out there for you.”  “She didn’t really appreciate what a great guy you are anyway.”  A fascinating study found that “feelings of social rejection activate regions of the brain that are involved in physical pain sensation….”   In other words, emotional pain “hurts” like physical pain.  The researchers also “point out that the findings affirm the wisdom of cultures around the world that use the same language—words like ‘hurt’ and ‘pain’—to describe the experience of both physical pain and social rejection.”  The best thing we can do when our child is experiencing the intense pain of rejection is to lend a sympathetic ear.  We need to show our love and support by listening and by understanding that the pain, even though we know it won’t last forever, is quite real to our son or daughter.

Stressed and alone

“I can’t talk to my mom; we always fight.”  “Dad would kill me if he knew.”  “Mom and I used to be close, but not since she remarried.”  “I can’t talk to my parents about this.”   These are all things teens have said or written to me in the last year.  To be honest, my own children have had occasions when they felt they could not talk to me or their dad honestly about some significant struggle they were facing.   As an adult who seems pretty approachable (at least to other people’s kids), I’ve had conversations with young people who are floundering,  wondering how to answer the major questions of life that they are facing, struggling with how to handle the feelings of hurt and devastation that come in the course of  human relationships.  These teens too often feel unequipped and unsupported, left to navigate adult worries and stresses alone.   How can we as adults come alongside our own teens, and the friends of our teens that come into our homes and our lives?  First, we have to understand their inner world.

I read a book a while back that I recommend to parents, educators, and youth leaders, called “Hurt:  Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers.”  It really opened my eyes to the sense of abandonment that many teens have.  Adults are often too busy with their own jobs, concerns, and relationships to really make time to listen with an open heart and mind to teens.

I am guessing that parents reading this blog care deeply about their kids, and want to have a close relationship with them.  Maybe the cares of life have indeed robbed you that all-important building block of relationship:  TIME with them.  It happens without us realizing it.  Or maybe you, like me,  have been through periods where you are shut out by your teen.  That doesn’t remove their need for mentors and role models.  In short, they need to know that they matter in this stressful, driven, achievement-oriented world.  Keep loving, caring, and listening.  Don’t give up.  Try to understand their world.  And consider being that caring adult to someone else’s child.  Maybe an adult will be that person in your child’s life:  a respected teacher, caring neighbor, the mom or dad of a friend, a youth leader.

A Simple Key to Keeping Your Kids Safe

Like many of you, I found it a struggle to have regular family meals during my kids’ teen years.  There were softball games to attend, piano lessons, Dad’s out of town business trips, and so on.  It was so much easier to just call home and tell the family “you’re on your own; pull out the leftovers.”  One thing that we DID do, though, was have a regular (4 or 5 times a week) “family time” later at night.  I’m glad that we had those regular times to engage with our children.  It turns out that regular family time (and for most families, that’s a family meal together) is STRONGLY connected with better outcomes for teens.  An important study that just came out points out that “a child who gets through age 21 without smoking, using illegal drugs or abusing alcohol is virtually certain never to do so….Our surveys have consistently found that the more often children have dinners with their parents, the less likely they are to smoke, drink or use drugs, and that parental engagement fostered around the dinner table is one of the most potent tools to help.”  Did you get that?  Potent, according to, means powerful, mighty, having or exercising great power or influence.  If you think it’s the gourmet meal that matters, it’s not.  If all you can manage is opening a can of chili, throwing on some grated cheese, and slicing up a few apples, that’s OK!  The point is to have time to interact, and the study points out that  “Three in four teens report that they talk to their parents about what’s going on in their lives during dinner.”

Competing with Media for Your Child’s Time?

Did you know that a recent Kaiser Foundation study found that “young people (8 to 18) spend an average of 53 hours a week using electronic media?”  It may not surprise you that this heavy media use doesn’t translate into happier lives:  “The more time they spend with electronic media, the less happy they tend to be.”

If you’re already concerned about your teen’s media use with respect to content, you may also be concerned about how it is affecting your relationship with your child.  A new study shows that over one third of parents report a concern with how TV, computers and video games are affecting parent-child communication.  As a parent of college age kids, I’ve already learned that they are more likely to read a text message than pick up a voice call from me, and may be more likely to want to read an article I send them via e-mail than have a conversation about current events or social issues.  Like me, you may be concerned about the decrease in “face-time” with your family.

This is a perfect opportunity for me to invite you to our Amplify Parent Connection meeting (click here for more info) on August 30.  We will be talking about Teens and Media…what they are seeing, hearing, and experiencing through media, and how we can become more media savvy as we try to keep the lines of communication open and the ties of relationship strong.  You will come away with resources that can help you protect, guide and connect.

How Do I Know You Love Me?

Many of you have heard me talk about Love Languages during our Amplify Parent Presentation.  I found this handy link that gives you an opportunity to take a survey to discover your love languages.  The theory is that everyone “reads” love differently, through one or more of these avenues:  words, touch, quality time, gifts, or service.  You are also given an opportunity to invite your teen to take the test as well.  My husband and I have found it very helpful to understand our differences.  For instance, his love languages are touch and words of affirmation.  Mine is ONLY (apparently) acts of service done for me.  You can imagine how we’ve missed communicating love at times!  Now, I can better appreciate that he’s trying to tell me he loves me…even if I don’t immediately recognize it.  Similarly, knowing our teens’ love languages can help us to be certain to communicate FULLY our great love for them.

(Note:  It looks like you have to provide a name and e-mail address in order to get your test results back.  But this is a legitimate site, and I imagine you can unsubscribe if they want to send you other emails that you don’t want.)