Being an intentional grandparent requires effort. Yet connecting with your grandchildren and making memories together doesn’t have to be costly or extravagant. In this article. Susan Macias shares 5 simple traditions to start with grandchildren today to help foster your relationship and build memories for years to come.
Being an intentional grandparent requires effort. When the next generation of our family began to arrive, I wondered what traditions I should start with my grandchildren. I wanted to build lifelong memories with them so they would remember my love and care long after I was gone.
If you too take your grandparent duties seriously, you might be asking the same questions. What are the best activities to start with your grandchildren? Should you concentrate on big family traditions or maybe search for fun simple activities? While times have changed and electronic entertainment dominates our grandchildren’s options, I have good news for you. Often, the easiest solutions are the best.
I learned this wisdom from my own family. I have precious memories of traditions with my grandparents. My parents and my husband’s parents also make purposeful decisions in their own grandparent roles. Many of my suggestions come from what I learned from them. The most important factor I observed is that activities with our grandchildren don’t require money or extravagance. Rather, consistency and one-on-one attention are the most important ingredients because it is these things that build strong relationships. And strong relationships are fertile ground for lifelong memories to flourish.
GRANDPARENT TRADITIONS TO BEGIN
Influential grandparents are also intentional grandparents. Making consistent decisions to invest the time and effort into building close relationships takes planning. Here are five ideas for building lifelong traditions and memories with your grandchildren.
1. Make Your Home Welcoming
Making your home welcoming might not sound like a tradition in itself, but in reality it’s the foundation upon which all other traditions rest. Traditions build memories, and I want my grandchildren’s memories to be saturated with how wonderful I think they are.
Now, I must confess that when my own kids were little, I dreamed of the ‘someday’ when I could own a white couch and display lovely art on the coffee table. However, after the grandchildren arrived, I realized it would be hard to welcome them if I filled my home with breakable objects that made me cringe every time little hands entered the room. If I wanted my grandchildren to feel comfortable in my home, I needed to not worry about my stuff.
I hope their memories will always contain pictures of me throwing open the door with my arms outstretched because I’m thrilled they have arrived. Don’t we all cherish feeling welcomed? I want them to know I treasure and value them more than anything I own. So I still own dark furniture and a coffee table with nothing valuable on it.
My own mom established a playroom in her home, to which my children ran every time we visited. And my mother-in-law had toys stored where my kids knew to find them. I’ve repeated this kid-friendly attitude in my own home. While I don’t have space for a separate playroom, I have boxes of toys and coloring books easily accessible in the hall closet. The grandkids get them out every time they arrive.
Grandparents must make peace with the fact that having grandchildren equals spilled juice, dribbled crumbs, fingerprints on windows, and scattered toys. I find little animals and cars under my furniture for days after the grandkids visit. I step on crayons and throw away scraps of paper. But the mess feels worth it considering the long-term gain of my grandchildren remembering my home as welcoming, inviting, warm, and enjoyable.
What could you do to make your home even more welcoming to your grandchildren?
2. Visit and Revisit a Favorite Restaurant
Repetitiveness establishes traditions. A simple, repeated event often builds stronger memories than one large, expensive one. Having a special spot where you and your grandchild enjoy eating is an easy way to build memories. Besides, it is also a fun thing to do!
My mother-in-law taught me the value of this tradition. If you stayed with Grandma, a trip to Jim’s, a small local cafe, almost always occurred. Because it was close to her home, inexpensive, and served pancakes at any time of day, it was the perfect restaurant for her to take the grandkids. The most kid-friendly thing about this restaurant was that the waitress would hand the children a box of crayons and a sheet of paper. There was no playground to send kids to while you waited for food; no animated animals bellowed from the wall. But the quiet restaurant meant grandparent and grandchild could chat away. And there were enough crayons that she could play Tic Tac Toe with them while they awaited their pancakes.
When my mother-in-law passed away in early 2020, all her grandchildren went to Jim’s together in her honor. They ordered pancakes and shared memories of her. They still think of her every time they frequent the restaurant. We now live close to the same restaurant, and when we took our granddaughters for pancakes, I felt like we were both honoring her memory and continuing the family tradition she started.
To implement this tradition, I suggest you choose a local, inexpensive restaurant that serves food your grandchild will enjoy. And then go often. Make it your unique spot. Take this opportunity to look in their eyes without the distractions of life and electronics.
What local restaurant could be your special spot with your grandchildren?
3. Establish a Signature Recipe
You don’t have to be an amazing cook to establish a signature dish that your grandkids will remember you for. The secret is the same as the restaurant tradition above: repetition. Memories build over time and solidify with regularity.
My parents implemented this tradition well. I know exactly what my parents’ recipes are for my kids. “Pawpaw’s Chicken” is a simple grilled chicken recipe my Dad makes. I’m not sure when the recipe took on his name, but that is the only title my kids use. Now, when they make “Pawpaw’s Chicken” for their own families, special memories of their granddad accompany the meal.
My mom has several signature dishes, but she is most famous for her coffee cake. We all make the recipe, though we have not perfected it the way she has. Christmas morning is incomplete without Grammy’s coffee cake. And we would never dream of making any recipe but hers.
Think of one special thing you could make for your grandkids. It doesn’t have to be fancy. It can even come from a box. Just make it for the grandkids often enough that when they think of that dish, they think of you.
What would you choose as your signature recipe?
4. Teach Them Your Favorite Game
My fondest memories of my own Pawpaw always involve a cribbage board. He taught me this card game when I was young, and I’m convinced my ability to add quickly in my head came from the math required for this game.
I love continuing the tradition of a family game. With my oldest granddaughter only 6, I’ve not yet attempted to teach her cribbage, though I plan on teaching her next summer, at the same age my Pawpaw taught me. For now, we play Candyland and Chutes and Ladders, and I usually let her win.
Maybe you don’t have a family game. No problem! Just choose a game and play it as often as is enjoyable for both of you. Checkers is a simple place to start and can be played for many years. Even “Go Fish” would work. The point is not to find the perfect game, but to find something you can play one-on-one with your grandchild. While playing, conversations can flow naturally and you can enjoy the set-aside time to interact.
What is a game you enjoy that you could teach your grandkids?
5. Share Your Own Passion or Hobby
My grandfather taught me to hike in the mountains. Both my grandmothers taught me to cook. My father took my kids up in his airplane. My mom taught some of the kids to sew.
What will I teach my grandchildren? I’m a history nerd. I adore museums and historic sites, and I can’t wait to share these with my grandkids. I will read them good books, explore old battlefields or historic homes, and take them to a museum or two.
Think of the privilege of passing on your knowledge and experience. Our grandchildren come to know us deeply by experiencing our passions with us. Even if this tradition doesn’t occur as often as others, the recurrence through the years will build lifelong memories.
What passion or hobby could share with the next generation?
MAINTAINING REALISTIC EXPECTATIONS
The biggest secret to building lifelong memories with your grandchildren is to keep doing the activities even if the grandchildren occasionally resist. My job as the grandma is to smile, invest the time, make the effort, and keep showing up. Those are the things I can control. I cannot control my grandchildren’s response.
I will purposefully continue to take my grandparent role seriously and make peace with the fact that I might not see the fruit of my efforts until many years from now. I’m not sure my kids ever told my mother-in-law how much they enjoyed going to Jim’s with her, but lifelong memories strengthened with each plate of pancakes.
A NOTE OF ENCOURAGEMENT
One of the best pieces of wisdom I received as a young mom came at a time when I was feeling discouraged by the lack of enthusiasm demonstrated by my own kids as I attempted to enrich their lives with museums and historic sites. I love this sort of thing; but they always seemed bored.
While visiting my friend, her husband began discussing his childhood and all the wonderful trips they took and sites they visited. I sighed, feeling like a failure. Then, his mother, who was visiting, emitted a big laugh and said, “You do remember that everywhere I took you, you complained, rolled your eyes, and asked when we could leave? Don’t you?”
He denied it, but she just smiled and winked at me. That’s when I realized that the kids don’t have to appear to be enjoying themselves at the time in order for them to have wonderful memories—eventually.
So, I kept dragging my kids to educational spots, smiling in the face of their sighs and complaints. And you know what? They now enthusiastically recall all the places we visited. They seem to have forgotten their poor attitudes ever happened.
I tell you that story to encourage you. Don’t let a bad attitude, long faces, sighs, or complaints dissuade you. Investing time with your grandchildren in fun, repeatable activities will build memories you cannot buy. The time you invest and the smiles you return for their eye rolls will build a repository of rich traditions that someday they will treasure and maybe even repeat with their own grandchildren.
Making lifelong memories with our grandchildren doesn’t need to cost a great deal of money; it only requires an investment of time. The long-term return will more than repay your investment. Your time, consistency, and reliability will not only establish memories, it will also grow a fantastic relationship with your grandchildren. And what could be better than that?
Which of Susan’s ideas are you most excited to implement with your own grandchildren? Share your own traditions and memories with your grandchildren or grandparents in the comments below!
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