Every night before I go to bed, I pick up the phone and dial a seven-digit number more familiar than my own phone number. I call one of my closest friends.
“Hi Gramps,” I say when my grandpa answers.
“Hi Dally,” he replies, and I can almost hear the smile in his voice.
Gramps and I have always been extremely close. I grew up a three-minute drive from his house, and he would often babysit my younger brother and me on Mondays when both my parents were at work. I still affectionately call Gramps my “Monday Guy.” I am even named after him: Dallas is his middle name. When I was born three months prematurely, Gramps—who is a surgeon—phoned the doctors at the NICU 200 miles away every day to check up on me.
The night after my grandmother Auden passed away, I phoned Gramps to say goodnight because I realized he wouldn’t hear those words from Auden any longer. I continued to do this every night, and now, 26 years later, our nightly phone conversation is one of the constants in my daily life I cherish most. Our chats are often brief but, at the end of the day, it means so much to hear his voice on the other end of the line telling me he loves me.
I feel lucky to have a close and supportive relationship with all my grandparents. I would like to think it’s because I am the “World’s Greatest Grandchild”—but I know that certainly isn’t the case. The truth is, all of my grandparents make quite an effort to be a part of my life.
Here are some things your grandkids want to you know, so you can strengthen your relationship with them—whether you live near or far—starting as soon as you finish reading this article.
Tell your grandchildren stories about what life was like when you were their age. I treasure Gramps’ stories about his boyhood days—and about what my dad was like as a little kid. But Gramps also makes time to ask me about my life. He listens and later brings up tidbits in future conversations. He has also made a point to learn the names of my close friends so he can ask about them as well.
Just as importantly, Gramps allows me to be a part of his daily life by telling me about games with his poker buddies, lunch dates with friends, or things he read in the newspaper. Likewise, I talk to my Grandpap about his golf game and choir performances.
With busy schedules, it may be unrealistic to talk to your grandchild every day like Gramps and I do, but if you make such connection a weekly or monthly habit, the hassles of daily life are less likely to get in the way and circumvent bonding time. I look forward to my Sunday evening calls to my maternal grandparents, and they have told me they do as well. Usually they expectantly pick up by the second ring!
A little mail goes a long way
Technology give us many fantastic, simple ways to keep in touch, like texting and emailing. My Grandpap has a smartphone, and we text and send photos all the time. Texting is likely a means of communication your grandchildren are comfortable and familiar with. By making an attempt to stay in touch “on their turf,”you are showing you care enough to learn things “their way.”
Not to say that old-fashioned snail-mail letters aren’t a great way to keep in contact, too. It is alwaysspecialto find a pen-and-paper letter waiting in your mailbox. When I was in college, my grandparents sent me letters with gift certificates to In’N’Out—to the envy of my dorm mates! Unlike email, these letters never get deleted or lost on my computer or in “the cloud.” I save every one of them, and I know I will love having them to look back on and re-read as the years pass.
On the same page—literally
What books do your grandchildren enjoy? Maybe you can read a few ofthem and discuss them with your grandkids. My friend Erica got her grandma into Harry Potter, and now they swap books regularly. On the same note, give your grandchildren a copy of your favorite book growing up. I cherish Gramps’ worn hardcover Burgess Animal Books for Children that he read as boy and later gave to me. My grandma introduced me to Nancy Drew mysteries and Betsy, Tacy, and Tib.
Celebrate with us
My grandparents’ encouragement of my reading eventually led to my love of writing—a hobby all of my grandparents have showered with support. In first grade, I won a short story contest at my elementary school, and Gramps took me out for ice cream to celebrate. My maternal grandparents bought two dozen copies of my first book, a 40-page paperback I self-published in fifth grade, and they held a “book signing”for me in their kitchen, asking me to sign each one like a famous author. Even now, whenever I publish an article in a magazine, they buy half-a-dozen copies and ask me to “autograph” every one.
As teenagers, we might roll our eyes or flash an embarrassed smile, but secretly we love it when you make a big deal out of our accomplishments: the soccer goals we score, the tests we ace, the prizes we win. And yes, we even love your license plate frames that say, “World’s Luckiest Grandma (or Grandpa).”
Your encouragement means so much
Sometimes our parents get too wrapped up in our successes, so our failures seem even more acute because we feel like we are disappointing them. Likewise, sometimes our parents get swamped in daily stresses and forget to congratulate us on our minor victories—they’re too busy reminding us to do our chores, driving us to school and practice and games, making sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing. As our grandparents, you usually don’t have to worry as much about those things. Instead, you can focus on lifting us up and building our self-confidence. Never cease telling us how proud you are of us and how much you love us—it means more than you know.
Dallas Woodburn is the author of the award-winning short story collection Woman, Running Late, in a Dress and the YA novel The Best Week That Never Happened. She is also a book writing coach and freelance journalist. Connect with her at DallasWoodburnAuthor.com.