by Joanne Boeckman
"In real estate, they say the most important things are location, location, location. When people ask me what my most important tip for grandparenting is, I say it's listen, listen, listen."
Those are the words of Susan V. Bosak, an author and workshop leader who specializes in helping grandparents build bonds with grandchildren.
"Time is at a premium, yet time is what kids need most. Grandparents can give their time by listening," she explained.
Bosak, who has a background in English, Sociology and the social science of Human Communication -- how and why people interact -- encourages people to establish an intergenerational bond, what she calls the "grandma connection." She said she focuses on grandmothers because it's usually the women who take the lead in establishing bonds with grandchildren, but her information applies to all grandparents.
Bosak has written two books to help people understand her message. The first book, Something to Remember Me By is an award-winning children's book with a message for all ages. Illustrated by Laurie McGaw, it is inspired by Bosak's relationship with her own grandmother and tells the story of a grandmother who gives her granddaughter many memories. Her new book How to Build the Grandma Connection is a nonfiction companion to the first and is a tool to help people develop grandparenting skills. She uses many of the book's stories and tips in her Grandma Connection Workshops around the country.
We asked Bosak to talk to us about establishing the grandma connection.
Q: What are some benefits of the grandma connection?
A: A lot of people look at this as a second chance. People have a real need to leave a legacy. Psychologists have found the need to leave a legacy is fundamental. It's found in all nations, races, religions and cultures.
Kids need a sense of where they come from. That happens naturally as the bond builds. You have to let it come out in bits and pieces. One way is that once you start to develop a close bond, stories come out. For example, kids like to explore, so when they come to your house, you might one afternoon go through a drawer of old mementos. That's how you start to get family history.
Q: What is one of your favorite pointers for building a grandma connection?
A: I think you really need to start in the kitchen. Maybe baking doesn't define you as a grandmother, but research shows it's the kitchen where we taste, smell, relax and learn things. Maybe you're not a baker, then use purchased dough. Just the act of making cookies is very powerful. It's a natural way to start building bonds.
Q: Will you share your favorite memory of your grandmother or grandfather?
A: I have so many wonderful memories. My grandmother actually inspired Something to Remember Me By. I was very close to her from the time I was a little girl. It's hard to think of all the ways we stay connected, but she had a little tradition on my birthday. She would get up early -- too early! -- and call me to sing "Happy Birthday." She was pleased because she beat everyone else to it. I always think of her on my birthday.
She's actually 102 years old now. She can't call me anymore. That's one of the things -- how these relationships change over time -- I write about in my book and address in my workshops. In the story, there's a shift from the grandma giving to the little girl to the grown girl giving to the grandma.
Q: What are memorable things you've heard in your workshops?
A: I think having grandchildren gives people new perspective and energy. They say, "The mess, the noise, the clutter -- it's wonderful!"
Also, children say it's the small things that make the memories, that give them something to remember grandparents by. I asked one little boy -- his grandfather had died -- what his best memory was. He said it was the chocolate bar he shared in a shopping mall with his grandparents. I asked him why that was a favorite memory, he said, "Because it makes me happy." Nothing complex, nothing fancy, that's it.
Q: What advice do you have about teens?
A: Often, it's a grandparent that can get through to a teen when a parent can't. Teens rebel from parents, but they don't seem to mind grandparents, and it they have a good relationship with the grandparent, they'll go to them. That can be really helpful to parents.
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