Pardon me while I brag a bit about my grandchildren. Why, they’re the cutest, smartest, most adorable kids! Did I mention they’re especially talented? And clever?

And have I told you how our youngest grandson can count from one to 10 in six different languages? He’s only four. He started learning this when . . .

Oh, I’ve told this story before? Sorry.

Spoiled rotten or spoiled right?

Grandchildren. They’re one of life’s greatest joys. Who can articulate that instant heart tug – that deep love and pride – the sheer wonder that settles in when we hold our first grandchild?

Perhaps it’s because with age comes wisdom. As grandparents, we appreciate how quickly time speeds by, how rapidly those little minds and bodies grow, and how we must savour each moment. We also see the dangers in a sin-filled world. Our immediate response is to protect, love and spoil.

Did I say SPOIL? Yes, indeed. The urge to spoil grandkids is as natural as breathing. We can’t seem to help ourselves.

Spoiled rotten. It’s not pretty if by spoiled we refer to overindulging with expensive gifts, giving in to every whim or disregarding parents’ child-rearing rules. Yet perhaps you’ll agree with me that there is a place for spoiling, in the sense of loving unconditionally. I call this spoiling right.

My husband, Dan, and I cherish our bouquet of 12 grandkids blossoming toward their full beauty: one given up for adoption, and one adopted in, two with special needs and several growing together in a blended family. Our bouquet is made up of outgoing and introverted, right-brained and left-brained, athletic and unathletic, messy and neat. Every grandchild is unique. Each deeply loved.

We want to spoil them right.

Spoiler tips

Spend time instead of money. Early on, I fell into the trap of overindulgence. Every outfit and toy I spotted in stores cried, "Buy me!" So, I often arrived at a grandchild’s door laden with garments or gadgets.

As years passed, I realized this error when hugs were met with, "What’d you bring me, Grandma?" Were Dan and I building the value of relationship or the love of stuff? Could we undo that gift expectation and still grow love? Yes, we could and we did. Here’s how:

  • Instead of gifts, we planned activities – a visit to the zoo, trip to McDonald’s, camping or fishing.
  • We called frequently, sent no-occasion greeting cards and attended school events. We sought every means to demonstrate personal interest.

Observe the ground rules. Grandparents must remember that these little ones are not ours to raise. Unsolicited parenting advice is a surefire way to cause friction. Ask about boundaries and then honour them. If parents don’t want their child eating handfuls of sweets, receiving every begged-for toy or watching certain TV programs, then follow those rules. Undermining parents’ child-rearing design is detrimental and sends conflicting messages to grandchildren.

Love lavishly. "I love you" never grows old. Unconditional love brings precious rewards; pictures and drawings on our refrigerator door boast of reciprocated love. Handwritten letters and hugs tell the rest.

Love readily forgives mess-ups. Love lavishes praise and compliments, hugs and kisses. Love looks ahead to the end result and sometimes says no. Above all, love enjoys life and says grandparents are fun!

A little goes a long way

OK, as grandparents we’re allowed to spoil, just a bit. The occasional triple scoop of ice cream or spur-of-the-moment shopping spree can make a day whimsical and memorable. A few dollars in a card on Groundhog Day or at the end of the school year keeps those I-love-you moments fresh. Just remember to be creative as you spoil them right.

Karilee Hayden lived with her husband, Dan, in Orlando, Florida, at the time of publication.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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