We recently published an article about healthy grandparent-grandchild relationships and their impact on reducing depression and increasing mental well-being in both generations. One easy way to develop your relationship with your grandchildren is to share stories with them and to learn about their lives as well. Fill them with stories about how you and Grandpa met, the day their mother or father was born and all the things that make up the fabric of your life. Tell them about when you didn’t have a television and how you entertained yourselves. Tell them about how long it took to drive 100 miles when there were highways, but not freeways. Tell them your dreams and how they were fulfilled or changed.
While you’re at it, ask them what their favorite memories are. Ask them what they want to be when they grow up and how they plan to get there. Knowing someone and being known and through it all being loved is the greatest gift in life. When you share your stories and when you ask your grandchildren to tell you their stories, you are weaving your lives together and making a beautiful fabric to share.
Sharing your life stories is something to think about when you are alone. Consider what themes and ideals you want to pass down to your children’s children. What could you share about their heritage that would be of value to them today and down the road?
I was close to both of my grandmothers and to my maternal grandfather. My grandfather told stories of when he was young and how he got through the Great Depression. My grandmothers told stories of struggles in their marriages and how they learned to raise a family. These things that my grandparents passed on to me are lasting and valuable. I pass some of their stories on to my children as well.
In telling stories, don’t skip the basics. Talk about where you grew up. What kind of house you lived in. How many siblings you had and how you related to them. My grandfather grew up in England with his grandparents and his young uncles. Grandpa’s stories made clear why he named his son after his Uncle Harold. The richness of this understanding and connection is a part of my heritage.
Most kids are especially interested in stories about their parents. Focus on the fun times and things that you loved about their childhoods. Try not to tell about when their mother threw her shoes out the car window or how she failed her math test in the fifth grade. Focus on encouraging, uplifting and funny stories that capture their interest and draw everyone closer together. Funny family stories can be passed down from generation to generation. We have some fun stories of my parents and grandparents that help us know and understand them better. As long as the stories don’t make someone feel less than or uncomfortable, these stories can be shared over and over.
Pulling out the photo albums is a great way to share stories. Most people will ask questions about the photos or will re-tell a story they have heard before when they are looking at the photos. You can fill in details and talk about the background story on the photos. This can bring about terrific connections filled with smiles and laughs.
Some stories are made up. Both sides of my family were good at making up funny stories or explanations for things. My grandfather taught me how to build a fire just like Johnny-Snow-in-the-Face, a First Nations friend of my grandfather’s, who knew all sorts of important things. My grandfather had a whole list of stories he would tell about Johnny-Snow-in-the-Face and he would tell the same ones over and over to all of us kids. We loved it. Now my kids tell Johnny-Snow-in-the-Face stories as well.
When your grandchildren grow up, you can tell them new stories that are more suited for adult information. My grandmothers shared their marriage struggles with me and gave information about how they handled them. They were quite frank about it, but never was there any question about their great love and commitment to their husbands, my grandfathers. Their love was fierce and real. They were serious about family. Their stories imparted to me hope and perseverance that has encouraged me along the way in my own marriage. They wanted us to succeed and their stories helped us to do just that.
Rajiv Nagaich, elder law attorney and life planning expert, said that grandparents teach things that parents cannot. He’s right. There is a richness that comes with grandparents who are not responsible for raising the children and are bonded in a different manner than the parents to their children. Their love is a love of family relationships and generational concern. It’s not better than a parent’s love for a child, but it’s different and takes on a different expression. They know the child’s parents in a different way and can help children know and love their parents from a unique perspective only grandparents can give.
Having a close relationship with my grandparents is a gift that will last my whole life. Their stories are in my heart and being passed onto my children. They have all passed away now, but they will always live in my memories and be a part of who I am. This is a wonderful heritage to give to your grandchildren and a gift to give yourself.
By Cynthia DeWitte
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