A man faces his young grandson at the breakfast table one sunny summer morning. It’s the last day of their summer visit, two weeks in which grandparents and grandson got to indulge their whims.
“Can I have chocolate cake, Gramps?”
The man eyes the boy as he mulls this unusual breakfast request and after a pause, slides an ample slice of chocolatey goodness across the table, cautioning the boy “make sure you drink your milk too”.
The boy’s dad enters the kitchen, takes one look at the cocoa smears left on the plate and chastises his father for the poor breakfast choice. The older man shrugs and replies “I’m the grandparent. You feed him fruit, I’ll feed him fun”. The boy beams from ear-to-ear at his grandfather as they share a conspiratorial grin.
And this folks, is why you should let your parents take your children away for more than an occasional overnight visit. There are few things as special as a healthy, loving grandparent-grandchild relationship and when they get to share a week or so together without you overseeing them, magical memories are made.
For working parents, a week (or more!) of summer at “Camp Grandma/Grandpa” is a childcare necessity. For all parents, it can be a welcome respite from satisfying the needs of multiple people in a household. For children, it can be a time of laser focused attention, family stories and new experiences.
But it’s rarely as simple as kissing your child goodbye and picking them up seven days later. With a little planning and an extremely open mind, you can set your children and your parents up for the adventure of a lifetime, whether they are going camping, going to Disneyland, or simply staying at home in another city.
Are the Grandparents up to it?
My mother in law, from the day her first grandchild was born, has said that raising children is definitely for the young. It takes a lot of energy that some older grandparents may not possess. Leaving a toddler with a hard-of-hearing 80-year-old for a week is not in anyone’s best interest. But with an energetic 60-year-old, it can be thrilling, if exhausting ride! Consider your parents age, their health and their level of mobility/independence before you commit your children to their long term care. The duration of the visit is another important consideration – will your kids burn out your parents in 3 days? Or will they last a week? Talk about it with your parents before you make a decision.
Expectations – Yours and theirs!
There are expectations you can kiss goodbye – like balanced breakfasts or sensible bedtimes. But there are others that you cannot compromise such as discipline, safety and reasonable cleanliness. Whatever your expectations, talk them out beforehand. If you can settle on a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, chances are, everyone will have a good time. If there are things that you must insist upon, make these expectations clear before they leave the house.
Send your kids with their bike helmets, and make sure your parents know that they must use them (see expectations above!). Yes, we survived the 70’s and 80’s intact but laws have changed and in most jurisdictions, children must use head protection while biking or riding scooters. Similarly, provide your parents with proper child seats for their vehicle. If they are unfamiliar with your child’s car seat, give them the instruction manual and show them how to install and use it correctly.
Make a list and check it twice!
Older kids can take responsibility for packing their own games, books, electronics and clothing but making a list is good planning for all ages. Include all the items children may need such as favourite stuffy, toothbrush, sippy cups, toys, pull ups, hairbrush, toiletries, bedtime story, etc. You want to avoid getting a late phone call from a distressed grandparent trying to put an inconsolable child to bed with no lovey! The list will help you organise the items that will make this experience enjoyable for everyone. When you are done packing, give a copy to the grandparents so they know which items to return!
Documentation, Food & Health
At a minimum, provide your parents with the children’s health care cards, a basic kit of medicines (Children’s acetaminophen, Benadryl, etc.) and a list of prescription medications with dosage instructions. You hope they are not needed but it will help Grandparents confidently sail through any health hiccups.
Similarly, discuss dietary needs, allergies and food preferences so grandparents as caregivers will be prepared with foods your children can and will eat. Your gourmet cooking mother may have to dial back her culinary prowess and serve plain buttered pasta to your carbs-only son and meat-eschewing daughter.
If they will be travelling internationally, their passports, Nexus cards (if applicable) and a letter of consent for crossing the border are also necessary. You can find tips and more information on international travel with children here.
Sort out the sleeping arrangements
My children, a boy and a girl, happily slept together while travelling until my daughter turned 7 and refused to breathe the same air as her younger brother. Then it became a fight to the death to get either of them to bed if the other was within spitting distance. Discussing these arrangements beforehand will help prevent bedtime meltdowns. It can be twin beds in the same room, or sleeping bags on the floor in separate wings of the house but give the grandparents all the knowledge they need to make the grandkids comfortable.
Grandparents love doting on their grandkids and will do so at every turn. My husband speaks fondly of how his grandmother went to the bookstore and bought him every single Lucky Starr the Space Ranger book she could find in advance of one summer visit. Send your kids with some pocket money to ease the cash crunch on the GP’s. Kids love having a bit of cash to buy treats and souvenirs at whatever wonderful attraction their grandparents take them to. You should also offer to give your parents money to help cover admissions, food and other expenses but you may find they scoff at you and reject your money.
With a little careful planning and some important conversations, sending your children off with their grandparents will be a wonderful experience for all of them.