At Eastleigh, we love being involved in the family lives of our residents. Seeing them welcome new additions to the family, and watching as those little ones grow, is one of the greatest joys for our residents, but also for us. However, we also know that many of our residents can struggle with how to have a good relationship with the grandchildren and great grandchildren when they live in a residential care home.
Here we look at some of the ways that the grandparent-grandchild relationship can be nurtured by the grandparent, when they are in residential care.
Depending on the age of your grandchildren, your involvement with them will need to go through the parents. When a baby or young child joins the family, then the best way to get involved and build a relationship, is by supporting the parent.
Obviously this is more limited if you are in residential care. However, one thing you have to help you is time. You can listen to the new mum or dad on the phone, and reassure them that they are doing a brilliant job and that you are proud of them. Try not to offer advice, unless asked for. This is often a short-cut to ruffled feathers!
Ask for photos and welcome visits, when possible. One of our residents arranged for meals to be sent to some new parents when they had a newborn, which was gratefully received.
As children get older, you can concentrate on the relationship directly with the grandchild. They may love to chat to you on a video call, phone call or visit you. Few adults will have the same time for them that you do.
Grandparents have the potential to be the child’s best cheerleader. Encourage them to send you or show you pictures or examples of their work. Praise them and tell them what a fantastic job they’ve done. Email them, or even write them an old-fashioned letter. They will love receiving their very own post. We’ve found that the grandparent residents in our home who take this interest in their younger grandchildren discover that they are first on the list of people to be told when exam results come, driving tests are passed, and new babies arrive.
When children come to visit you, think about some questions you can ask them. Write down their age, if you are worried you will forget, and ask them about their hobbies and interests. Share with them stories about what it was like for you when you were little too.
Grandparents have the treat of not having to be the daily parent who sets boundaries. It’s important to support the parents in terms of their hopes for things such as healthy eating and snacks. However, with the parent’s support, you may find that the parents welcome the opportunity for you to relax the rules a little. If Grandad shares a packet of sweets, or Nanny gifts a new toy ‘just because’, you can quickly become an exciting person to know!
However, it’s still important to remember that the best gift you can give your grandchildren is your time and attention. A sweet may win over a 7 year old, but knowing you have time for them will melt even the grumpiest teenager’s heart.
You may think that because you are in a residential home, it isn’t possible to have get-togethers with your grandchildren which are fun for them. A little thought is needed, but visits can be rewarding for children and grandchildren.
If you go out with the family, consider what you can manage. Good outings with the family may include going to a beach, country park or National Trust property; somewhere that you can sit happily whilst the grandchildren play is ideal.
Alternatively, you may feel happier if the family come and visit you at the home. A home with a garden is ideal for visiting families. Residents and their loved ones can stroll or sit in the grounds whilst the children play and explore.
If your loved ones are visiting you inside, then having a few resources on hand can help. Board games always go down well, as well as colouring pens and paper.
It’s all too easy for family relationships to become strained when fraught parents feel that their own parents require more of them than they have time and energy for. This can be very difficult for the older generation to understand, as looking back it is easy to wear rose tinted glasses and forget the realities of juggling school and work commitments alongside the mundane tasks of managing a home.
Being in a residential home, you have care and social interaction available from the staff and other residents. Actively involving yourself in the life of the home ensures that you won’t inadvertently put pressure on your loved ones for more time or attention than they can give. The result is that the time that you do spend together – in person, virtually or on the phone – can be far more rewarding and precious for you all.
Lastly, it’s easy for grandchildren and great grandchildren not to realise what they’ve missed until their grandparent dies. However, putting in place connections for them for the future can help them to feel your presence throughout their lives as they grow.
Some of our residents like to consider their grandchildren individually in their will, in terms of a named legacy. But there are also non-financial ways of being involved in your grandchild’s future. Perhaps buy them special jewellery for a significant birthday or record stories for them about your life, or even record yourself reading their favourite story book. Other ideas include writing them letters to open when they are older, or, if you are creative, making them a blanket or painting a picture.
The good news is that, even though you are in a residential home, there are ways to ensure that you have a valued and loving relationship with your grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s possible to create and treasure memories.