Are you a grandma or grandparent whose guest room is surprisingly (to you, at least) empty of visiting grandchildren? Sniff.
No one tracks how many of the nation's 70 million or so grandparents frequently host their adult kids' offspring for sleepovers. But anecdotally, it seems the answer is...not a lot.
What, if anything, should you do if you're worried about the "grandkid" room getting dusty?
Discuss the issue before the little ones are even born. Ask your adult kids, "Should I come to where you live because I know it's going to be tough to travel with young children?" says Dr. Mason Turner, chief of psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco. "When people sit down and talk about it, there are fewer surprises."
Don't buy a new house in a far-off location. That's especially true if you still live in your adult kids' childhood home. They're more likely to visit if it's a familiar place with familiar friends. The exception, jokes Turner, is Hawaii — if you want to lure 18-year-old grandkids.
Try not to cause tension between your kids and their spouses. Don't demand that your sons and daughters bring the grandkids. Before they commit to a date, let them chat with their spouses about it. "[Grandparents] really need to respect the authority of their children who are the parents," says Turner.
Don't add on to your house for the grandkids. Only do it if you're planning to use the space yourself. My own mother envisioned more visits than she gets — and with dreams of all six grandkids converging at once, even added a bedroom. "I'm glad I enlarged the house, but there are times when I laugh at myself, 'what was I thinking?!'" she says.
Plan to travel yourself. "I do think nowadays kids are so active that it's disruptive to expect them to visit," says my mom. "With the grandparents, it's just one or two people having to get relocated for a holiday. The younger generation, it's at least three, four, five, six." In the old days, she notes, grandparents stayed put in the same town, so it was easy for everyone to come over for Sunday dinner. "Everybody stuck around," she says. "When the generations started relocating for jobs, that broke down."
Live where you want to live. Don't move to the same town as your kids and grandkids - unless you both would like it. You want to "become part of the life, not a center of the life," says my mom.
Remember that every family is different. "There is no hard and fast rule about visits with grandparents," says Dr. Elizabeth Berger, a child psychiatrist and author of Raising Kids with Character. "I think that the most important principle is that families make decisions about visits which are easiest for everyone and which flow naturally from all the specific needs and particulars. There can be a pattern, or there can be spontaneity and no pattern at all. Each family can find its own individual solution to the practical aspects of visits."
Don't worry about gear for grandchildren. "Most of this complexity and commercialized 'stuff' is not really relevant to the children's needs," says Berger. "So a visit to relatives who have paper, pencils, a doll or two, a ball, and a space for walking and exploring is often richer than visits crammed with electronic gadgets, expensive toys, buying sprees, and other objects one buys at the mall. What counts is the human interaction, at bottom, and all the 'stuff' often gets in the way of human relationships, creativity, and intimacy."
Celebrate different types of homes. "It is enriching for children to participate in many different types of households," says Berger. "Parents and grandparents may have very different lifestyles and rhythms to offer children. Experiencing loving relationships in a variety of contexts encourages children to understand that the world is a big place, and to appreciate this variety as refreshing and fascinating. In this way, grandma's house can be a magical and valuable place for children — a source of memories and mysteries that contribute to the child's identity in an irreplaceable way."
For more stories about grandparents, read: