My friend Liliana tells me that her son loves to spend time with his grandmother, Encarnacion. Why? Because she's fun. She plays games with him, she tells him stories, and she listens to him. Seems pretty simple, huh? What's so special about that?
See also: Grandparents Day is a family affair.
I'll tell you what's so special about Encarnacion and other grandmas and grandpas like her: They make their grandchildren feel important. Encarnacion plays games her grandson likes to play — and she doesn't always let him win, because she has a competitive streak, which he actually likes. She listens to him. She marvels at his talents and skills. And from my conversation with her, I could tell that she makes each of her grandchildren feel that way — all 17 of them!
Is that the secret to a successful, fulfilling, long-lasting grandparent–grandchild relationship? Something as simple as making each other feel important? I believe it is. And, somehow, that skipped-generation relationship between grandparent and grandchild can allow for a special, mutually-beneficial exchange.
It's not just kids who benefit from this relationship: I've observed first-hand how grandchildren have a positive influence on grandparents' lives. In focus groups with grandparents, I've heard many people say their grandchildren are the reason they quit smoking, started wearing seatbelts, began to eat more healthy meals, and even stopped swearing
There are an estimated 70 to 80 million grandparents in the United States. Many of them, such Encarnacion, have grandchildren nearby, so they get to visit frequently. Then there are the long-distance grandparents, who stay in touch with grandchildren via the Internet, telephone, and a few visits a year. Grandparents share varied cultural backgrounds and traditions with their grandchildren. There are grandparents in their 30s and grandparents in their 90s. And more than 2.4 million grandparents in the United States have grandchildren living with them, children for whom they are responsible.
This year, National Grandparents Day is Sept. 11. As I think about this significant, but unfortunately little-known, national holiday approaching, I realized that it's not just a day for grandparents. It's a day for grandchildren, too. It's a day to celebrate this unique and special intergenerational relationship. A time for grandparents to tell grandchildren how important and special they are, and for grandchildren to appreciate and let them know what an important role they play.