Think all-day babysitting and picnics with the grandchildren are the territory of grandmothers? “No way,” says single grandpa Donald Schartz. Divorced since his two girls were school-age, his oldest daughter Nikki now has two daughters – Julianna, age 11, and Shelby, age 5 – and his younger daughter Ashley has a 2-year-old named Ruth Anne. Although they all live in different states, Don takes long trips to visit them, and when he does, he makes it a priority to connect with each granddaughter on her level, doing things she enjoys.
“I go visit them and do things with them while I’m there as much as I can,” he explains. “You only have a certain amount of time to connect with them. If you want to bridge that connection, you’ve got to do more activities with them. You’ve got to take that time and that effort because it’s worth it.”
Time Well Spent
Each of Don’s granddaughters have varying interests and ages, so he tailors his time with them accordingly. On a recent visit, he watched Ruth Anne every weekday for a month. Their favorite thing to do together was take long walks and stop to talk about the things they saw. “We’ll go see the horse and talk about the horse, and it’s kind of an educational thing,” he says.
Five-year-old Shelby prefers to play games. “The thing of teaching her is… winning isn’t the most important thing, it’s how you play,” Don explains. He also enjoys taking her to ride the horse or feed the animals.
His eldest daughter Julianna competes in barrel racing, and he enjoys watching her and helping her at the rodeos. In between, they spend time together on the farm. “She likes to go bike riding. We pack picnics and go out in the pasture (and explore the area),” Don says.
Nikki and her husband recently built a new house, and Don enjoys helping them with home improvement projects. The house building, bike rides and long walks have all helped him lose weight – 40 pounds to be exact – and stay active.
“They ask for help and I enjoy doing it,” he says. “It makes me feel worthwhile. When they have things to do, I help them with some of their chores so that when they get home they can spend a little time [together]. As an older person, it gives you a sense of value and that you can contribute to what’s going on.”
Passing on Values
“It’s our right to spoil them, but we don’t have to,” Don says of grandparents. “Time is more important than what money can buy. Time is more precious.”
“I want to instill in them some of the values of two or three generations ago,” he continues. “Those values,” he says, “include self-reliance, telling the truth, hard work and education, as well as appreciating what others do for you.”
“You only have so much time, and I like to spend it with them [and] with as much interaction as possible,” Don says. “They’re fun to be around. They keep you honest. They keep you on your toes.”