Sunday, October 4, 2009

The wonderful world of grandparenting - By Judge Jim Gray

When I was a judge on the mental health calendar, one of my happiest collateral duties was to officiate over three adoptions almost every morning, and I tried to make them the truly special occasions that they were.

So, among other things, if there were grandparents in attendance, I had them raise their hands and be sworn, right along with the parents, saying that they had duties to perform as well. Then after complying with the law and having the parents swear to support the children and treat them just as if they were their natural birth children, I also figuratively had the grandparents swear that they would spoil the grandchildren. And I never had a complaint. (For example, of course, the child can have a chocolate chip cookie before dinner, etc.)

Being a grandparent is a wonderful thing. Yes, when the children are messy or misbehaving, they can mostly be returned to the parents, and that can be nice. But much more importantly, the relationship between children and grandparents is truly special.

In fact, grandparents can play a unique role, providing unconditional love, helping to make children aware of their roots, providing values to grow from, cultivating a respect for age and wisdom, providing important role models, and inserting another important person in their lives that children would not want to disappoint with bad behavior.

As a result, grandparents can be important mentors, confidants, elder statesmen, playmates and friends. And because we grew up in a more patient time, when you dialed a telephone number and had to wait for the dial to return back to its resting place, we can bring more of that sense of peace to the children. Of course, grandparents must remember not to contradict the parents, and (mostly) to follow the parents’ rules. But otherwise, the sky is the limit.

So I offer some suggestions about how to make this opportunity the best it can be. And please don’t be bashful in sharing some of your own suggestions on the subject with the rest of us at That way we all can better take advantage of this wonderful opportunity!

Naturally, the first recommendation is to do things with your grandchildren — almost anything. The zoo, the beach, the park, shopping, a baseball game, the county fair and so much more. In fact, I have always anticipated that the best way of going to Disneyland would be to take my grandchildren and simply sit back and watch them enjoy the experience. What a contemplation! And sometimes you will want to take just one of your grandchildren alone. It is really fun to be able to have a concentrated experience with just one at a time.

Actually, reading to and with them can be just as much fun and a bonding experience as an excursion. You can share adventures together, laugh at silliness, pull for heroes, and scoff at villains. Then after you have finished, you can have great discussions about the stories you read, and how they might feel or act had they been one of the characters.

My favorites are reading Frank Baum’s “The Wizard of Oz” books to them, or reading Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Sox” with them. Doing this will make long-term and wonderful memories — you can count on it. And along the way you will be exposing these youngsters to a truly joyous and mind-expanding world. (And seriously improving their eventual SAT scores by helping them to develop their language skills and reading comprehension!)

You can also help to create some other truly fun and teachable moments with your grandchildren, virtually all of whom have brains like sponges. For example, borrow a practice used by Newsweek and inspired from Smith Magazine’s Six-Word Memoir Project, by choosing a topic of interest to them and then having them describe their thoughts about it in only six words.

But be sure to give them extra time to think about and refine their selection of words. It can be highly instructive, enable them to show their own particular creativity, and also be lots of fun. This also has the benefit of being able to be done when traveling in a car, or virtually anywhere else.

Another fun and instructive thing to do is to have them find something useful in the home that we take for granted, and write a few paragraphs about how that thing works.

For example, you might have them inspect a toilet, and then write about how it works. Then they can first read what they have written out loud, but in the same boring way that most children read. Then have them read it again, but this time with real and even exaggerated feeling. One approach is to tell them to act as if they know something that will really interest or help their listeners, and be anxious to pass it along to them. You will see that not only the kids will have lots of fun with these projects, but they will learn a lot from them as well.

Similarly, you can play a DVD movie or sitcom for them, or read a play or short story together, and then stop about two-thirds of the way through it and ask them to create their own ending for the story.

Then sit back and watch their creativity blossom. After this has been done, you can all watch or read the actual ending to the story and discuss which ending is better. Most times, of course, you will state — to the grandchildren’s eternal delight — that their endings are better.

Furthermore, in having your grandchildren participate in all of these activities, you will also be giving them the gift of speaking and expressing themselves in public. The more they do it, the smoother and more comfortable they will be — then and for the rest of their lives. And if you give small prizes for the most creative, enthusiastic, realistic, etc. (being sure to spread the prizes around to each of the participants), you will stimulate them to even greater heights.

When I composed my high school musical entitled “Americans All,” I involved the students in doing things like this, and called it “Project Project.” In other words, each student was to try to develop the reputation that, for example, if people knew that Linda would be doing a particular project, they would know that it would be done right, whether it was drawing a picture, taking someone on a tour of their school, or reading a story out loud. In other words, they would “eschew mediocrity,” and instead always pursue excellence. Other than the children’s parents, grandparents are in the best position to promote this concept.

As I am sure you have seen yourself, children do not grow up in reverse. Once your children have grown and gone, they can become your friends — in fact your really good friends, with natural common bonds and experiences.

But now that they are grown, and you are more experienced, and you have more resources, wisdom, and time, you could be blessed to get to do it all over again in being a grandparent. So don’t let this golden opportunity slip by. Because at this point in our lives, being a grandparent really can be what “the good life” is all about!

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at .

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