Grandparents take on many different roles—companions, nannies, playmates, tutors, best friends, mentors, role models, storytellers, even providers. They also go by many different names—grandpa/grandma, lolo/lola, amang/inang, wowo/wowa, papa/mama, tatay/nanay, daddy-lo/mommy-la. But one thing is certain: no grandchild would be here without them. That alone should be reason enough for grandchildren to work on building and maintaining a loving relationship with their grandparents. The experts, however, say there are many more reasons to do so.
According to Dr. Cecilia Banaag, who provides counseling for adults and the elderly, the grandparent-grandchild relationship is “extraordinary and irreplaceable.” She adds: “Filipino families are close knit. The grandparents often live with their children and grandkids, sharing household responsibilities and even providing financial support. Hence, grandparents play an important role in the development of their grandchildren, often serving as their first teachers. My own parents taught my two kids to sing, dance, and recite poems.”
With parents usually busy with work, grandparents have more time and attention to devote to their grandkids, explains Dr. Banaag. They are the ones who usually train their grandkids to do household chores. They also serve as mentors on core family values and thus connect their grandchildren to the family heritage. In this way, grandchildren gain a better sense of their roots. By providing a sense of continuity, grandparents help the young ones develop a deeper respect for the elderly and appreciate the enduring beauty of family.
Further, because grandparents are free from the responsibilities of parenthood, the love they give their grandchildren is often more playful and less complicated. Such pure and generous love helps build healthy self-esteem and emotional security in their grandchildren, which they carry into adulthood.
Make them feel grand
Not all grandparents are created equal. Some are still working, while others have long retired. Some live with their grandchildren, while others reside thousands of miles away. Some are as young as 30-years old, while others are already centenarians. Thus, there is no standard prescription on how to build a healthy grandparent-grandchild bond. Nevertheless, the following tips generally apply:
Visit often. Make time for regular visits to lolo and lola. If they live nearby and are quite mobile, encourage them to drop by your home. When it comes to strengthening a relationship, nothing beats quality time and shared experiences.
Keep them in your life. Call, e-mail, or write to grandpa and grandma. Send them pictures, videos, or cards. Update them about what is happening in your life. Invite them to milestones like graduations, and remember them on their special days.
Let them share in your successes and empathize with your disappointments. Consult them in your decision-making. If they live with you, involve them in light household chores to give them a sense of belonging and fulfillment.
Get to know them better. Take an interest in the life stories of amang and inang—how they were as kids, what jobs they used to do, how they fell in love, what hardships and successes they experienced. In the process, grandkids can know their own parents better through the stories their parents tell.
Learn and explore together. Find a hobby or activity that you can do with your grandparents, like woodwork or gardening. Take walks, try new dishes, or watch movies together. Teach lolo how to use a tablet, and learn how to crochet from lola. Be both student and teacher to each other.
Respect and support them. Depending on their ages, tatay and nanay may have certain physical or other limitations. They may need help doing certain activities. Be sensitive to their needs. Offer to help out with chores when you visit, or accompany them on their errands or medical checkups. Be patient with their quirks, whims, and oft-repeated stories.
Show your appreciation. Make daddy-lo and mommy-la feel significant and special. Express your love and gratitude to them both in word and in action. A spoken “I love you,” “Thank you,” or “I miss you” can do wonders for their self-esteem. A warm embrace, a back or hand massage, even more.
Grow in faith together. Going to church and praying together is a form of bonding that can help strengthen the spirituality of both grandparents and grandchildren, enabling them to maintain a positive outlook in life and develop a sense of purpose.
A healthy, loving grandparent-grandchild relationship is a precious gift to any family. As the grandparents and the grandchildren see and experience the world through each other’s eyes, a beautiful exchange takes place: the grandparents bring maturity, wisdom, and stability to the lives of their grandkids, and the grandchildren inject youthfulness, energy, and optimism into the lives of their grandparents. A unique and special bond is formed, which promises benefits not just for the present generation but for the future of the family as well.
The author thanks Cecilia B. Banaag, PhD, RGC, for her valuable insights. She is a professor at Cavite State University, a professorial lecturer at De La Salle University-Dasmarinas, a board member of the Philippine Guidance and Counseling Association, Inc., and a Sunday school teacher and counselor of the UCCP in Indang, Cavite.