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Dec 28, 2020

Being a parent of teenagers is a challenge you have to experience to appreciate. When we grandparent teens, our wisdom and experience should make us better at it... but do they? Emily talks with a teen, two parents, and a grandparent to explore this dynamic, which is both familiar and new all at once. The Stretch It Takes is a guest essay from grandma and business consultant Pamela Dennis.


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THE STRETCH IT TAKES (guest essay, Pamela Dennis)

We were the “let’s do crafts” Gramma and the “let’s go catch a snake” ‘Ampa to our first two grandkids. We had sleepovers and times at Martha’s Vineyard -- without parents-- collecting shells, fishing, and having lobster races!  For our second two, far away, we flew out for visits to cheer at soccer and lacrosse games or to attend their in-home music recitals. Being a grandparent to young children was carefree, exhausting but gratifying, and created a deep connection.  

How it changes when they are teenagers. It can feel like a stretch. I ask myself:

  • Why don’t I feel as close?
  • Am I still relevant in this child’s life?
  • What can we still do together?
  • How do I make a difference that matters to them?

I decided to explore these questions with my grandkids who are between 13 and 23 and my sister, also a grandmother to teens.

Here’s what I learned.

  1. Deep down they are the same kids, needing to feel unconditionally loved, but now also needing to feel respected as individuals who are exploring who they are, what they believe, where to go next – without being judged.

You didn’t judge them when they decided on the color to paint the garden rock and now you don’t judge them for the color they dye their hair or if they get a tattoo. Back then you encouraged them to “try it at least once” whether a vegetable or activity.  Our stretch now is to empower them to make their own decisions: what college, what car to buy or whether to break up with a boyfriend.  Maybe we don’t’ hug them on our lap anymore; instead the hug looks like listening and empathizing with their anxiety. The stretch is to do more paraphrasing, less telling and more just ‘checking in’ on how they are coping with it all.

  1. Your experience, perspective, and wisdom matter! Funny how they didn’t matter with your own kids, but now that you are almost pre-historic, their kids want to hear ‘what was it like for you when….?”

I tested my 15 year old granddaughter, “but It’s such a different world now.”  Her reply was, that while it’s different in many ways, “love is still love when a boy breaks your heart. I want to hear your experience and perspective.”  

  1. Technology matters, but not as I imagined. It’s both an enabler and a symbol.

While we don’t all have to do Snap Chat and Instagram, knowing how to connect to grandkids using their modes vs ours, says you are reaching out to relate with them in their world. Granted it’s not as rewarding to us as a phone call, but it fits their time demands and frankly, their attention spans. By the way, it improves your “street cred”!  My grandson once bragged to his friends that his grandparents knew how to text!  And another teen said to his sister one evening (overheard by their grandmother)  “I bet mom doesn’t even know what a meme is, but ha ha Grandpa and Gram do!”

  1. Finally, don’t buy into the myth that teens don’t want to do things with their grandparents. When we took our 16-year-old to Paris and London for 2 weeks, a friend asked, “Why would a 16-year-old want to hang out with you two old people?” The teen remembers it this way,

Being with my grandparents has always been a special occasion, even if it’s just coming over to make crepes for breakfast. That trip introduced me to my first crepe on a street in Paris so it’s a special memory we share now.  I always learn something with them and from their experiences.  I may have helped them in the underground metro, but they helped me want to see the worldWhere are we going next?”

When I asked our grandson, who had just returned from an Air Force deployment what made him want to ‘hang out’ with his grandfather (especially now that he’s newly married) he texted a touching note.  He wrote,

“I believe the bond grandpa and I formed from when I was a baby keeps us close today. Throughout my childhood he was always there, influencing my hobbies, teaching me to shoot, fish, golf, and build things.  His wise words, cheesy jokes, and good attitude toward life, stays in my memories and motivates me even today: joining the military, drinking Fat Tire, eating greasy burgers in dive restaurants.  I look forward to hanging out and making more memories when I’m on the golf course with him again.” 

Now with the Corona virus, their world is upside down with great anxiety and stress. The stretch for us is to keep that relationship strong for their emotional health -- and for ours!

© 2020 Pamela Dennis