(This article originally appeared in Modiinfo.)
Your parents are Anglo (American, or British, or South African – or insert-your-English-speaking-country-here).
You are Anglo (although you may feel it blurring the longer you live in Israel).
They’re not quite Anglo. They’re also not 100% Israeli (as evidenced by Israeli strangers who comment on my four-year-old’s cute American accent, and American strangers who comment on said four-year-old’s cute Israeli accent), but they are way more Israeli than your parents will ever be.
And therein lies the rub for an Anglo oleh who wishes for a strong, loving bond between their children and their parents.
Do these phrases sound familiar?
“I can’t understand what he’s saying!”
“Where are his manners?”
“Aren’t you teaching him English?”
There are no two ways about it. We olim ARE raising our children in a different culture than the one in which we were raised. Our children are having very different experiences – socially, emotionally and linguistically – than we did.
As parents, in daily contact with our children, we do gain an understanding of their experiences – and we develop common language (whether it’s English, Hebrew or, more likely, something in between… welcome to Hebrish) to discuss and share those experiences.
The challenge is to provide opportunities for your parents to develop common experiences and language with your children.
It’s a challenge – but a surmountable one. Here are some ideas:
Building relationships long-distance
Ask your children questions about themselves and compile the answers for their grandparents, so the grandparents can have a relatable starting point.
Ask your kids questions that pertain to their everyday lives, to their likes and dislikes:
- What’s your favorite food? Which food do you HATE?
- What do you like best about school/gan?
- What do you NOT like about school/gan?
- Who is your best friend?
- What is your favorite toy to play with?
- What holiday do you like best – and why?
Write them all up – either per child, or per question – add some cute pictures, and send it off to the grandparents. Your parent will get to appreciate who her grandchild is and what drives him.
Even more important, when your parent speaks to her grandchild, she’ll be able to ask him questions and talk to him about the things he enjoys and is familiar with – because she has prior knowledge of what that is. You are giving them a common frame of reference and enabling conversation.
Do activities together on video chat
Video chatting is often used to facilitate talking and bonding between long-distance family members. But it works the best when both parties are comfortable talking and bonding through language – which isn’t always the case for your English-only (or English-mainly) speaking grandparent and your not-so-comfortable-in-English-especially-if-you-can’t-use-any-Hebrew child.
Try these activities that are based on bonding through action and experience. And thanks to the wonder of technology in the 21st century – you can actually share the experience even if you’re thousands of miles away.
Either you or your parent can pick a project to do. If your parent can pick, that’s the best for involvement, but if people are not so artsy/craftsy, they may not feel comfortable and will prefer that you do it. Send out a list of supplies needed so both parties can purchase and have the supplies ready ahead of time.
Do the project at the same time over video chat. (Again, if the grandparent can be the primary one directing and instructing, that’s ideal. But even if your involvement is needed, it’s still a great sharing experience.)
This is similar to the arts-and-crafts project, but often even more experiential, and it can be a fantastic platform for the grandparent to share family ideas and traditions.
The grandparent should pick a recipe she’d like to make with her grandchild. Family holiday recipes (i.e. Grandma’s stuffed cabbage or mandelbroit) are great for this kind of thing. She sends out a list of ingredients and needed supplies.
At the appointed time, have all your supplies ready, and set up your chosen device with webcam in the kitchen. Make the recipe together, step-by-step.
Even if you have to take a break for an hour – don’t forget to taste it together over video!
Encourage your grandparent to tell stories about when he was young (or about YOU as a child!)
As a child, wasn’t this your favorite thing to ask of your grandparents? To tell stories about themselves, or about your parents – or the all-time-favorite: the story of when you were born and they came to see you for the first time and you were so small…
People love stories – especially when the story has a personal connection to them. Encourage your parent to tell his grandchild personal stories – and encourage your child to ask his grandparent!
Building relationships in person
The above ideas can be used for any grandparent-grandchild relationship, whether they live around the world or around the corner. But if your children are fortunate enough to have their grandparents living close by – or during the times they come to visit – you have even more opportunities for building closeness.
Reading books together
Reading books not only taps into the love of stories mentioned above, and gives grandparents and grandchildren a chance to sit next to each other and share a cozy experience – but as a side benefit, it can also improve the grandchild’s English. The more his English abilities improve, the easier it will be to communicate with his grandparents on a verbal level.
If your parent is active, outdoor games and sports are fantastic for bonding. If not (or if it’s a rainy day), try board games or card games. Suggest games that are age appropriate (and especially ones that your child really likes).
Puzzles range from the physical (jigsaw puzzles) to the mental (logic puzzles like these). Find out which type your child and his grandparent would enjoy working on together and what the right level is for your child (this needs to be mutually enjoyable, otherwise it won’t be a positive bonding experience).
Cooking and art projects
Now you can do these in person – not just over video – enhancing the experience immeasurably. When the grandparent’s hands can guide the grandchild’s, that is truly (literally!) a hands-on bonding experience.
Trips are a fantastic way to have a mutually enjoyable experience together. Here are some ideas:
The last (bowling) can be great if there’s a bowling alley near you (not always easy to find in Israel), because it’s an example of something from American leisure culture. Plus your Israeli children will likely call it “bowel-ing” which makes for a great laugh. Taking your child to the bowling alley enables the grandparent to share that aspect of American culture with his grandchild. Now they have another common point of reference, and can talk about the experience afterwards (“Remember when we went bowel-ing?”)
Inviting grandparents to child’s sports games
The language of sports usually reaches across cultures (unless your child has taken up some little-known sport that no one has ever heard of in the Western world).
Team sports are also a source of pride and excitement to your child, and it certainly creates bonds when she shares those moments with his grandparent.
Going to a park
This is a simple one – an oldie but a goodie. Thankfully, there are an abundance of parks and playgrounds across cities and towns in Israel. It’s fun for a grandparent to take her grandchild to play on the equipment and see what the child can do.
In addition to the equipment, there are plenty of other mutually fun activities one can bring to a park, like:
- Chalk: sit down on the pavement and color
- Sports equipment: toss a ball or frisbee around
- Bubbles: what child doesn’t like blowing, or popping – or just watching – floating soap bubbles? This one is even good for the toddlers.
The language of play
While your child and your parent may have grown up in different cultures – and may even have difficulty communicating verbally – there are so many other ways to communicate, share experiences and create beautiful bonds and lasting relationships.
Try one and see!