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How to Be a Grandparent

Of all the things I’m grateful that my kids get to experience, I don’t think anything compares to the moments they share with their grandparents. There isn’t a family dinner that goes by–a package of handmade goodies my mom sends, a story Brett’s dad tells Lainey, a sleepover at Brett’s mom’s house, a moon walk with my dad–that I don’t make mental note how lucky we are to have meaningful relationships with grandparents and so many memories stashed away. I have one living grandparent and she means more to me every day–and the memories of the ones who have passed have become comforting reassurances that often lead me home when I’ve wandered away from what’s important and what I want in life.

Each of my kids’ grandparents (we have 8 thanks to the blessings of remarriage and the beauty of family complexities) holds a special place and fills a unique role in our lives, but today I’m thrilled to be sharing a few of my dad’s words on what grandparenting means to him and his tips for maintaining a meaningful bond with the littles…no matter how old they are.

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On Being Poppa
by Rik Cryderman

I’ve been introduced with titles I’ve been proud to hold, taken my place on the dais in the company of greatness, heard kind tributes that stirred my heart and made my eyes pool with tears, but there’s one word that melts me and finally tells me I’ve climbed to the summit of all I’ve longed to ever be…That word is Poppa.

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It begins every sentence their little lips launch or their teenage fingers text. It heralds each announcement they share in my presence. It’s their personal password for plans they propose, “Poppa, maybe we could build a tree fort, you and me”…and, years later, “Poppa, can I bring my boyfriend to dinner on Thursday?”

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“Daddy” was good—I thought nothing could be better, but “Poppa” tops it all, letting us do it all again, with a heart tendered by time, a mind enlightened by experience and a spirit humbled by age. And since my retirement, loving my grandchildren has become even more intentional, inspiring, invigorating. Listening to their uninterrupted narrative, attempting sound answers for their unending questions and accepting their sweet invitations to play, pretend, create and be amused—this trumps every greyhound tempting rabbit I ever chased in my career.

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I have few memories of my own grandparents. Being the youngest in my family, I said goodbye to mine as a little boy, cherishing the few clear memories as treasures. The privilege to imprint my babies’ babies with some stories that will echo when I’m gone, some lessons that will teach when I’ve left, some love that will warm when I can no longer hold them close—that is a blessing sacred and strong. To know them, really know them, and to let them know you—therein is the precious and powerful passing of the baton, firmly in the hands of the tomorrow you cannot enter, except through the hearts of your grandchildren.

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If I were to offer advice to one new to grand-parenting, I would tell them:

Bring your grandchildren home. Just them. Without their parents. Make them your focus. Listen. With your heart. Make them feel their words are wise and wonderful. Let them teach you. Let them try things. Let them fail. Let them try again. Be playful. Be silly. Don’t always be the wisest, the corrector, the one with the last word. Value their dreams, their differences, their dedication to the passions they pursue and the positions they hold. (It’s easier when they’re 10 and a Taylor Swift fan but more important when they’re 17, and at a Bernie Sanders rally). Be a safe listener. This is critical with the older grandchildren. While the toddlers’ antics and anecdotes are fun to share, the teen’s issues and queries should be guarded as treasures. Be a vault not a voice box—and they will continue to trust…and talk—sometimes sharing things with you they bring to no others. Learn their language, know their loves, plot the latitude of their life. I’ve got Toca Boca on my IPhone and Shawn the Sheep on my Firestick, but I also know what Coachella is and can decipher the cryptic captions on my cool teen granddaughter’s Instagram feed.

Tell them they’re wonderful, the brightest, most beautiful, the bestest of all (making up superlative words is perfectly acceptable). Read them bookshelves of stories, but employ bold volume and exaggerated cadence to bring them along. Change your voice, use an accent, falsetto, deep bass.  And make up stories, with drama and details where they have the lead. If you scare them, hold them close and make the ending just perfect. If you want them to laugh, break the dyke on the silly—let it flow ‘til they shake! Decorum’s forgettable, but the ridiculous is remembered forever. Tell them stories where they are the champions, the winners, the greatest around. Let them know of your life—your strengths AND your struggles, your big moments AND your bumbled mistakes. Share your faith, without preaching, persuading or projecting. Share it as an anchor in storms, an ally in lonely times, a comfort in crisis. If it’s part of you, show them, let them know you.

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Create rituals, like simple repeated activities you can almost hear them someday tell their children, “Poppa always let me make pancakes all by myself.” Keep their things in your home like you’re hoping they’ll come, and when they do, they’ll see—you’ve been expecting their visit, there’s room for them here. Buy a step stool to help them work beside you in the kitchen, reach the Oreos in your pantry, brush their teeth by themselves. Take their messes in stride, their fears as quite normal, and an occasional tantrum as a compliment—you’re family, you’re home. Hold them, hug them, give them a kiss. Tell them you love them, with eyes locked and voice sure. Be unexpected, spontaneous, serendipitous too—taking moon walks with flashlights, hearing bird songs before breakfast, sitting down on the curb with your knees on your chin, because the little boy beside you loves big garbage trucks and you’ve heard a distant roar that tells you it’s coming your way. These are the things that will set your heart’s rhythm and carve deeply your profile on the hearts of your grands. These are the things that, long after you’re gone, will make the sound of your name bring a far away gaze and a sweet settled smile to the face of the little who stood on a stool right beside you and made “the best pancakes I’ve ever, ever tasted, and I’m telling the truth.”

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Leave a Comment
  1. One of my favorite posts. Poppa has so much wisdom to share.

  2. Your father is a wise, wise man!

  3. Narsha kern says:

    So wonderful and so true! I am “Ma”!!

  4. Je l’ai imprimé! Ce billet est parfait à l’instar de l’art d’être grand-père de Victor Hugo. Merci!

  5. Danielle woloszyk says:

    My life is better for having “known” your family through this blog and other social media. I follow your stories….your struggles and your triumphs I believe I am a better person for seeing things thru your eyes. Life is so fleeting as are all the stages of life and parenthood. This blog post is in my top 3 …so full of wisdom and my hope is that I see being a grandparent in the same light…but hopefully not for 10-15 more years!! I will be sharing this with my mom and other mom friends!

  6. Alma Lokken says:

    Excellent post, Kelle. I can really see where you received your gift with words. It took my breath away!
    Alma AKA Nami to many grandchildren.( Some by birth and som by choice)

  7. I love this post so much. I never had grandparents growing up. They had passed or lived too far to get to know. I have a 1 year old daughter and a baby boy on the way and we see their grandparents multiple times during the week. It is sweet to watch this exact thing happen. I’m so thankful for grandparents in my kids’ lives. They are truly a gift.

  8. Mary Carleton says:

    Well the wonderfully wise n whimsical word crafting magic apple certainly didn’t fall far from your family tree !! I love and appreciate you and your dad Kelle!

  9. Poppa’s words describe exactly what I set out to do with my own grandchildren. I was given the name “memejo” from twin boys I considered like my own grandbabies when they couldn’t pronounce MaryJo. I asked for my own grandchildren to call by the same name. When I first heard my granddaughter say it my heart just melted.
    I too had supplies at my house for when they came. Toothbrushes, pajamas, underwear, toys and of course all their favorite foods. They would come at least 2 times a month. I also got to have them for 2 weeks once when I was on sabbatical from work and we did ‘Daycations’. I enjoyed having them at my house and taking them on adventures. Now they are 14 & 12 years old and I rarely see them. I cherish the days I was able to see them more often.

  10. Thank you for sharing your Poppa words of wisdom all wrapped up in short form. I am printing this essay to tuck in my Grandmother Remembers book. I want to stay “steady on the course” and it will be a good reminder. My first grandchild is 3 months old and I drive 2 hours once a week to take care of her so we can have time together….just the two of us. Time and memories are precious and I want to be intentional in my walk.

  11. I love every word. Kelle, you and the kids have a precious one!

  12. Donna Owens says:

    Oh my gosh…I loved this one! Although I am not a grandparent yet, I have a son who just got engaged so I’m thinking that maybe it’s not too far off. I do have a lot of friends who are fast becoming new grandparents (Not sure how we got here already!) and I’m going to pass this one along. I had to smile when your dad mentioned Oreo’s. My own great grandma (Yia Yia) in Grosse Pointe Park used to keep them in her Lazy Susan (We knew them only as “chocolate cookies.”) and after running up the steps to her house, we’d dart into that kitchen before anything else. Kisses, hugs and greetings came after the “chocolate cookies!” And…they were always there. I still remember it 57 years later. Thanks to your dad for taking “old me” back there for just a moment this morning. I met him once at Troy Beaumont and he was so nice. Your kids are lucky to have him as their Poppa and you’re lucky to still have one grandma left! My girlfriend had a grandma until she was 55 (Grandma was 101 or 102)…Hope you’re as fortunate ~

  13. Just sincerely teared up at the memory of making cooked pudding with my Granddad and his wisdom of the constant, gentle stir. He has been gone 25 years this October and missing him can still be fresh and sharp.

  14. As a new grandmother, this was such a great bit of advice. Lovely! Thank you for sharing!

  15. Such a beautiful post filled with amazing inspiration for grandparents. I especially love the one about creating rituals, something that they will remember growing up. A grandparents love has such a special place in a child’s lives. Those that embrace it whole heartedly look better for it and so do those grandchildren that are surrounded by so much of love. So much wisdom here! Thank you for sharing. Although I’m not a grandparent, I can definitely relate to the feelings as a grandchild.

  16. Tears….tears…this is beautiful.

  17. What beautiful and wise words. Thank you so much for sharing!

  18. I only have one living grandparent (I’m 34). Her and I go out every Wednesday night for our date night, and it is because we had such a great relationship when I was a kid. I love her lots. Her mind isn’t as great as it once was and she makes me crazy with her worry (about EVERYTHING!), but I will continue doing this with her until she’s no longer able. I know she cherishes the time, and I cherish my ability to give it to her.

  19. Sage advice from someone who does grandparenting so well!

  20. Of course I knew I’d get all teary eyed even before I barely started reading Poppa’s words of wisdom. He has a knack for reaching deep into the heart strings and bringing back memories of our own, touching raw nerves making our hearts burst with emotion. This was one of my all time favorite posts. How lucky you all are to have him in your life.

  21. Crying my eyes out. I’ve said good bye to two, and my great-grandmother. Grateful for how my Grandad shaped so deeply my identity as an American, even more grateful that my Grandma held my second and got to meet him before she was gone. Precious are the memories of my oldest being given rides around my Great-grandma’s living room on her walker the last time we saw her, all surprised that at 103 she could still do that.
    Now we live across the street from my parents with our three and wouldn’t change it for the world. Because of bad choices we can’t have our children around ours will only have two. And we mark the moments always ask them to come, or send them over to play and work with Grandma and Poppy.

  22. I love this so much- and I don’t even have my own children yet. Such warmth.

  23. Silje LANGGArd says:

    Poppa, your words perfectly captures the sacred bond that spans generations. Beautifully written and full of wisdom. Bravo!

  24. I love your dad. The kids really do have the best Poppa in the world. I love the way he writes, his outlook on life, the way he loves. What a beautiful soul.

  25. what a gift he is. We are lucky to have a Papa for our kiddos too. Special indeed.:)

  26. My goodness your dad has a way with words. What a gift! A gift that was passed down to you. This was a beautiful read.

  27. Charity Suzuki says:


  28. Neville West says:

    How true. Then there are the mental issues that are applied unilaterally by some parents forbidding contact between grandparents and grandchildren. It should be a crime but isn’t. We have no right to see them regardless of the mental condition which inflames our daughter’s thinking. The only grandparentalrights apply in the case of divorce. The law never imagined that grandparents coukd be so disposable. This is a common occurrance as some Melennials seem to think they don’t want to be burdened by aging parents so cut them off.
    It is our greatest sadness that our daughter so chooses to curse her children and us her parents in this way. What does she tell them about why she refuses to let us see them?
    At this stage we dont wish to see our daughter at all but had delightfilled years with the children before this mental break.

    We have sought legal counsel and were told any action seeking access could not be guaranteed and would likely run $60-$100,000. Sad sad sad.

  29. Possibly my favorite post ever…have read it 4 or 5 times today and choke up every time ….that ending about the far away gaze oh my goodness! What a treasure you are Poppa!

  30. How lucky you and your kids are to have such a dad/grandfather!

  31. Stephanie says:

    Love this
    Such wise words
    I have such awesome memories of my grandparents
    I aspire to one day be as amazing a grandparent as your dad is to his grandchildren

  32. Jennifer cole says:

    As a “Marmie” of one three year old, I am still navigating these wonderful new waters. This article is brilliant.

  33. I love this post… and it also made me very sad. My children don’t have a single grand-parent who does these things in their lives, despite having 3 living grand-parents. The only 2 aunts who live in the same country as my children are both very self-obsessed women who only want to talk about themselves, and ignore their niece and nephews. And as much as my husband and I try to be the best parents we can be, we cannot make up for the loving extended family that our children don’t have. Poppa, you are an inspiration as I look into the future at my grand-parenting. Thank you for giving us a great example to emulate, in the midst of the many, MANY examples we are surrounded by, of how not to do it!

  34. This has been one of my most favorite posts and I’ve been a loyal reader for many years now. With a tear of joy ❤️

  35. Loved what Poppa wrote. His grand kids will have wonderful memories of things they’ve done together.

    I started keeping a journal when our granddaughters were born, they are now 14 & 16 and it’s amazing the things you forget. I hope when they are older they enjoy reading the many things we did together that I wrote about.

    We still make a lunch, they date the brown handle bag we use, and we go to a parking lot near the airport. They write down how many jets take off/land! And grandma tries to get truck drivers on the road to toot the air horn!

    When they were little and stayed overnight, at bedtime, I would ask them for a person, place and thing. Then I’d make up a story using what they told me, that was pretty funny. I love to be silly and make them laugh!!
    Gma O

  36. I’m not often compelled to leave comments on blogs or even on Instagram accounts I follow (mostly cause I feel weird) but this one struck a cord. My dad’s parents recognized what your father has— they always made the effort with us, to connect with us no matter what age we were. I always felt lucky being the oldest— because in a greedy way, it meant I would always have the most time with my grandparents.

    When my cousins and I are together, we always talk about them and how lucky we were that despite us all living far away from our grandparents, they always worked hard to make memories with us during our summer visits. I have books they made me for summers I spent with them, shadow boxes with family heirlooms, and countless countless stories of where our family came from.
    I’m grateful that despite the fact that I can never not cry when seeing their photos or talking about them, that I always felt their love. Your children will have those same kinds of feelings— having amazing grandparents is such a blessing.

  37. Meghan Schwanke says:

    You and your children are so fortunate! My children grieve not only for the loss of their Dad almost five years ago, but also for the loss of these lovely moments watching him being Grandpa. Your father is so sweet in his philosophy of grandparenting. I will include his philosophy as “Mahki” to my grandchildren.

  38. C’est exactement ça l’art d’être grand -parent !
    Merci pour ces paroles poétiques, drôles et émouvantes.

  39. This is one fine man.

  40. The kids are so lucky to have their “Poppa”. Having a grandparent is so fun since they have lots of stories to tell.

  41. I learn so much from your dear Daddy.

  42. Marjorie Dineen says:

    Kelle, this is such a beautiful posting your father made. It really touched my heart and thank you for sharing it. I see where you got your gift of words which indeed a gift.

  43. Beautiful post that pulls on my heart strings. Growing up, my sister and I spent so much time with my grandparents on both sides and I continue to look back on all those wonderful memories. I feel like one of the fortunate ones to be able to have that closeness with them. Here I am getting misty eyed just writing this. Not tears of sadness, but tears of joy and gratitude. Nothing beats the love of a grandparent.

  44. This was so touching….my 1st, and only grandchild thus far, just turned 3 and I am happy to say I am doing well in my new role as “Grandma” using your dad’s words as my reference! Lovely inspiration to continue in this way. His words brought tears to my eyes, very sweet and special. Thank you.

  45. This is just beautiful. I’m in tears. The words here are so wonderfully crafted: “some love that will warm when I can no longer hold them close”…I want to hold on to this line especially.

    This is the kind of grandparent that I think my Mom would have been had she lived to meet my children. I often imagine how they would be spending time together now if she was here.

    Thank you for these lovely, important words.

  46. love love love this! Especially this line: Decorum’s forgettable, but the ridiculous is remembered forever.
    so true!

  47. N. Hoines says:

    Great advice, not only for grandparents, but also for parents. Sometimes, it’s easy to get focused on the to-do list and forget to take the time to enjoy them and have fun. Thank you for this post!!

  48. Suzi goetz says:

    That was beautiful❤️❤️

  49. These precious, sage words of wisdom and love, read like smooth velvety chocolate. A true teacher, just by living a fine example of his own beliefs and values. Thank you for being generous of heart Kelle, in sharing this gem with us. X

  50. Such wise, moving and heartfelt words! That is one amazing Poppa right there!

  51. Joanna Downey says:

    A beautiful & profound message. I had wonderful grandparents & my relationship with my maternal grandmother was especially close. I’m now Granny Jo to a joy-filled pair with another bouncing bean expected in late spring & your father’s words: ‘To know them, really know them, and to let them know you—therein is the precious and powerful passing of the baton, firmly in the hands of the tomorrow you cannot enter, except through the hearts of your grandchildren’ sum up everything I feel about this privileged role.

  52. This was so beautiful it brought tears to my eyes. One of the many grateful surprises of being a new mom is seeing how my boy and my parents bond. My mom is taking a cooking class because he wants my son to love her food the most (she cooks darn good already!), my dad can be having the worst day of his life and still lights up when he sees him and sets out to play with him and goes for a walk, even my own grandma at her 86 years old can’t walk two blocks before complaining of pains but will hold him at 18 months old and walk around without complaints. It is truly magical.

  53. My husband and I are excitedly expecting our first grandchild and this post is a training manual! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU……

  54. This has me in tears… what beautiful words! I didn’t grow up with grandparents nearby, so seeing the way my own parents intentionally grandparent my son and their other grandchildren is incredibly dear to me. It’s inspiring, too, to one day BE that kind of grandparent to my own grandchildren. Thank you so much for sharing!

    • I also have to add that seeing my mom grandparent in a way she NEVER parented is hilarious and endearing… I remember watching her hand my toddler niece a giant hunk of chocolate cake to hold and eat (and make a huge mess of) as she toddled around the house. This is something that my mom as a parent would have never in a million years done! The relationship between a grandparent and a grandchild is truly unique.

  55. Holy tears! Thank you for sharing your heart!

  56. My eyes fill with tears every time I’ve returned to read this. My granddaddy was just the best…and, even though it has been 14 years since I’ve been able to hug him, breathe in his scent, or hear his voice, he shows me all the time that he is still with me. What a treasure your dad is, Kelle. Truly. It’s comforting to know good Poppa’s are out there making this world a better place.

  57. Linda P Walker says:

    so very TRUE!! And worth re-reading to remember how privileged we are to share our lives with our Grandchildren.

  58. This is so beautifully written and so very meaningful for me. I just lost my mom last week, and feel so adrift. But what an amazing mom, grandmom, and great-grandmom she was. Truly, a born nurturer, and always so engaged in life and being there for all of us. My first grandson, born in January, lives far away at the moment, but I hope to live nearby him very soon, and this post is my gentle, beautiful reminder that I have much yet to look forward to. If I can leave him with even a fraction of the legacy my mom has left behind, I will be very happy. Thank you for this!

  59. Just beautiful. Thanks for sharing Poppa. I adore being a mum, and I hope and pray that one day I will be a Gran.

  60. BAWLED through this. What a wonderful, wonderful Poppa. And makes me treasure my daughter’s relationship with her grandparents even more. Thank you for this post <3

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