Many of us recall comedian Bill Cosby's famous routine about the grandparent-grandchild relationship. Once his father became a grandfather, the stern disciplinarian that lived so vividly in Cosby's memory was replaced by someone he didn't recognize: a pushover who spoiled Cosby's children rotten.
While spoiling with gifts, play time, treats, forgotten rules and extended bedtimes is a traditional part of grandparenting, the relationship - especially when twins are involved - has the potential to evolve into much more, both emotionally and practically.
On a practical level, grandparents of twins can provide everything from babysitting to twin-toting duties. "An extra pair of hands for me is the most important thing," says a Dublin, Ohio mother of 2-year-old fraternal twins. "With twins, the length of time you hold each of them is shorter, so any opportunity to have someone love and cradle my babies is appreciated."
Grandparents who are available and willing to baby-sit (some need extra encouragement and guidance because it's been a while since they raised their kids) can provide relief to over-stressed parents who are juggling twins, and perhaps other singleton siblings. Jenny Everhart, mother of 3-year-old twins Benjamin and Cody, says one of the most-appreciated things her mother does is baby-sit once a week. It gives Everhart - whose husband works long hours - a much-needed break to run errands or just take a breather.
Sometimes it's one twin who needs a breather from the other, or another sibling who needs a break from the twins. Time spent alone with a grandparent - where the child is the sole focus of the grandparent's time and attention - can work emotional wonders for children who must always share their parents.
Grandparents also can provide the type of unconditional love that is unencumbered by having to adhere to parental rules.
Developing this grandparent-grandchild bond can be a challenge in today's transient society. It's no longer common to find several generations of a family living within shouting distance. These days, grandparents may not even be within driving distance of their grandchildren, thus ruling out regular face-to-face bonding time. Also, many grandparents still work and don't have an excess of free time. This is the case with the parents of the Dublin, Ohio mother. "It's a challenge to keep in touch and to have extended stays so they can get to know each other," she says.
Fortunately, there's e-mail, which can be used to communicate frequently (and cheaply). Sharing photos of grandchildren by "snail mail" is still a popular - though less high-tech - way to help grandparents keep track of children's development. Some parents prefer to scan the photos and send them attached to e-mails.
The reverse works, as well: To keep her twin boys connected to her father, who lives several states away, Everhart keeps a photo album filled with his pictures.
Videos are another popular way to give far-away grandparents a peek into the daily lives of their grandchildren. And, phone calls and drawings and crafts made by the children also are appreciated by most grandparents.
For those times - whether frequent or few and far between - when grandparents have their grandchildren alone, experts and experienced mothers of twins recommend establishing some ground rules, which are based on mutual respect.
Parents should be clear with grandparents about child-care rules - such as diet and bed time - that are important to them.
But, be forgiving if the grandparents "slip" with the rules from time to time. After all, part of the fun of grandparenting is being able to bend the rules a little.
Remember that taking care of twins can be a little overwhelming for some grandparents. Initially expose the grandparents to the twins in short time increments, perhaps leaving them with only one at a time at first.
Remember that not all grandparents are willing - or able - to baby-sit. Respect their wishes.
Both Everhart and the Dublin mother agree that whether grandparents live nearby or far away, parents should remember to appreciate whatever practical help they are willing to give and even the smallest amounts of time they can spend with their grandchildren.
That's the power of this special bond: even if grandparents and their grandchildren can't be together physically all the time, the emotional nourishment the children receive is ongoing. And, the bond also can help strengthen relationships between all three generations.