The Art of Being a Grandparent
WHEN our son became a father, a new series of relationships began, one involving parents and children—and let’s not overlook grandma and grandpa. The wise man said at Proverbs 17:6: “Grandchildren are the crown of old age, and sons are proud of their fathers.”—The New English Bible.
A practical application of this scripture could be seen at a major maternity hospital in Sydney, Australia. The lift that took us back to the ground floor was crowded with an interesting cross section of grandparents who obviously had the responsibility of caring for grandchildren in families where new members had arrived. The patience, attention and affection, along with the gray hairs, identified grandma and grandpa. Today the grandchildren were in their charge, and it was obvious that most of them were pleased about it.
However, being a grandparent involves more than occasional baby-sitting. The long-range effect on the grandchild of things said and done, and the position of the parents, need to be considered. As is true of all relationships in this age, there can be problems, pitfalls and, sometimes, heartaches. To be a respected grandparent (for we cannot be loved on demand) offers a challenge.
Together, let’s consider the art of being a grandparent.
What About Gifts?
How often have you heard the lighthearted statement, “Oh, their grandparents spoil them”? In a desire to share the happiness of giving, most of us grandparents take pleasure in providing gifts or toys for the children, but some of us do it too often. In affluent countries, it is not uncommon to enter the room of grandchildren and find a veritable toyland of mechanical or cuddly creatures and even personal TV sets. Later there may be trail bikes, motorbikes and, as the children grow older, automobiles. In time it becomes evident in many such cases that, while there is happiness in giving, there is sadness in spoiling.
One father commented regarding the gifts the grandparents gave his children: “It embarrasses me, and often I get annoyed, because the children tend to expect toys every time my parents visit.”
Of course, life without gifts would be very empty. But when we give, we do well to try to make it something lasting, something that will contribute to the child’s mental or emotional development and, in most cases, something not too expensive. Along with other things, we may need to give more of ourselves and our time. Doing this with success requires communication.
How Well Do You Communicate?
Early communication is necessary, and not very difficult, for little is expected in the way of a reply from babies. Progressive communication through the teen years and into adulthood offers more of a challenge.
The “gift” of time plays a large part in communication. As grandparents, we need to take time to listen to our grandchildren’s problems and adventures of daily life. This is important to the development of their personality and lets us know where some kindly help might be offered. Proverbs 20:11 advises us: “Even by his practices a boy makes himself recognized as to whether his activity is pure and upright.”
Now, what if we learn that something our grandchild has done is not so upright? Scheming with him to hide it from his parents is surely no way to help him. On the other hand, getting excited, shouting and scolding is not a good way to communicate. He is going to make mistakes—perhaps some of them serious—even as we have done. Can we use these as opportunities to reason with him, to readjust his thinking, to help him to grow?
How well do you communicate with your grandchildren? Ask yourself: Do I talk with my grandchildren, not at them? Is my conversation based largely on do’s and don’t’s, or am I a good listener and then do I give reasons and explanations? As appropriate, do I share life’s experiences with my grandchildren, my failures, my joys, my love for them? Have we walked in the countryside together, by the sea, in a park or the garden? Have we observed and talked together about wildlife, the seasons, life’s dangers and life’s blessings? What respect, when together, have we shown for our Creator, for our fellowman and for each other?
A memorable occasion in the life of one grandparent occurred during a walk in the local park with his four-year-old grandson. At the base of a tree a large winged insect lay dead on the ground. The young boy was afraid of the insect. The grandparent picked it up, and a simple discussion of the subject of life and death ensued.
Are you looking for something that would interest your grandson? What boy is not attracted to grandpa’s toolshed, with its array of hand and power tools, items collected over the years? The opportunities to share in a special project of mutual interest are many. If you are not one who is handy with tools, what about reading? What a gift of lasting value it would be if your spending some time in reading together stirred in your grandchild a thirst for the knowledge and the fascination that good books offer!
And let us not forget grandma’s sewing room or kitchen. What little girl is not attracted by the colored cottons and fabrics, and the desire to make a doll’s dress, and, later, perhaps one for herself? As time passes, perhaps grandma can also share with her the secrets that she has learned about cooking.
We could all benefit from the mistake of a grandparent who did well in his grandchildren’s early years but who, as they grew older and got a broader education, felt that they no longer needed him. Sadly, his freeness of communication became impaired. He allowed their apparent mental maturity to squeeze out his emotional maturity and the lessons that he could share from the school of life. No matter what their age, we grandparents have much to offer younger ones. But we need to be good listeners too. And if we disagree with a view the younger ones express, there are times when we do well simply to share our thoughts and then let the children think about it. Even if we know we are right, it is not always wise to insist on it right now. Keep the door of communication open.
Are You Patient and Tolerant?
There is a saying, “You can’t put an old head on young shoulders.” Handling successfully the problems that arise between young and old takes patience and tolerance, and today’s society is experiencing a famine for both.
Young folks are often strongly influenced by the world around them. There is a natural desire to be accepted by their peers. They may feel that their parents stand in their way. As grandparents we can help. Since we are not usually so directly involved in the day-to-day matters of family discipline, the children may be more inclined to take to heart what we say. It often helps if we share with them some of the problems that we had along the same line in our youth.
In some matters we may find that we do not see eye to eye with our children in the way they are handling matters involving the grandchildren. But we need to remember that, according to the way outlined in the Bible, parents have the prime responsibility for upbringing. (Prov. 6:20; Col. 3:20) Damage to a precious relationship can occur if we grandparents, even with good intentions, interfere with the parents’ handling of such matters as eating habits, discipline, schooling, medical treatment and manners. A comment made by a father is worthy of consideration: “I do not react favorably when TOLD how to care for my family. After all, they are my children. However, I do appreciate suggestions made in a manner that conveys concern and tolerance for the problems my wife and I face as parents.”
It is indeed difficult to manifest patience and tolerance when we see situations develop that could lead to sadness. Yet if we as grandparents are to be respected, we must appreciate our proper role relative to the family circle, not trying to take the role that the parents properly fill. There are times, of course, when we need to be shown patience and tolerance—let us explain.
How to Handle Us Grandparents
The seasons of the year provide quite a contrast, and have been likened to our changes in life. Some cope with seasons better than others do.
Problems can arise as we grandparents grow older. Some of us get more difficult to deal with as the years go by. What we do may seem to interfere with family arrangements. We may become more irritable and less patient and tolerant. Some of us, sad to say, are affected by varying degrees of senility. If, in earlier days, we have sown patience, tolerance and love, we have reason to hope that we will reap these qualities in return.
We grandparents, however aged, like to be made to feel that we are still part of the family. Truly, a relationship bonded with continuing communication and a realization that old and young can enrich each other with life’s experiences is truly satisfying. When there is mutual love and respect, all three generations—grandparents, parents and children—can, even in a turbulent world, enjoy many of the blessings that God purposed when instituting the family arrangement.—Contributed.