Three ways to strengthen the bond with your grandkids

Published on September 07, 2021

It’s been a few years, but I (Shellie) well remember my first bout of SAG. And no, I’m not referring to body parts, although I’ve seen my fair share of drooping over the years. Every morning I notice that yet another part of my body seems to be giving up the good fight against gravity to party with Smokey the Bear—“Stop, drop, and roll, y’all!” That’s sag, but it’s not the SAG I’m talking about here. 

I’m referring to a condition I like to call “Separation Anxiety Grandma.” You won’t find it in the medical journals because I identified it and named it myself. But if you haven’t experienced SAG, it’s coming. Brace yourselves—growth happens. 

Growing pains

My first SAG moment happened one morning at church. I spotted my granddaughter, Emerson, as soon as I arrived. She was running around with a group of friends. 

Emerson was probably around eight or nine. I’d been on the road, traveling and speaking, and I was missing all of my grands something fierce, which may explain why I did what I did, but I don’t suppose it will excuse it. 

Although it had been a long time since Emerson was small enough to ride my hip, my grandma enthusiasm got the best of me. I literally grabbed her up in a big old bear hug, lifted her feet off the ground, and held her (although I didn’t actually sit her on my hip). 

I began to second guess the public liftoff even as I was squeezing her to pieces. I put Emerson down with one final smooch and headed to find her younger siblings. 

The youngest one was definitely still a hip child. Emerson and I were chatting later that day when I brought up my earlier embrace. I asked if I’d embarrassed her by picking her up in front of her friends. 

She assured me that she hadn’t been embarrassed. But the sweet little thing was grinning broadly as she said it, and she has been raised with impeccable manners. 

Translation: I wasn’t totally convinced that she wasn’t trying to spare my feelings. I told her I realized she was growing up, and I would understand if she didn’t like me hugging and kissing on her in front of her friends. 

“You can tell me if we’re there,” I said. “Okay,” Emerson said. And then she added graciously, “But I think we have a little more time.” Oh, yes, I did melt. 

We did have some more time, but soon enough the clock expired on public displays of affection. Such is life. 

Time marches on

These ever-changing seasons aren’t surprising to grandmothers. 

We know all too well how quickly time marches on. After all, this happened with our kids. 

Who doesn’t remember sending her baby off to school with tears in her eyes? That was hard enough, but in no time those first-graders broke our hearts yet again when they moved on to middle school, and the middle schoolers made us weep when they hit high school. 

Then came college, weddings, and baby news. Clearly, we have experience here. And yet, somehow, seeing the grandchildren’s wings unfurling and testing the wind can be every bit as painful, if not more so, to our adoring grandma souls as it was on the first go-around. 

All is not lost here, friends. There are concrete ways to not only leave the door open to our relationships with our grands but also strengthen those bonds for the years ahead! Let’s look at them together. 

3 ways to strengthen the bonds

1. Heed their signals without drama. 

Around the same time the clock was expiring on public displays of affection with Emerson Ann, I had a similar moment with our oldest grandson. 

I was in Houston visiting our daughter’s family and loving the Grand Boys of Texas, as I affectionately refer to those grandsons, when ten-year-old Grant gently pulled his hand from mine as we neared the front door of his school. 

Gotcha. Message given and received. 

I gave Grant a big smile and continued on as if nothing had happened. If our goal is an expanding relationship with our maturing grands, it’s important that we recognize the signs and adjust without making them feel guilty about their growing independence. 

It’s hard enough for them to understand their new self-consciousness. They can’t explain why they’re suddenly uncomfortable holding our hands, and they’ll appreciate the game-changing grandmas who don’t ask them to try. 

No drama, Grandma. That should be our mantra. 

2. Support them by encouraging their personal boundaries. 

It’s critically important for our grandchildren to be bold and assertive when it comes to recognizing their right to create personal boundaries for themselves. Let’s be careful not to undermine their instincts. 

Our goal is for them to be confident and assertive enough to protect themselves from those with harmful intentions, regardless of whether the danger comes from within their circles of family and friends or from without. Obviously, none of us wants them to fall prey to someone who could pressure them to lower their defenses out of a misguided respect for authority, so let’s be clear and consistent with our message. 

We need to recognize the responsibility we have in encouraging their personal space by respecting the boundaries where they draw them! 

When we make our grands feel guilty about not being affectionate enough, even toward their adoring grandparents, we invite nuance into their immature decision making. Nothing is worth the risk of our grands getting mixed signals in an area that should be black-and white. 

There are plenty of ways to show our grands we love them that don’t include public displays of affection. Kids can also go through seasons in which they figure out what personal and private space mean. 

A while back, one of my granddaughters decided she wasn’t a hugger! Carlisle was barely nine years old when I noticed that she was accepting my hug but not necessarily returning it, so I asked her about it. Carlisle announced with great confidence that she just didn’t like hugging people anymore. 

She added that she wasn’t hugging her other grandmother either. I wanted to make a big deal of it because I’m without question an affectionate, hugging type of person. I’ll be honest—it was hard to hold back. 

But I challenged myself not to push it, and I continued interacting with Carlisle the way I did the other grands, sans all the hugging. I can’t tell you what changed or why, but that season passed. 

These days, Carlisle is the most affectionate of all the grands. I believe she’s a hugger today because she discovered she could set boundaries and the family would respect them. She’s in charge of the hugging, so to speak, and not at the mercy of it. 

Moral? We’ll stay in our grands’ good graces by respecting their personal spaces. 

3. Draw encouragement from our own childhood experiences. 

You and I didn’t stop loving our grandparents when it became awkward to sit in their laps. Not wanting physical affection didn’t have anything to do with how much we still loved them. 

Growing up doesn’t mean our grands have to outgrow us, either. Our grandchildren are looking toward the future with eager eyes. Their worlds are beginning to open up, and they’re excited about what they may find on the road ahead. 

Let’s look with them and not hold them back just because we’ve found a comfortable place to sit down and quit growing. 

A heart of wisdom

It’s a privilege to experience life with our grands, offering them the valuable perspective that comes with age. Having more time with them is a win for everyone as long as we resist the idea that they’re growing away from us and embrace the truth that we can keep growing together. 

The Bible teaches us that we can ask God to help us number our days so we can have a heart of wisdom (Psalm 90:12). 

I believe one of the ways we do that is by actively looking for something in every season of life that we can embrace. By not clinging to the past, we give those around us the gift of being present! 


Taken from Rocking It Grand by Chrys Howard and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson. Copyright © 2021. Used by permission of Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.


Looking for other related resources?

Four truths about childhood for grandparents to embrace

Unexpected and blessed: Surprises in Scripture and life

Podcast: Rocking it Grand

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Chrys Howard and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Chrys Howard, the mother of Duck Dynasty’s, Korie Robertson, holds a degree in elementary education and spent ten years teaching children with learning differences. After teaching, she joined their family owned business, Howard Publishing, where she served as senior editor and Creative Director for twelve years.

Chrys, President and Founder of It’s a Mom Thing Ministries, hosted a weekly radio show and website by the same name for ten years. She has authored fourteen books, including the best-selling Hugs for Daughters and Motivationals for Moms, with over 1,000,000 books in print and has co-written two cookbooks and two children’s books with Kay Robertson as well as Strong and Kind and Duck Commander Devotionals for Kids with her daughter, Korie Robertson. Her most current book, Rockstar Grandparent, released in March 2019. Her lifestyle site, Rocking It Grand, with Shellie Tomlinson challenges grandparents to be all they can be to the next generation. Chrys is married to John Howard, has three grown children, fourteen grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. They live in West Monroe, LA.

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson is an author, speaker, Bible study teacher and podcast host known for saying “Life is hard when it’s good, and it’s always better when you’re laughing.” Shellie’s best-selling humor books Suck Your Stomach In and Put Some Color On and Sue Ellen’s Girl Ain’t Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy! led Jeff Foxworthy to call her work, “Laugh out loud funny!” Her non-fiction titles, Heart Wide Open and Finding Deep and Wide are helping countless believers experience a deeper relationship with Christ, and her cookbook Hungry is a Mighty Fine Sauce with its companion devotional Devotions for the Hungry Heart feeds her readers bodies and souls!

Shellie and her farming husband, Phil, live in Lake Providence, Louisiana. They have two married children and six grandchildren. With the help of those grands, Shellie spends her summers trying to wear out a pontoon boat on the lake behind their home, and her winters dreaming of warmer days. According to her beloved labs, Beaux and Hank, Shellie is not spending enough time scratching doggie ears, but she is always trying to do better in that department.

Read more about Chrys Howard and Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

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