8 Unique Contributions of Grandmas

My kids are lucky to have two grandmas that come over often, and I really appreciate the unique energy they bring to our lives. Research shows that kids who form close relationships with adults other than their parents are more likely to be successful in terms of school, jobs, and self-esteem. Our grandmas are perfect people to fill that role, so I make sure that my kids can see them every chance they get.

What’s so great about grandmas?

1. They are different. “Gotta put yer face on, Gramma?” my daughter asks. My three toddlers stare at their grandma applying foundation, eyeliner, mascara, blush, and lipstick on the couch before we go out. “What’s that for, Gramma?” “Can I try, Gramma?” They are fascinated because they've never seen me put on makeup before. My kids love to help their grandma garden, which is another thing I never do. “Pick these weeds over here,” Grandma says. “Good, now dig a hole here for the seeds.” “Can you spray that lilac tree over there with the hose? Good, that’s the way.”

2. They are simple. Our 18 month old fought sleep so hard every night. When Grandma watched him one day, she just took him to the park for six hours and then he passed out on the couch when they got home. She made it look so easy. Another day when we were visiting and I was complaining that I forgot the kiddie pool and the swim diapers, she just set up a bin of water in the yard and let them run around naked.

3. They are wise. Grandmas have already had a lifetime of raising kids. It was Grandma who brought a small present for my daughter when it was my son’s birthday. After my daughter watched her brother open about eight gifts, she just lit up when she realized that Grandma had brought her a little gift too.

4. They are indulgent. Grandmas bring gifts for no reason. They show up with new pajamas, old Happy Meal toys, 40 year-old trinkets from their basements, aged books from libraries that are closing, and new flip flops for the summer. They bring freshly baked banana bread that’s gobbled up in a second. They sneak the kids jelly beans and grape juice, just because they can.

5. They are patient. I notice how slowly my kids’ grandmas read to them. They say every word, pausing to examine the pictures or ask the kids questions. They savor a book, in no rush at all. They color with the kids patiently. They mold play-dough with them in a non-hurried way. While I am used to throwing chicken nuggets in the microwave, they cook carefully from scratch. Amazingly, when my kids are at Grandma’s they seem more patient too.

6. They make the mundane exciting. If you asked my kids if they would rather go to Disney World or do laundry with Grandma, they’d probably pick the laundry. They have so much fun pretending like the basket is a delivery truck and the bedrooms are all the stops they need to make on the way. After one Christmas, I asked my son, “What was your favorite thing about the holiday?” He replied, “Setting the table with Grandma for Christmas dinner.”

7. They are humble. Grandmas are so good at being taught. They are good at playing the boob, the underdog, or the one who doesn’t know how to do something. “Now where is the park from here?” Grandma will say to my three year old. “Oh, it’s this way? Okay, you lead the way.” “Now, how do you play this kind of game? Good, you show me.”

8. They are creative. I don’t know if it’s because they had way less toys back then or what, but grandmas sure can be creative. Grandma will get out her button collection and engage my kids in sorting, feeling the smoothness of, and lining up buttons in a way that no one else can. She grabs the bag of rocks she collected at the beach last summer and next thing I know my children are gluing valentines out of smooth stones. One afternoon she dredged up a cardboard box from the recycling bin and carved it into a boat with a sail, which enlivened the whole afternoon. My kids climbed in and used their cardboard oars to go on adventures around the living room. 

Erin Leyba, LCSW, PhD, mom to three,  is a counselor for individuals and couples in Chicago's western suburbs. (www.erinleyba.com) Read more about mindful parenting at www.parenthappy.org

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