Grandpa, Draw Me the Future

An animation producer illustrates the importance of the grandparent-grandchild bond.

“The presence of a grandparent confirms that parents were, indeed, little once, too, and that people who are little can grow to be big, can become parents and one day even have grandchildren of their own. So often we think of grandparents as belonging to the past; but in this important way, grandparents, for young children, belong to the future.”
—Fred Rogers, a.k.a. Mister Roger
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As someone who creates TV shows for children, I’m delighted to begin with this quote from one of the masters of children’s television. And as a grandfather, I’m thrilled to think that I am offering my grandchildren a vision of the future. Like most parents and grandparents, I tended to believe that it was the young ones who had a lock on the future. So it’s gratifying to realize that, in addition to supplying links to their past, we older folk can also provide a few clues to the possibilities that lie ahead.

Perhaps I think about these things more than most people. That’s partly because my wife, Liz, and I produce an animated children’s show that has at its heart the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Each episode of Jakers! The Adventures of Piggley Winks begins and ends with “Grandpa Piggley,” an Irish-born pig now living with his daughter and grandchildren in an American city. Grandpa Piggley loves to tell the youngsters stories of his childhood escapades on an Irish farm— and to turn these tales into entertaining lessons in life for his young “grandpigs.”

They say the apple does not fall far from the tree: I myself am a Welsh granddad with five grandchildren— Jacob, age 5 ½; Oliver, 2 ½; Chloe, 2 ½; Charlie, 5; and Lilly, 7 months— who tells them stories about our farm in the “old country.” Except for Lilly, the grandkids have now experienced living on the farm, tending the cattle, rearing the pet lambs and watching the cows being milked— a far cry from living in urban Los Angeles!

And as National Grandparent’s Day approaches— it’s on September 11 this year— I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the ways in which parents can help facilitate that special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. Here are a few of the tips I offer parents on bringing the two generations together:

  • Create a space where stories can be told. Liz and I can relate to Grandpa Piggley. We both grew up in Wales, and we love to tell our own grandchildren tales of our growing-up years. But we also love to hear the kids’ stories of their daily adventures (believe me, no one tells a story quite like an excited 5 year old). These are extraordinary opportunities for both sides to connect, to appreciate the shared family heritage, to value each other’s life experiences. Parents, you can help make this happen by creating a space— either a physical space or a space of time— where the stories are told. Set up weekly “dates,” phone calls or e-mail exchanges between grandparents and grandchildren. Bring out photographs for all to see. And allow yourself to come in for a little ribbing: Children love to hear stories of when their parents were little, and all the naughty things they did— and grandparents are the repository of all that priceless knowledge.
  • Invite the grandparents to share their gifts— not just their presents. Not that kids don’t love it when Grandma and Grandpa show up with armloads of goodies, but there are even more valuable gifts that your parents can offer your children. Involvement, for one thing. Is your mother good at math? Perhaps she could tutor your child in the multiplication tables. Is your Dad handy with cars? Maybe he could teach your kids about engines. I help coach my grandson’s soccer team— which at my age sometimes feels more like herding cats! But I love it, and I think it’s adding years to my life being around all those enthusiastic, energetic little people. And I have to admit: I love that my grandson thinks I’m cool for doing it!
  • Show the kids how the other generation lives. You’ve brought your parents into your kids’ lives— now let your kids see what their grandparents do all day. With grandparents these days ranging in age from 50ish to 100ish, there are lots of working Grandmas and Grandpas out there. And even retirement ain’t what it used to be with volunteer work, part-time jobs and exotic hobbies filling the hours. Take your kids to watch your parents at work, whether it’s in an office, a shop, an artist’s studio or the garden at home. Liz and I love nothing better than to have our grandkids come visit us at the animation studio. (Okay, it’s true— we do kind of have the ideal job as far as visiting grandchildren are concerned!) The kids love seeing shows like Jakers! come to life— and they provide us with our best focus groups. I think it’s so important for children to see that parents and grandparents can be and do anything— and that kids can, too. There’s that vision of the future again!
  • Know when to step aside. Liz and I love our children dearly, but sometimes we have to tell them to just go away. Not for any bad reasons— just because we want some unfettered one-on-one time with our grandchildren. Parents, you’re wonderful to help facilitate these get-togethers and involvement opportunities. Now take a break, go shopping, hang up your phone extension and just let the grandparents and grandchildren do their thing. It’s the only way for an honest and fulfilling relationship to grow. (And remember, after hyping them up with sugar and lots of playtime, we grandparents can always send them home to you!)

National Grandparents Day Is On September 11!