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Connecting With Our Grandchildren

Penny writes regularly over at Parenting Grown Children.

My friend Ann and I are having coffee, catching up on the state of our semi-retirements, vacations and grandchildren. Hers live near her; she sees them all the time. Mine are far away; vacations with them and their families are my only chance to see them up close and personally for more than a day or two.

Connecting With Our Grandchildren VI mention a big change in our family vacation dynamic. Last year when we were all in Vermont at our usual vacation retreat, our then-13-year-old grandson would pop by our condo at odd times. He’d walk or bike over, plop down, talk soccer or baseball with his BaPa, do a crossword puzzle with me and finish off the peaches in the bowl on the kitchen counter. This year, he was 14. He dropped by our condo only on request–a text message, say, to ask him to bring us something from his parent’s condo. He’d chat when he arrived but he didn’t linger or even look around for peaches. When we stopped by his condo, we were barely acknowledged. Instead, he’d have his iPhone in hand, thumbs tapping away while, presumably, he stayed in touch with friends.

Don’t take it personally, Ann says. She, too, has a 14-year-old grandson. His grandfather (Ann’s husband) has been driving him to soccer practice for eight years now, to fields all over the county and some beyond. They’d talk soccer (the grandson is a gifted player) in the car, tell each other jokes and sometimes muse about math homework (grandpa tutors him to make sure he keeps up). That was then. Now that he’s 14, his thumbs do the talking. He’s much less communicado even when the texting stops. If they’re giving a fellow player a ride, grandpa is not usually included in the conversation.

Ann finds her grandson similarly withdrawn from her. Like mine, he’s a nice child and polite. She doesn’t take the behavior personally. She assumes it mirrors her son’s behavior when he was young and living in her house. “I should have paid more attention,” she says. What she means is that when her kids were growing up, her life was so full – what with being a wife and mother, pursuing a career, keeping house, driving kids to various activities. For most of us, our kids grow up so fast we don’t necessarily notice all the little changes along the way. Our kids evolve and there’s no Aha! moment. We just absorb the way they are at any given moment. Whereas, as grandparents, we have the time to step back and take notice and note.

In our family, since we see our grandchildren for a weekend every few months or on vacation, for a week, it’s no wonder that we’re on super-alert and paying attention to everything and every minute. Changes don’t slowly evolve; suddenly they are here and now.

In a recent column financial planner Carl Richards asked, What Is Our Attention Really Worth? He’d been thinking, he wrote, that attention is a currency that we choose how to spend “just like we spend our time, energy and money. Unlike money, however, there’s no way to store attention for later use. It’s a bit like time in that way; we use it or lose it.”

His point is that we can spend time on something – or someone – and still not pay attention to it or them.

Attention “might be the most in-demand asset we have to offer, so given the value of our attention, shouldn’t we pay more attention to how we spend it? We think of certain things as being free, but if it requires our attention, we’re paying a price of sorts.”

For most of us, we spend our attention on our Grands when they are available, and we spend it on their various steps in growing up – much more than we were able to when they were youngsters and we saw them constantly, and they were at the heart of our busy, everyday lives. We now have what is euphemistically called perspective and the golden opportunity of time to pay attention, and share our insights about (not criticisms of!) our Grands with their parents (our grown kids). The parents seem to enjoy hearing how their kids are or are not like they were when they were that age – even if we couldn’t pay much attention back then and if, by necessity, our observations are in a pre-texting context.

Penelope Lemov

As Penelope Lemov, I'm a senior correspondent and finance columnist for a national magazine. Everyone else knows me as Penny. In that richer and more personal life, I have two grown children, both of whom have started families of their own--in cities far from the familial manse and from each other. Among the smallest denizens of that world, I'm PenPen. And that suits me best.

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