We were getting dizzy. We had joined our 6-year-old granddaughter, via FaceTime, as she bounced, jumped and twirled on the trampoline.
Which was fine with my husband and me. We haven’t seen most of our grandchildren in more than a year, and we are willing to do most anything to get some face-to-face time with them.
The first few minutes are comfortable: Hi Jeedoo. Hi Papa. The younger ones will show us pictures or books or games. The older ones chat briefly but often want to hurry back to their games. Holding their attention can be a challenge.
Our jumping jack grandgirl is easy. She grabbed her mom’s phone and Face-Timed us. In a 30-minute conversation, before the trampoline, she showed us the book we had sent her—that she is learning to read. She gave us a tour of her small bedroom and large closet, held up a painting she had done for her friend’s birthday, and told us about the work being doing on their new home. She chatters on easily.
Her brothers require a little more drawing out and drawing in. So we have had to learn how to ask questions to do both of those. Questions to explore what they are most interested in now, and questions to go deeper. That requires listening.
Our 14-year-old grandboy is on the shyer side. I asked him, How are you feeling about starting high school in a new school in a new city? He said he was excited. I was surprised and asked why he was excited: “I want to make new friends—I miss my friends in Texas. It’s a new school, so it should be easier to make friends. And I’m taking an engineering class—hopefully I will meet some guys who like to do the things I like.
Then I said: I know you have been fly-fishing with your dad a lot. Do you enjoy it? Indeed, he did: “I love it. I’m learning to tie flies. And I’ve caught at least one fish every month this year. I still need to get my ‘August fish.’”
The next brother just turned 13—a new teenager, with lots of friends and interests. What are you excited about as school begins? “Homeschooling last year was okay, and I like my brothers and sister, but I can’t wait to be with my new friends at school.”
What sports interest you? “I love skiing, skateboarding, and now I’m on a mountain bike team. Can’t wait to get a better bike.”
What’s it like living with five kids—how do you get along? “Mostly okay. We do fun things together—hiking, skiing, fishing. Or at home we play board games and video games and jump on the trampoline or target practice. Most important is to try not to be a jerk, even when someone else is.”
I know you go to youth group and to Young Life. How do you feel about that? “I like it. I like being with the other kids, talking about life and things, learning about God. It’s good.”
The 11-year-old boy responded immediately when I asked his mom to have him Face-Time me. Unlike his older brothers, he asked if he could homeschool again this year—he likes learning that way and wasn’t eager to go to middle school.
What is your favorite sport or fun thing to do? “I like baseball, and skiing.” What’s your best time skiing? “My dad took me on a ski trip—we did double diamonds. That was scary, but he was with me. We also got caught in a whiteout blizzard. That was really scary, but I knew we would be okay—my dad’s a good driver.”
I find with younger children reading is good, and storytelling is even better. I invite them into the story and they add themselves as the heroes, vanquishing dragons and wolves and darkness. All of them love to hear stories about mom and dad, and ask many questions.
A 7-year-old grand from our other daughter’s family Face-Timed us shortly after they got settled in their new home. We asked if he liked living there. So he took us on a video tour, focusing on the room he shares with his brother, showing off the gym they built in the basement and then bragging on the garden they all had built and planted.
So how do you get in such conversations with such a variety of children? Ask. Listen. Connect. Ask again.
Ask. Start with simple questions: What did you do yesterday? What is your favorite sport or show or game? Do you like school?
Listen. Look for clues: What is important to them? How do they feel about a topic, or people, or things to do? What are they fearful of? What gives them joy? What longings do they have?
Connect. Do you relate to what they are interested in? My husband studied engineering—he and the 14-year-old could talk more about that. In my skiing days, I had some mishaps—a good place to connect with the skiers. I used to fish some, and have some scary stories. My husband coached soccer for 12 years—he has some good stories about their moms.
Ask again. Ask questions that go a little deeper: What are you most looking forward to…in school this year? …in your new neighborhood? If you could do whatever you want for a day, what would you do? What makes a good teacher or coach? What do you think you are getting really good at? What is the hardest thing in your life now? What is your best family memory? What makes you happy?
And keep listening. Express your love in words, but listening may do it best. Don’t try to hold their attention for too long—be sensitive to when they have had enough.
Let me wrap up with some questions suggested by our 17-year-old grandgirl. A quiet girl, she doesn’t say much. But if I ask via text, I get answers—that is, suggested questions–like this:
Does this work? Can you really talk with grandkids of all ages? With great humility, I submit these testimonials as evidence, that yes, these kinds of questions will open mouths and build relationships with your grands, even when you can’t see them.
Last year, on a big birthday for me, my kids and grands gave me a jar full of notes, saying nice things about me. These few are my proof:
The more you get to know them, the easier it is. They learn you really care about them and are interested in their lives. Sure, you have important things to impart to them, but they will hear and receive so much more when you have grown a great relationship.
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