While perusing the greeting card aisles at the grocery store recently, I was struck by the small selection devoted to Grandparent’s Day. Around Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, at least half an aisle is devoted to greeting cards showing love and appreciation for parents—and rightly so. But for Grandparent’s Day, a mere 20 slots held cards for dear Grandma and Grandpa. It’s possible that most grandchildren take the time to send handmade cards to their grandparents for this holiday instead of buying them. But I have a feeling that’s not the case.
This got me thinking about why we don’t show more appreciation for our grandparents. Grandparent’s Day, which is held the first Sunday after Labor Day, has been a national holiday since 1978. Yet many people don’t even seem to know it exists. For me, Grandparent’s Day is a day to recognize my grandparents for the impact they’ve made on my life. To say I’ve been blessed in the grandparents department is a huge understatement. I was fortunate to grow up within a 30-minute drive to all of my grandparents. My mom’s dad passed away when I was a child, so I didn’t get a chance to know him like I wish I could have. But my other three grandparents have been some of the most influential people in my life, and I cherish the wonderful memories of the times we spent together in my childhood and even as an adult. I think what made my relationship with my grandparents so special is that they took time to slow down and just be with me. My favorite memories are not of fancy trips or expensive gifts. The best memories are the ones where we just spent time together, learning from one another. They made me feel valued, special, and important just by making time for me and sharing some of their wisdom—wisdom I carry with me today and try to pass along to my children.
I’m so grateful for the ways my grandparents chose to spend so much time with me when I was a child, building a special relationship between us and creating memories that will last a lifetime. Because of this, I want to recognize them on Grandparent’s Day. But you don’t have to wait for Grandparent’s Day to recognize the importance of the grandparent/grandchild relationship. Whether you’re a grandparent looking for ways to bond with your grandchildren or a parent hoping to help your kids build a strong relationship with their grandparents or great-grandparents, here are some helpful ideas from my own family:
1. Write back-and-forth stories.
When I was in elementary school, my grandmother and I wrote a “back-and-forth story.” She started the story (handwriting it on notebook paper), wrote a few paragraphs, and then mailed it to me. I continued the story and then sent it back to her. We did this multiple times, and I honestly can’t remember if we ever finished the story or if I eventually just lost interest, but either way, this was such a fun bonding experience for us. (And it helped with my writing skills too!) Today you could type the story and send it by email, but really, there’s just something special about getting handwritten mail. And the story can become a keepsake to treasure for years to come.
2. Bake holiday cookies.
Baking and decorating Christmas cookies with my grandmother became a yearly tradition for my brother and me. We’d bake dozens of sugar cookies and then spend all day decorating them with icing. My grandmother’s always looked like works of art (she had been an art teacher, after all), and ours always looked like unidentifiable objects, but that wasn’t the point. We’d divide up the cookies onto holiday-themed paper plates and deliver them to local disabled or elderly people my grandmother knew who either didn’t have much family around or didn’t get out and about much.
Even as a child, I felt good knowing we were bringing a little Christmas spirit to these people who seemed to need some cheer in their lives. Their eyes lit up when they saw us and our delivery, because someone had remembered them and cared enough to spend a couple of minutes visiting them during the holiday season. And it really didn’t matter if the cookie looked like a work of art or a melting snowman, because it wasn’t really about the cookies at all. It was about time. Showing people they matter by giving them a bit of your time can be the best Christmas present of all.
3. Decorate a gingerbread house.
Along the same lines as the sugar cookies, my grandmother enjoyed making elaborate gingerbread houses each year. Some years she even made complete gingerbread towns. My brother and I enjoyed helping her decorate them with white icing and colorful pieces of candy. Again, hers were works of art, and ours, not so much.
Now my own mother has started a gingerbread house decorating tradition with her grandchildren. She buys gingerbread house kits and helps the kids put them together, and then they decorate them with a colorful selection of candies. She usually turns it into a contest by posting pictures of the houses on Facebook for friends to vote on a winner. Sometimes the adults join in too, and sometimes it’s just for the kids. But it’s a fun tradition that I know my children will remember, just as I remember making gingerbread houses with my grandmother as a child.
4. Invest in recordable storybooks.
Now that I have children, I want them to have a special relationship with my grandmother too, even though we live far apart. I bought one of those recordable storybooks and asked her to record herself reading it to them. And then I asked her to sing her special song at the end: the song she sang to my brother and me so often that I can still hear the sound of her voice singing it as I sing it to my children every night at bedtime. I treasure that book, and my kids smile as they listen to her read the story. It makes the distance between us seem a little shorter.
5. Create memory books.
Many years ago, my mom gave my grandfather a Grandfather Remembers book to complete. The book asks questions about the person’s family tree, childhood, marriage, career, favorites, etc. I had forgotten about this book until my grandfather passed away several years ago. While preparing a eulogy for his memorial service, I tearfully pored over the book, which was full of my grandfather’s witty sense of humor and many details about his life that I’d never heard before. Now the book sits within arm’s reach on my bookshelf. It’s something I’ll treasure forever and pass down to my children so they, too, can know what a special man their great-grandfather was.
6. Send monthly picture books.
My grandmother lives three hours away from San Antonio and doesn’t have Internet access, so she can’t keep up with our daily life via Facebook, Instagram, or texts. A few years ago I found Groovebook, an app that allows you to upload 40–100 photos from your phone each month, which are then printed into a cute 4×6 booklet and mailed to you for only $3.99 per month. Each month, I have one Groovebook sent to my grandmother and one sent to us. She loves getting these books full of pictures that allow her to feel included in our lives, watch her great-grandchildren grow, and see all of their activities. It’s also a fun conversation starter because it enables her to ask about events in our lives that she may not have known about otherwise. There are multiple services like this that you can find online. These make a great holiday gift-that-keeps-on-giving for a grandparent who doesn’t want or have room for any more material items. Or, send it to them as a late Grandparent’s Day gift! Any day can be Grandparent’s Day. All it takes is a little time to make a big impact.