Editor’s note: Parts of this article are taken from the Eyre’s forthcoming book "Life in Full: Maximizing Your Longevity and your Legacy," which will be published this fall.
How can we, as grandparents, be effective champions of and for our grandkids? How do we become their biggest cheerleaders and best supporters and encouragers?
One good way to start is to ask yourself who you want to be to them. Here are some suggestions to consider, depending on the age of your grandchildren:
• Babies to 8 years old: Be their ringmasters.
• 8 to 16: Be their buddies.
• 16 and up: Be their consultants.
With the little guys, just show them a good time. Take them places, show them things, spoil them a little (but always in concert and communication with their parents). Enjoy them, and let them enjoy you! Be their ringmasters in the circus of their life.
With the middle ones, first of all, you’ve got to be tech-savvy and online. And email won’t cut it. Just be, electronically, whatever they are. And as they evolve from Facebook and Twitter to Instagram or Pintrest or whatever comes next, you evolve with them. Be their social media buddies as well as their real-life buddies.
With the upper teens, establish a relationship of trust in which they will ask for your advice, or at least listen to it. Explain that a consultant is not a manager or someone who tells you what to do or pushes you around. A consultant is someone with a lot of experience who can help you with your goals and help you get what you want and become what you want.
Try to get to know all grandkids in all three age groups one-on-one. Go on individual “grandpa dates” or “grandma dates,” usually to eat — let them pick the restaurant. Take along an impressive looking notebook or “grandma date book” and ask them questions and take notes on their answers. Tell them you want to know as much as you can about them so you can always be their cheerleader and their helper. Ask them everything from their favorite color and food to what they think they might be when they grow up. Hand them your pen and let them fill in some things in the notebook like “the three words that best describe me” or “the best and worst thing in my life right now.”
Don’t editorialize too much during these discussions. Just ask a lot of questions and listen. And take notes.
Use the great word “really” to keep them talking. You can say “really” so many ways and in so many contexts. “Really!” as in, “Wow!” “Really?” as in, “Whoa, I never knew that.” “Really?” as in, “Are you serious?” “Really!?" as in, “What the heck?” With the appropriate inflection, that one word keeps kids talking and connecting.
Have your grandchildren make a list in the book of “things I am sure I will do in my life,” “things I might do in my life” and “things I will never do in my life.”
As your grandchildren get into their mid- and late teens, you want to transition into their consultants and their nonjudgmental advisers — and maybe their financial supporters for education and other worthwhile pursuits.
By then, since you will have already been their ringmasters and their buddies, the trust level will be there for this kind of transition. Tell them what a consultant is and tell them that your door or your computer or your phone is always open to them and that you will always love it when they ask for help or for advice of any kind. Tell them you know their parents are always first but that you are the backup. And tell them you want to know everything you can about them because the more you know, the more helpful you can be.
Help them financially, but do it carefully. Remember the advice of Robert A. Heinlein, “Don’t handicap your children (or grandchildren) by making their lives easy.” Think about developing a little system of “matching grants” wherein grandkids, if they can write up a “grant proposal” stating the benefits of some school outing, project or extracurricular activity, can get a grant from you covering half of the cost and matching an amount that they have earned or raised themselves.
Above all, enjoy grandparenting and be proactive about it.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors and founders of JoySchools.com who speak worldwide on marriage and parenting issues. Their new books are "The Turning" and "Life in Full." Visit them at valuesparenting.com.