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How to be a good grandparent at Christmas

Hannah Jolliffe / 20 December 2016

There's nothing more magical than having young children around at Christmas – but celebrations might not always go as smoothly as you'd like. Follow our guide to make sure everyone has a cracking Christmas, whether you're the host or the guest.

Grandparent at Christmas

1. Set a schedule…

This is particularly important when your grandchildren are very young. It’s likely that they will have regular naptimes and mealtimes. For everyone’s sanity, try to work around this – there’s nothing worse than a hungry or over-tired baby or toddler making their presence known.

“When my son was young we would have a starter before putting him down for his nap and then tuck in to a big roast when he woke up,” says mum Helen. “It worked really well because we could spread the eating out and finish cooking while he was asleep.”

Read our guide to disciplining grandchildren

2. ...and then go with the flow

Of course, routines don’t always go to plan and that two-hour nap may turn into two minutes with all the excitement. Try to be flexible and understanding and remember that life is rarely perfect with young children.

3. Get outside

It’s tempting to stay wrapped up warm inside all day on Christmas Day, but children need fresh air, whatever the day. If you’re hosting, suggest that everyone else goes out for a walk while you are getting lunch ready (it will give you some much-needed peace and quiet). If your children are hosting, taking the kids out while they cook could be the best Christmas present they get this year.

Read our tips for walking with children

4. Be inclusive

It’s so special to be with your grandchildren at Christmas, but don’t forget the other set of grandparents want to see them too. Depending on geography, this can be tricky. If they’re local, you can include them without adding too much to the workload - invite them for nibbles on Christmas Eve, for example. If they are further afield, make sure the grandchildren call or Skype them on Christmas morning.

5. Don’t go overboard

Yes, it’s a grandparent’s prerogative to spoil their grandchildren, but… try to respect your children’s wishes. Have a chat beforehand about what’s acceptable when it comes to gifts, sweets and screen time. Your own children won’t have a great time if their kids are high on sugar and zoned out from screen-overload.

6. Welcome new traditions

You probably have fond memories of all those family traditions you created with your children at Christmas, but be prepared for your children to do things differently. Maybe your grandchildren open their stockings in bed instead of in the lounge? You may miss out on seeing them opening their presents, but respect how they do things and enjoy the time with them rather than dwelling on how it should be.

7. Muck in

This is a big one if you’re a guest in your son or daughter’s house. They will have a lot on their plate with cooking and looking after their children, so do as much as you can. Find out in advance if your help would be more useful in the kitchen or looking after the children – and always help with the clearing away. “We treat family as guests, but giving jobs to them helps,” says Clare. “I always ask my mum to lay the table, dad carves the meat, and we all clear away. It seems to work.”

Read our house guest etiquette guide

8. Chip in

An empty-handed guest is an unwelcome guest - especially at Christmas. Plan ahead and ask what you can contribute. It’s often helpful to take certain ‘chunks’ of the meal, such as desert and a cheese board. And bring plenty of what you like to drink, of course.

9. Keep quiet

Is the meal missing cranberry sauce? Think the crackers are a bit cheap? Are the children making too much noise? Button your lip! It may be tempting to point out the imperfections, but it will cause tension and may even stop you from being invited in future. Take a deep breath and smile instead – you can always moan to a friend later.

10. Have fun!

After all, that’s what Christmas is all about. Enjoy having time to play with your grandchildren’s new toys and games – if you’re happy and relaxed it will rub off on everyone else.

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.