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Understanding your role and responsibility as a grandparent

Mar 5, 2012, 9 a.m.

Being a grandparent is one of the most rewarding experiences you can have. As a grandparent, you get the best of both worlds: All the fun of bonding with a child and re-discovering the world through her eyes -- without the diaper duty, sleepless nights and temper tantrums.

When you first become a grandparent, it helps to set some boundaries both with your grandchildren and your own children. If you live close by, be clear about how often you can babysit or whether you wish to be included in school functions. Consistency is important for children, so talk to the parents about what rules they wish to enforce. Watch out for these pitfalls:

Overindulging or buying affection -- It's tempting to shower grandkids with gifts, especially if you live far away. Don't let material objects replace special experiences, like a trip to the zoo or playing games.

Being the parent -- For better or worse, your parenting days are now behind you! Unless there's a serious issue (like abuse or neglect), respect your children's parenting choices.

Ignoring boundaries -- Don't give your grandkids candy and junk food, ignore bedtimes or allow unlimited TV time -- unless this is explicitly okay with their parents.

As a grandparent, your greatest responsibility is to build a special and meaningful relationship with your grandchild. Unfortunately, many grandparents live hours away or even halfway across the country. When there's geographic distance between families, it's easy to feel like your grandparent responsibilities boil down to sending an annual birthday card with money. It doesn't have to be this way!

From long-distance cheerleader to teacher, there are many roles of a grandparent that you can play for your grandchild. Here's how to make the most of every moment from near and far:

Teach wisdom -- don't lecture. There's a fine line between helping your grandchild learn and grow, and simply lecturing. With your grandkids, pass down your values by modeling them, whether it's volunteering together in a homeless shelter or showing respect for our veterans.

Share your memories. It's easy to end up with photos, mementos and other trinkets stashed away in a few boxes. But if you keep them here, your grandchildren will miss out on a valuable opportunity to connect and appreciate your life. Young children love looking at photos of parents and grandparents when they were younger -- "Hey! They look just like us!" Use this opportunity to share family stories and pass on your history. A strong family identity helps young children develop a strong sense of self. Help your grandkids grow strong roots so they have the confidence to branch out and explore the world.

Make technology work for you. If your grandkids live far away, you may not be able to see each other as much as you'd both like. But you can still be there for all the big (and small) moments. Schedule a weekly Skype or FaceTime chat. It's fun to see each other's faces when you talk, and your grandkids can show off that new picture they colored or an A+ assignment from school.

Send letters. In the age of email and Facebook, don't underestimate the value of handwritten letters. Young children love receiving mail, especially since it's such a rare occurrence. Share stories from your own childhood, like playing games in the neighborhood, working at a summer job, or your first day of school. When your grandkids are grown, these are the letters they'll cherish.

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