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When a grandchild comes into our life, it’s love at first sight. As they grow, we strive to have a special relationship with our little treasures. When they’re old enough, traveling together—especially on a skip gen trip without Dad and Mom along—gives us an opportunity to strengthen those bonds. But will they want to travel with you? Yes, but only if you’re a fun grandparent! These secrets to being the fun grandparent will ensure the grandkids always want to spend time with you.
Don’t Be Afraid to Look Silly
Watching my 10-year-old grandson, Benjamin demonstrating his best jumps on the trampoline, I couldn’t resist. I climbed up (after much wiggling and grunting) and joined him. It was my 60th birthday and apparently, I had something to prove.
Immediately realizing this was a bad idea, I stood there frozen as he bounced all around me. “Jump, GiGi, you can’t just stand there,” he shouted. I jumped about an inch, fell down and crawled to the edge for an equally unflattering dismount. We both erupted into nonstop laughter as my daughter videoed everything for future blackmail.
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If you want to be a fun grandparent sometimes you have to be silly. I’m not suggesting you start jumping on trampolines—in fact, I’d discourage it unless you’re much more agile than I am.
But don’t be afraid to let loose and have some fun. Show the kids your worst dance moves. Illustrate the art of rolling your tongue. Sing songs using your worst off-key voice. Or just tell them some lame jokes.
Whatever your style, don’t be afraid to look ridiculous, it’s good for you. And it will delight the grandkids.
It’s OK to Be Unpredictable Sometimes
Last year I took all three grandkids to Bok Tower and Gardens in Polk County, Florida. As we explored the Hammock Hollow Children’s Garden, the grandkids all jumped into a hammock together shouting, “GiGi TerBear, push us!” (I have two grandma names.)
I started pushing them faster and faster as they squealed with delight. Then I decided to give them a big surprise. I flipped the hammock over and they all spilled onto the ground below. The kids laid there momentarily stunned. Then they brushed themselves off and climbed back in for more giggling all the way.
OK, so maybe dumping the grandkids out of the hammock wasn’t the best plan. But, in my defense, they were close to the ground and the leaves were soft. Plus, I had been outnumbered three to one all day and needed the upper hand for a moment.
Choose your own surprise depending on the ages and personalities of your grandkids. I knew mine would think this was hilarious…once they recovered. Yours might be entertained by you challenging them to their favorite video game. Or maybe you could set up an impromptu costume party. Look for moments where you can choose the less predictable behavior. It keeps the grandkids guessing and that’s always fun.
Tell Them Stories About Their Mom or Dad
A couple of years ago I road-tripped for a week with my son’s two children, Katherine and Marshall. As we drove along, we talked about many things. But the one subject they never tired of was stories about their dad, Chris, when he was a child.
I shared a story about Chris dressing in camouflage and hiding in the tree in our front yard. When I came outside to search for him, he watched me calling and frantically running around the yard looking for him before giving himself away by giggling from above.
“I think I get my prankster side from Dad,” noted Marshall.
As the parents of our grandchildren’s parents, we hold the key to the past. We know all the good stories. Sharing those memories with our grandkids not only gives them something to tease their parents about, it also provides new insights into family relationships.
Let the Mess Fall Where It May
Let’s face it: kids are messy. This is the time to adopt the saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
When you’re traveling with your grandkids, clothes find a home on the hotel room floor. Crumbs take on new life in the backseat of your vehicle. Chocolate fingerprint smudges obstruct window views. It’s not pretty.
But how you handle the mess contributes to your fun grandparent image.
On a trip to Basin Harbor in Vermont, my grandkids left their wet swimsuits on the floor. Instead of scolding them and demanding they hang them up, I explained exactly how a cold wet swimsuit feels when you have to put it on the next day. My vivid description did the trick. All swimsuits miraculously found the way to the bathroom hooks going forward.
As for the crumbs in the car, a good vacuuming after the grandkids go home does the trick.
Don’t Just Give Things, Do Things
Recently I asked all three of my grandkids what they like about traveling with me. Benjamin (10) initially said, “You buy me things in the gift shops.” Which, of course, is true. But it wasn’t long before I received a second FaceTime call from him. “GiGi, I’ve been thinking. It’s not the things you buy me that I like the most. It’s the things you do with me.”
“I love that you take us to fun places and we get to do things we’ve never done before,” said Katherine (13). Her brother, Marshall (11) is still thinking it over. But I remember a recent conversation where we talked about the time we spent in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. We went horseback riding, ate our weight in ice cream at the Turkey Hill Ice Cream Experience and spent the night at the Red Caboose Motel in a train car turned motel room.
Lancaster is home to a thriving Amish community and Marshall was fascinated by Amish culture. As we watched the children ride by in the family’s horse-drawn buggy, Marshall asked, “Do you think the kids get to play with LEGOs? It would be really sad if they can’t.”
Offering our grandkids insight into other cultures is a priceless gift.
The truth is, while grandkids love to receive gifts, memories of the experiences we share last far longer than anything we buy.
On FaceTime calls, we often relive some of our adventures. Katherine and Marshall love to tease me about an afternoon we spent canoeing when I repeatedly steered us into the shoreline.
Benjamin enjoys talking about our “GiGi and Benjamin day” in North Carolina last fall. After a busy day of exploring at the Greensboro Science Center, I asked him what he wanted to do next. “I want to play with the dogs at an animal shelter.” So, that’s what we did and it remains his favorite memory of the day.
Whenever Possible, Be Flexible
When our children are young, we work hard to keep things together. Balancing our careers with the kids’ school assignments, sports schedules and a host of other activities presents many challenges. Keeping things on schedule is essential. One of the benefits of being a grandparent lies in our ability to be flexible. When we spend time with the grandkids—especially when traveling—there’s no need to keep a rigid schedule.
When my granddaughter, Katherine, was 6 years old, her parents allowed her to come home with me to New York City for a few days. I was so excited to share my city with her and had many things planned. We started in Central Park with a horse carriage ride.
Then, I asked her what she wanted to do next. “I want to play on the rocks,” she said. I was thinking more along the lines of afternoon tea with Eloise at The Plaza. But Katherine wanted rock climbing time, so that’s what we did!
Always remember, your time with the grandkids should be about them, not you. If they want downtime, let them have it. If the museum you desperately wanted to share with them makes them yawn, move on to something else.
And, in my case, if Marshall wants to go through the submarine at New York’s Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum more than once, I’ll suck it up and deal with my claustrophobia to oblige, because that’s what fun grandparents do.
Find Ways to Be Together Even When You’re Far Apart
Like many grandparents, I live hundreds of miles from my grandkids. With limited time together, each moment takes on more significance — even more so in this year of Covid-19!
Determined not to miss a year of memories, I began searching for ways to have fun with the grandkids even though we couldn’t be together.
My granddaughter asked me to download Houseparty so that we could play Phase 10 together. Marshall started making unprecedented phone calls just to chat and we tossed around ideas of where we would travel together when all of this was behind us. There were Zoom calls with all three of the grandkids at times.
With travel being such a strong connection between us, I wanted to make that part of the focus. When Benjamin first started remote learning from home, things were somewhat disorganized. I offered to help out by introducing him to some of the places I’ve traveled.
First up was Norway. Having just returned from a visit there one week before the lockdown, I happily shared my experiences with him through FaceTime calls. We talked about Vikings and the cool boats they built. We talked about traditions, reindeer and Norwegian foods. He drew pictures to illustrate what he learned. Then he and his mom baked serinakaker (Norwegian butter cookies) for a taste of Norway at home.
It was fun for all of us even if I didn’t get to taste the cookies!
Video Chats Help
I checked in with two other uber-fun traveling grandmoms I know to see how they’re keeping in touch with their grandkids during the pandemic.
Living in Colorado, Diana Rowe’s lucky that half of her grandkids live close and they spend time together as cohorts. However, she now has 4 grandchildren and 1 newborn great-granddaughter living in Oregon.
“It’s tough not seeing them, but for the youngest 4-year-old granddaughter Hayden, we do video chat often,” shares Diana. “One of my favorite things though is to read books to her via Zoom! This year on Easter on a Zoom call with my daughter, she set the computer up like a TV and I read a book to Hayden. So sweet!”
Old Fashioned Letter Writing Works Too!
Sometimes the benefits of connecting with our grandkids stretch beyond our families. Christine Tibbetts in Georgia shared her pandemic experiences.
“Launching a pen pal society is one stay-connected-with-the-grands project that has worked famously and expanded in new ways. I invited three granddaughters at the start of the stay at home to be my pen pal, and to each other: ages 8, 11, 12. Didn’t want this to be their parents’ project so sent each a packet of interesting stationery, stamps with stories and each other’s addresses,” says Christine.
“I encouraged each to talk about pandemic life and virtual school, etc., and said that I would keep all letters to write a book later! Our opera signing grandson in his late 20s got wind of it and asked to join. So it’s not only a connection for me but among the cousins!”
One of Christine’s pandemic endeavors is deep involvement in an immigration detention prison near her town. She shared a bit about that in her letters. One of the girls wrote a poem about the women in detention – which Christine shared in a graphic form and could later tell her granddaughter how much her effort touched their hearts and souls.
Above All, Laugh Together
One of my favorite things about traveling with friends or family is the laughter that always accompanies us. It’s the same with my grandkids. I love to make them laugh and I love it even more when they do the same for me.
When the grandkids were younger, we had a slumber party at Disney Springs Resort. The boys were only 5 and 6 at the time and their idea of humor included grossing me out with a series of silly questions about food combinations. “Would you eat black beans with grapes?” To which I would always reply “Ewwww, no!” And, of course, they giggled. Yes, it’s silly and no, it wasn’t really funny. But it was to them and that’s all that mattered.
If there’s any advice I can offer to other grandparents it would be to embrace your role with joy. That joy will spill over into laughter and your grandkids will remember you as the fun grandparent—the one they ALWAYS want to spend time with no matter where you go.