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Grandpa’s Role

Disclaimer: the following article is based on a limited number of non-scientific observations.

The same, or different from Gramma’s?

Jan and Terrill
Jan with her husband Terrill and their grandkids Eric Jr and Vanessa

Terrill and his granddaughter
Making cheese

Terrill with his son Eric and grandson Eric Jr.
My son and grandson

 Granddaughter at the Seattle Aquarium
At the Seattle Aquarium

by Terrill Chang (Terrill’s grandchildren are ages 7, 9, and 16.)

Not to be sexist, but does it seem as if granddads play a different role from grandmas? Simple observation will reveal that when grandchildren are newborns and infants, grandmothers seem to do most of the holding, cooing, rocking, diapering, feeding, etc. Tip for granddads  – step back and don’t get in the way of a grandma on a mission. But there’s no reason to give up hope of having a full-contact relationship with your grandchild. Timing is almost everything, and your time will come – just a bit later.

Actually, the role of both grandparents is to love and nurture their grandchild. But the activities through which they provide that love and nurture can be quite different. Grandpas have freedom, maybe even a license, to do wild and crazy things with their grandkids (within reason). For example, they can be a participant in an imaginative story about knights or princesses, or imitate wild animals with growls and funny motions. They can talk about how things were in the “old” days – rotary dial (or even crank) phones on the wall; pumping water by hand from a well, etc.

My favorite times have been sitting with a grandchild on my lap, reading the classic little Golden Books, looking for various animals or pointing out funny things. Or lying on our backs on the rug, looking up at the ceiling, and imagining what it would be like to walk on the ceiling instead of the floor.

Then there are the quintessential guy activities:

      • Building things from scraps of wood or card board.
      • Breaking things (don’t frown) – disassembling something to see how it used to work can be highly educational and/or entertaining.
      • Drawing or painting; it doesn’t really have to look like something “real”.
      • Going to a stream, damming up the water with rocks, and diverting it to a new path – this is an instinctive guy activity, sort of like beavers on two legs.
      • For some granddads, it’s teaching your grandchild to fish. Although for some of us, it’s enough to take them to a trout farm, help them bait the hook, try to keep them from being bored or from falling into the pond, and then enjoying the sight of the proprietor knocking out the trout and cleaning it for you (better not to let your child see you attempt that).
      • Teaching them respect for (and how to safely handle) sharp objects such as knives or chisels, or how to use a screwdriver or hammer.

What you do with your grandchild is probably not as important as the fact that you are doing something together. Coloring, singing silly songs, picking dandelions, imagining if there were a moose in the front yard…

Bottom line: while the role of both grandparents is to love and nurture their grandchild, they can accomplish this in very different ways. But no matter what you do, remember to cherish these times because for both granddads and grandmas, the kids grow up too quickly.

About The Author

Terrill is a mostly-retired environmental engineer.  He is active in his church and his vegetable garden, and walks half marathons.  He aims to foster in young people an appreciation and awe about the natural world, and to encourage them to consider STEM careers.  He supports PEPS in its venture into the realm of grandparenting.

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