by Rachel Dunstan Muller
Source: Island Grandparent
Originally Published: Island Grandparent
I’ve been an extraordinarily fortunate grandmother. I was present for my grandson’s birth, and I’ve had the privilege of looking after him one day a week for much of his first two and a half years. I haven’t had to think about our relationship—we’ve simply been part of each other’s lives.
But life is changing. My daughter and her husband are moving a short distance up-Island, and my weekly childcare will no longer be needed. Instead of a 20-minute drive, my grandson will be 45 minutes away—which of course is nothing compared to the trans-continental distances many grandparents have to contend with. Still, it is a transition. I’ll need to be much more intentional to maintain a strong bond with my grandson.
I’ve been thinking back to the traditions my own mother and mother-in-law established with my daughters when they were young. There were tea parties with tiny porcelain tea sets. Family dinners with homemade berry pie for dessert. Monthly care packages the year we lived overseas. Egg decorating and basket making at Easter; neon-cookie baking at Christmas; lively balloon drops on New Year’s Eve. These grandparent-centred rituals were touchstones in my children’s lives. They were a source of anticipation, and created treasured memories.
In her wonderful volume, The Book of New Family Traditions, author Meg Cox makes a case for the importance of establishing rituals, both for special occasions and in our daily lives. Rituals help to ground children. They give them a sense of belonging and identity, and provide comfort and security. They allow us to pass down important values and traditions. They create a space that honours and celebrates relationships. They say, “you matter to me.”
Without conscious effort, my grandson and I have already established a few modest rituals of our own. When I enter his house or he enters mine, my face automatically lights up, my arms fly open, and I say his name exuberantly. His little face lights up in turn as he basks in my delight. We have other rituals that centre on checking the fire in my woodstove, walking the short distance into town, or eating the snacks carefully packed in his monkey lunch bag. These small rituals help us navigate our time together, and create a sense of predictability that is reassuring for a small child.
Now that my grandson will be living further away, I’ll be looking for new rituals to nourish our relationship. I expect that many of these traditions will grow and evolve organically, but I’ve also been looking for specific inspiration. While The Book of New Family Traditions is aimed primarily at parents, the material it contains can easily be adapted by grandparents. Cox begins by offering some guiding principals. First, perfectionism is not a welcome guest in the ritual-building process. Life is messy, and life with children is messier still; we grown-ups need to hold our expectations lightly. Besides, some of life’s funniest experiences happen when our plans go outrageously off-track! Second, healthy rituals honour and respect all of the relevant participants. Grandparent-centred rituals should be life-affirming and fun, not forced or a potential source of conflict with our grandchildren’s parents. Some consultation may be necessary to ensure everyone is happy. Finally, rituals do not have to be grandiose to qualify. As long as they are performed with intention, a ritual can be as small as a high-five greeting or a silly goodbye rhyme.
Cox’s book offers a wealth of ideas, conveniently divided into four chapters and over 70 sub-categories. I’ve found that most of my favourites fall into one of two main categories. Which activities and special holidays become a recurring feature of our time together (and thereby achieve ritual status) will depend on my grandson’s interests as he gets older. They may include:
Activities. Baking cookies. Having teddy bear picnics. Visiting a special playground on a regular basis, or exploring new ones. Hiking nearby trails. Fishing or crabbing. Doing age-appropriate puzzles. Playing board games. Doing crafts or building models. Building an interesting rock collection. Learning a silly song together, and inventing new verses. Visiting the library. Reading a favourite bedtime story. Tent camping in the living room. Learning origami, or cat’s cradle string figures. Exchanging riddles, puns or corny jokes. Creating special nonsense words. Building and flying a kite. Exploring the night sky and naming the constellations. Attending child-friendly theatre productions and concerts. Geocaching. Compiling a scrap book of our shared adventures. Developing a special greeting or goodbye ritual.
Special holidays. Cox dedicates half her book to creative ideas for family festivities and holidays, including some new excuses to come together. I particularly like the idea of celebrating my grandson’s half-birthday, making it our special day each year. I also like the idea of an annual, weekend-long Summer Cousins Camp, if and when I’m blessed with more grandchildren. And then there are the unique family holidays we already celebrate, like our annual Father’s Day Olympics. Each year three generations of men compete for prizes in half a dozen games of skill and/or general silliness. The children have a blast cheering their fathers on, or participating as teammates. In the interest of expanding the fun, we now celebrate a Mother’s Day Olympics as well.
Whatever traditions you develop with your grandchild or grandchildren, expect them to evolve and change over time. And don’t forget the sizzle: inventing a special title can elevate any shared activity or holiday to ritual status.
The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox is available as a downloadable e-book from both the Vancouver Island Regional Library and the Greater Victoria Public Library. It can also be purchased in print version, and would make a great addition to any family’s bookshelves. Grandparents.com offers some great tradition-building ideas for long-distance grandparents.
Rachel Dunstan Muller is the mother of five, grandmother of one, and a children’s author. Her previous articles can be found at islandparent.ca.
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