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Ensuring enjoyable grandparent visits as children grow older

In these days of scattered families (and mine is one of them), annual visits from grandparents may last for a few days, a week, or even a month at a time. This year, these visits were different for us, because the children have grown and their interests have changed -- and I now work full time.

I talked with other working mothers in the same situation. They told how that little girl who once liked to climb on Grandma's lap and have her read a story now wants only to roller-skate up and down the sidewalk with playmates. The boy who last year liked to fish with Grandpa now spends all his time in a tree fort next door. The older girl who liked to play tennis with Grandma has a summer job at a fast-food restaurant. And the boy who went hiking with Grandpa has his own car and is taking summer classes at the local college.

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To make these visits enjoyable for everyone, my friends suggested:

* Alert the grandparents to any changes they should expect.

* Discuss the visit in advance with the children. Enlist their understanding and support, so they can contribute toward making the visit a happy one.

I was pleased with the way my children responded. They adore all their grandparents but admitted it would be all too easy to spend time with friends. Each wrote in advance, asking their grandparents to do special things with them. Playtime became secondary. I heard Autumn, 7, say to a friend on the phone: ''I want you to come over and meet my Grandma. She's neat.''

It reminded me of a time when I was a teen-ager and my grandmother dropped in one evening. My teen friends came to get me, because we were going to do something together. I explained that I had a special visitor and brought them in to meet her. They all immediately sat down, and we talked the evening away. My grandmother reminded me many times afterward what a pleasant evening it had been.

For myself, I was concerned that our life style had become very casual during the past year, since I have been working. Meals are not always on time. The house is not always picked up. Grandparents, I know, lead more ordered lives. I confided my concern and the grandparents laughed. ''We were young once,'' they said in effect, ''and we know how it is.'' My mother offered to do the laundry. I accepted -- fast.

Grandparents, I learned, are often very willing to help during their visits but are afraid that doing so might be interpreted as ''interfering.'' Discussion resolved this problem. I certainly wasn't going to have them work during the entire visit, but their helpfulness was most welcome.

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Other things came out of the discussion. One grandmother, newly retired, had been used to treating us at a fine restaurant and buying books and treats for the children. Now, she explained, this wasn't possible. We asked if she would cook us our favorite meal one evening instead. She was delighted. And trips to the local library with the children helped her realize it was the sharing of good reading material that mattered, not the purchase of books.

We also made an effort to schedule meals with greater regularity during her visit. And we set Saturdays aside for all of us to go on a daylong picnic. That way, we were away from distractions at home and could concentrate entirely on our guests.

When I compared notes with my friends who also work full-time, we agreed that these annual visits can be as warm and as rewarding as always, provided everyone relaxes and learns that ''things have changed.'' If anything, we have learned to prize our few moments together even more than the long days together that we used to enjoy.

I have a hunch the grandparents are glad to get home and relax after a dip into our sometimes hectic days. But we get letters from them now which are attuned to the way we live and our many new interests. Our letters to them, I hope, are the same.

We have renewed our love -- and that's all that matters.

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