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Bridging the Gap With Your Grandkids

Don't let differences or distance hamper your relationship

Developing a strong relationship with your grandchildren can be both rewarding and challenging. Sometimes the years (and miles) that separate you feel more like an abyss than a gap.

We asked Paola Susan, MD, a family medicine physician at Rush University Medical Center, for ways to bridge generation and geographical gaps and connect with your grandchildren.

1. Reach out.

"Don't wait for grandchildren to come to you,"Susan says. "Be proactive. Call or visit more often. If you live far away, embrace the internet and use Skype or Facetime. Or, text with cell phones."

If possible, schedule regular times to see each other or talk on the phone that work for both of you. 

2. Respect boundaries.

Your grandchildren may seem like your own children, but they are your children's children. Know the parents' rules, such as those involving bedtimes, snacks, chores and curfews, and support them.

"It's important for kids to get consistent messages from family members," Susan says.

3. Find common ground.

Get to know your grandkids by asking them about their friends, schoolwork and interests. Learn what activities your grandchildren enjoy, and let them know what you like as well. That way, you'll find some things you both love and can enjoy together.

Let your grandkids know that they are loved no matter what, and that they can always come to you for help.

4. Agree to disagree.

You and your grandchildren may not always see eye-to-eye, especially when it comes to politics or lifestyle. But don't try to change your grandkids or impose your own beliefs. You can have different views and still love each other.

Be respectful of your grandchildrens' opinions and encourage them to learn more if they're passionate about a topic. 

5. Express unconditional love.

Let your grandkids know that they are loved no matter what, and that they can always come to you for help.

Grandparents as primary caretakers

Some parents are no longer in the picture, leaving grandparents to raise grandchildren themselves. It's then your job to create the framework for a happy, healthy childhood by becoming the main nurturer, role model and rule-setter. That can be especially difficult, as it can add new financial and emotional burdens.

Don't hesitate to talk to a mental health professional — as a family or as an individual. They can give you the tools to help you navigate your responsibilities and relationships. Support groups for grandparents raising grandchildren may also be useful, giving you a chance to share and learn from other grandparents.

Programs like Rush Generations, Rush's free membership program for older adults and caregivers, offer both support groups and additional resources to help you address any challenges that might arise.

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