It was the ketchup that started the problem. My son Dan at 10 liked ketchup on everything: potatoes, veggies, meat. He’d even eat ketchup sandwiches in a pinch. Grandma, however, interpreted his liberal use of the red sauce as an insult to her carefully prepared meals and didn’t allow ketchup bottles on the table at meals.
The result: Dan, who had been enthusiastic about visiting his grandparents when he was younger, started to ask if he could stay at a friend’s house instead when we planned these family get-togethers. I started to worry that this important relationship was starting to suffer — all because of ketchup.
Whether it’s ketchup or something else, Toronto sisters Ann Love and Jane Drake, who co-wrote Kids and Grand-parents: An Activity Book, have noticed that often around the age of 10 or 11, children start resisting grandparent visits. “It wouldn’t go through a six-year-old’s head not to be involved in a family event, but by 10, their friends are increasingly important and they’re involved in other activities,” says Love. “Just as parents get less cool as kids get older, so do grandparents.”
Yet maintaining this relationship is worth the effort, Love adds. “You get unconditional love from grandparents, and you’re pampered, favoured and adored in a special way,” she says. “They’re also the connection to your family’s ancestors, history and culture, and provide role models for children as they’re growing up.”
So how can you keep your preteen in touch with the older generation? Try these ideas:
• Invite the grandparents along to your child’s activities. He’ll appreciate some extra people to cheer at his soccer game, Drake says, and perhaps you can all grab a bite to eat afterward. Grandparents live too far away? Share photos and details so they can email back their enthusiasm and encouraging comments.
• Invite the grandparents to your house, rather than going to theirs, if possible. You can plan food that includes kids’ favourites and grandparents’ choices, and the kids can head off to their rooms to take a break or listen to music if they want, making the visits less stressful.
• Need to go to Grandpa and Grandma’s? Plan to keep visits short if you’re concerned there will be arguments or disagreements. Maybe it might be easier for your family to stay at a hotel overnight, rather than at the grandparents’ home, if it upsets Grandpa when your 11-year-old wants to stay up late watching Family Guy.
• Play games. Love says her preteens learned to play poker and other card games from their grandparents and had many wonderful evenings playing together. “Kids are often intrigued by the idea of playing with real cards and not on the computer,” Love says. Other “old-fashioned” games that grandparents played as kids can be fun as well: kick the can, marbles, crokinole, Chinese checkers.
• Encourage grandparents to share their passions. “Grandparents today aren’t sitting on the front porch in rocking chairs,” says Love. “They are sailing around the world, running marathons, opening businesses. Pre-teens are old enough to enjoy learning about some of the things their grandparents are interested in.”
Drake adds that sometimes the parents’ role involves having a discussion with grandparents about normal preteen behaviours. “At this age, kids can go from being cute and adorable to having their own strong opinions about things,” she explains. “The parents can end up defending the kids to the offended and irritated grandparents.” The preteen who mumbles a reluctant hello when he arrives at Grandma’s and spends the rest of the visit engrossed in a video game may be labelled “rude.” Parents might want to remind Grandma that this awkwardness is usually a phase and within a few years (with a little patience on the part of the adults) their relationship will once again be closer. What helps, Drake believes, is to get all the adults on side. “There needs to be some give-and-take all round,” Drake says.
We managed to achieve a truce over the ketchup issue. Grandma agreed that it would be OK to have ketchup on the table if it was first poured into a small decorative serving bowl, set beside Dan’s plate. And we decided it made sense to host more of the family get-togethers at my house — where mealtimes were more informal anyway. It was worth those little compromises to keep that special relationship across the generations going strong.
Keeping the connection
Some great activities for grandparents and kids:
• Start a book-sharing club, where grandparents pick books they loved as kids to share with their grandkids, and the kids pass on books they like to the grandparents.
• Start a family genealogy project and create a family tree together.Grandparents can share photos and the history they know, and parents can help kids put together a project to share with the entire family.
• Look for possible common interests: Are Grandpa and Joey both NASCAR fans? Has Kayla been wanting to learn to knit and Grandma’s a whiz at it?