By Jeff Klick
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged, and the glory of children is their fathers. – Proverbs 17:6
When our first granddaughter arrived, there was an instant bonding between us, at least from my point of view. I held her in my arms, and delight filled my heart as I gazed at that little girl. I marveled and rejoiced that I had lived to see this day. At age 42 (I am now 56), it was quite a jolt to be a grandfather, but it was a delightful shock! When Lydia arrived, my wife and I needed to evaluate our roles as grandparents. We were not her parents, yet there seemed to be something we were supposed to be doing beyond what the bumper stickers proclaimed about grandchildren (Spoiling them and sending them home, or spending their inheritance.) There certainly was a strong generational connection, but we were not sure what our responsibilities were.
Those of us, who have given our lives to the raising of our children, can find our new roles as grandparents somewhat confusing. As parents, we exercised almost complete control over our children until they were adults. Eating, sleeping, education, clothing, and just about every other decision was made on behalf of the child, or at least in concert with them. As our children grew, we were very involved right up until they left our home. Now, here is a newborn baby and the temptation is to resume our former roles. However, this must be resisted! These little ones are not ours, but belong to other parents who are just beginning the task we have completed. So what are we supposed to do as grandparents?
Now, after eight more grandchildren, here are a few lessons we have learned on our grandparent journey. First, pray often for the new parents. They need wisdom and insight on how to adjust to the new family member, and they will need an abundance of guidance as the child grows. Second, be available to assist in babysitting, house cleaning, cooking, and any practical matter needed. Like so many, it would have been wonderful to have a night out now and again when our children were young. We simply did not have that option. Now we can provide that for our grown children, and they have all told us that it is such a blessing! Third, always remember to turn the heart of the child back to the parents. These precious gifts are not yours, but belong to their parents. Our job as grandparents is to reinforce what the parents want, not to contradict or undermine. Sometimes this can be challenging, because by the time we become grandparents we certainly have learned a few things from our experiences. We observe the mistakes of youth, and the temptation is to jump in and give an unsolicited opinion. A proverb I coined years ago goes like this:
“Woe to the man who gives his opinion when it is not being asked, it will be reckoned unto him as a curse!”
If we develop a trusting relationship with our children as they age, our opinions will be asked for and valued when they are older and in need of our assistance. However, giving our opinion to our adult children before it is asked for can result in being labeled as a meddler, can cause resentment, and can potentially damage your relationship for years.
One key point is that we must never undermine the parents to the grandchildren even if we disagree with the parents. If we observe harmful or dangerous behavior, then we must appeal to the parents discreetly, but never turn the hearts of the children away from their parents. We must reinforce what the parents are doing, not undercut it. Remember what you wish your parents had done when you had your children still at home … then try to be that person! When a grandchild asks us for anything, if the parents are around, we always send them back to the parents, thus keeping the lines of authority clear. Grandparents that sneak behind the parents’ backs are teaching rebellion and disrespect for authority, so we must be careful what we teach by our actions and attitudes!
As grandparents, we are modeling to another generation (whether we realize it or not) what it looks like to walk with God. Self-focused grandparents are missing a great opportunity to invest in the future. Our culture glorifies self-gratification, and unfortunately, many godly people have bought into this lifestyle without considering the outcome of this choice. The thought goes something like this –”I have lived my whole life raising my children, now I’m going to enjoy life and take care of me!” This lifestyle is evidenced by multitudes of grandparents moving to the coasts or deserts instead of staying by their families. From my perspective, this is a waste of experience and a loss to the next generation. Someone said years ago that very few people in nursing homes regret not spending more time at the office or on vacation, but almost all regret the time lost with their families. We never get to spend time twice so we must choose wisely the first time!
Even if you feel you have nothing to offer because your life has been full of mistakes, you have your love and experience to offer. One of the best ways to gain knowledge is by learning from other people’s mistakes and then trying to avoid repeating them. How beneficial it would be for the older generation to pass on to the younger one the wisdom that was learned from all those mistakes! Do not waste them by keeping them all to yourself! Experiences, both good and bad, should be passed on to those who follow us, for each event possesses a lesson or insight.
As grandparents, our goal should be to be godly examples that love and serve the next generation. We need to avoid violating the parents’ authority and instead reinforce it to their children. We are not called to spoil grandchildren, but to help in the training process of them. We are blessed to enjoy this gift from God and take our responsibilities seriously, and not simply live to gratify our flesh. Another generation is at stake, and we must give ourselves selflessly to assist in capturing it for Christ!
I appeal to the grandparents (and future ones) that may be reading this to consider their involvement with the next generation. Is warmer weather really worth missing this opportunity? Playing golf and having abundant free time is great, but what about investing in your grandchildren or great grandchildren? What about taking time to share your story with them? I love the ocean and taking walks where I enjoy breath-taking views, but I would rather not ever see them again, than miss my grandchildren’s lives! I can visit the ocean, but moving away from my family is not an option. I would rather shovel ten feet of snow than miss the fellowship and joy of my children and grandchildren. Wouldn’t you? Your family needs you more than the RV Park or your Bunko partners do.
What could you do to help? How about offering to help teach the child or children one day a week for the frazzled mom or help with homework? Perhaps babysitting once in awhile to allow the parents a night out for pleasure or even some necessary shopping. Please consider writing out your personal testimony for the next generation, sharing some of your success stories or failures, focusing on what you learned from them. We all have so much to offer—may we not waste our knowledge! Please prayerfully consider where and how you live out the rest of your days. It is not too late to reengage in the battle, for the next generation is at stake!
Adapted from Generational Impact; A Vision for the Family by Dr. Jeff Klick