10 Ways to Show Gratitude to Grandparents When "Thank You" Is Inadequate

Grandparents can be the indispensable help that makes it possible for families with young kids to survive. We offer everything from date-night babysitting services to family counseling, and from transportation for practices and events to full-time day-care.

Following are some of the roles I, or my friends, have filled: Doctor Mimi can fix any boo-boo. Friend Mimi—yes, my little grandson calls me his best friend while he hugs me—offers playtime, and Referee Mimi resolves disputes between brothers.

Chef BeeBee makes and brings delicious meals. She also serves as Teacher’s Aid BeeBee for homeschool. BeeBee and I share day-care duties. Wrestler Poppy is the resident jungle gym. Poobah teaches reading and cooking skills—and even adds in some physical therapy for a handicapped grandchild. Grandma Mac offers art lessons. I’m sure your list could go on.

The reason grandparents keep on giving, even when their own financial or energy reserves dwindle, is love. We desire for our grandkids to have the support and resources they need to thrive. We see the strain on their parents and long to ease it. We’ve been around the block and have expertise and knowledge to share. And we know best how fleeting time is—that often our most precious memories are made in the little moments.

How can parents express their profound appreciation for all the help and assistance grandparents give? Saying the words thank you just seems so inadequate—even though grandparents love to hear them. What are some ways parents can thank their parents that will be meaningful?

I would suggest a combination of tangible and intangible gifts. An object given with great thought behind it, and an experience that might not otherwise have been possible, are both powerful ways to express gratitude. Let’s explore some possibilities.

1. Add to a Collection

Most people collect something—even if they don’t realize it. I love Fiesta Ware dishes, jewelry, books, and original landscape artwork. My husband loves to boat, fish and has a favorite sports team. We both love to travel and collect photos from our adventures.

Giving us things our kids know we love reminds us that they pay attention to us as people—not just service providers for their children.

2. Offer Relaxation

This doesn’t mean a huge, two-week vacation. It means giving items you know will be utilized for relaxation. These can include coffee shop gift cards, bubble bath and scented soaps, gift cards for an e-reader, even a massage or pedicure. 

3. Theme Gifts

For occasions like Mother’s or Father’s Day, create a theme for your gifts. Choose something you know your parent loves and tie several small gifts into that theme.

A small flowerpot filled with seed packets, gardening gloves, and tickets to the local arboretum would be loved by a flower enthusiast. A CD by a favorite music artist, graphic t-shirt, and concert tickets can be not only a fantastic gift, but also a memory-maker.

An epic novel, bookmark (bonus points if it’s made by a grandchild), favorite tea or coffee beans, and a small pillow (again—bonus points if it’s made or decorated by a grandchild) will be savored long.

4. Time and Service Gifts

These will help the grandparents streamline their own lives—and free up some downtime for them. If the grandkids are older elementary- or high school-aged, plan a day to clean out Poppy’s garage or deep clean Mimi’s house.

Or take the family and rake leaves out of the spring flower beds and spread new mulch. Alternatively, pay for a maid service for a day, or a yard service to tackle the flower beds. Give a free oil change and tune-up and detail car wash and wax.

These time-and money-savers will say thank you without words—and will increase in impact if performed by you and your children.

5. Homemade Gifts

Guide your children to make something age-appropriate. If they are old enough, encourage them to write a note to go with it. Preschoolers can create sun catchers to hang in a window, or pot flowers for Nana’s porch. I’ve already mentioned bookmarks and pillows.

Stenciling a sign with a meaningful word or phrase, making a tie-dye t-shirt, even preparing a favorite food dish, will be welcomed as thank offerings—and treasured.

5. Photos

Take candid pictures of them with the grandkids and either frame them, use a website to make a hardcover book, or send them to a digital frame. If there’s a good school picture, sports team photo, or another event photo, be sure to include grandparents in receiving it.

Don’t forget to get the entire family together once a year for a group photo that grandparents can share with their friends. I know guys especially don’t like this family photo option. But grandmas understand that the years speed by.

These group pictures document our growing families better than any written list. They provide a permanent reminder of the escapades from each year, prompting stories to be told as the children grow about when they were little. 

Make a video of a grandchild telling how they love Mimi and Poppy, or reading a story, or just chatting, and send it. Be sure the child tells how much he loves Mimi—maybe ask a young child how much and see what she says. 

One of my favorite grandkid videos is of our two-year-old Connor in his backyard, singing to a wild rabbit, hoping it hops out of hiding so he can pet it. It makes me smile every time I watch it—which is often. 

6. Child-Written Thank-You Notes

The art of writing thank-you notes is fast disappearing. But in this digital age, they take on extra-special meaning. Some of my treasures include notes received from our older grandson. 

Over the years, his penmanship and language expression have matured. Keeping these together, and reading them all at once, reminds me of the little boy he used to be, and the young man he is becoming.

A fun activity for the grandkids might be to make a clandestine visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s house and plant notes in strategic spots to be found unexpectedly.

7. Take a Family Vacation—Paid for by the Parents

This idea might seem impossible because it sounds expensive. But it need not be for those who like to camp. Even renting a house can be cost-effective if all the adult children pitch in.

There is no greater joy for a grandparent than having all their kids and grandkids together. By taking the grandparents on a trip, they are able to relax instead of feeling responsible for meals or house up-keep during the visit. It can be a great escape for everyone—and provide lasting memories. 

8. Send Flowers

This may sound trite, but nothing brightens my day like a fresh, colorful bouquet. If there’s been extra stress or exhaustion for the grandparents, show your gratitude with flowers.

Just because it may not seem like much, never assume that it won’t be meaningful. This gesture gains gravitas when it is spontaneous and not limited to special occasions.

9. Host a Family Meal

Invite grandparents over for a meal and unstructured visiting time. Just spending time together as a family is priceless. Times like these are among my favorites. I can be with my grandchildren without needing to be in charge of them.

We can play, or they can do their own thing while I chat with their parents.

10. Hold a Special Event Honoring the Grandparents 

This can be a tea for the women and girls combined with an afternoon fishing trip for the guys, or any other type event that suits your family’s interests. Let the granddaughters plan and hostess the tea party, and task the boys with structuring a contest for the guys’ event.

Alternatively, host a movie night or talent show night for everyone. Perhaps the grandchildren can read letters or poems they wrote for Nonny and Papa, or create and perform a skit. Choose decorations and snacks to fit the theme—making sure to let the children take lead roles in preparing and hosting—and remembering that Grandma and Grandpa should be the honored guests.

By now, I’m sure other ideas are forming in your head—and the possibilities are endless. Practically anything you do or say expressing gratitude will be treasured.

While grandparents don’t expect anything in return for our help, it warms our hearts to know our children and grandchildren have gone out of their way to thank us.

Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Jack Hollingsworth

Kathryn Graves, author of Woven: Discovering Your Beautiful Tapestry of Confidence, Rest, and Focus, and Fashioned by God, holds a BA in Psychology, is a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher, and spent 15 years in the fashion industry. Kathryn is Mimi to five grandsons, and loves to play with color—including interior design, clothing, and painting with pastels. In addition to her website, find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.

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