By Allan G. Hedberg, Ph.D.
Grandparents serve as the backbone of a family. They provide wisdom and perspective on life as it unfolds within their families and communities. Age brings experience, and experience brings stories embedded in valuable life lessons. In short, grandparents have a whole lot to teach us about life, because they’ve lived longest!
On the other hand, without grandparents, a family may flounder and feel disassociated. Feelings of loss or aloneness might prevail, especially at times of stress or turmoil. These are the times when it would be helpful to have perspective on an issue; when we need advice or guidance, but there is no one to turn to for the direction, support and wisdom gained during the grandparent’s lifetime. The person we wanted to call should have been grandma or grandpa.
Unfortunately, many of us never had a grandparent to consult, lean on, learn from, or look up to. They may have died prematurely or been absent for any number of reasons. Furthermore, some grandparents don’t know how to bond with young children or be part of an ongoing generational family. Truly, for these families, a big link in the cycle of teaching, mentoring, supporting, and caring for each other that families are supposed to do, is missing. But, if the grandparent is still living, there may be time yet to include them, and gain from them, the valuable life lessons they have to offer. For “grandparenting” is a two way street: a joy to those who give it, and a blessing to those who receive it.
The Many Faces of Grandparenting
Grandparents, good medicine make. No one knows the value of grandparents more than our daughter. Luckily grandma was visiting when our daughter happened to suffer a head injury while playing soccer. It was grandma who maintained a vigilant watch over her and sat beside her for 24 hours to comfort and assure her that all would be well. Yes, grandma was good medicine at a time of need in our family. And the world over, it is often grandparents that provide the needed comfort, support, and nursing during times of sickness, injury, sorrow, defeat, and discouragement. Grandparents just seem to have that “sixth sense” and understand. They are able to convey it verbally and are able to reach out and softly touch at a time of need.
Grandparents, good teachers make. Those of us fortunate enough to have had grandparents “bonded” into our lives can recall the countless hours our grandparents sat by our side while guiding the process of homework to its completion. When we became confused, they provided the hints necessary to find the answer. When we grew tired, they gave the backrub and words of encouragement to continue….even providing some help to get the assignment finished sooner. When we got mad at the homework and/or teacher, they calmed us down and helped us understand that the teacher was not just an “old meanie,” but someone trying to help prepare us for the life ahead. Our son benefited greatly from the nightly assistance of his patient accountant grandfather in the understanding of algebra. Besides, it was grandpa that added good input on topics of history, religion, and ethics, to name a few areas of his contribution to our family.
Grandparents, good cheerleaders make. We all need a cheerleader. We look to our cheerleaders for support, friendship, motivation, encouragement, and definition of family values. Cheerleaders are always present. They have time for us. They have a few extra dollars and willingly share it when our need is greater than our resources. They give without questioning. They stand ready to help at a time of need…a ride, a cheer when deserved, and they are willing to serve as a care provider when no one else is available to fill in the gap. Indeed, millions of grandparents serve in the role of surrogate parents.
Grandparents, good honor guards make. Yes, grandparents are the honor guard of the home. They stand for the morals and values of the historic family as well as for the ethnic customs and traditions unique to each family. Without a doubt, the family today is facing huge pressures from the changing values of society. The pressure of political correctness, and tolerance for any variation in lifestyle is breaking down the home and causing cracks in the family. Who stands up to the banality of evil in today’s world? Grandparents do! Indeed, they are the true and mighty honor guards of the home and family values. They serve in this capacity by modeling honorable behavior, being an example of faithfulness, offering words of wisdom, and by their unceasing prayers for their grandchildren and their parents.
Let Us Honor our Grandparents
There are 70 to 80 million grandparents in the United States, and 2.5 million of them are responsible for rearing their grandchildren. Grandparents are getting younger. The average age is 48 and lasts the rest of their lives. They range from the early 30s in some case all the way up to the 90s (and beyond!). They come in all sizes, lifestyles, energy levels and values. Some are kind, giving, involved, and loving. Others, sadly, are selfish, critical, preoccupied or emotionally distant and place little, if any, priority on being involved in the lives of their grandchildren.
September 12th is National Grandparents Day in the United States. Get ready and be prepared to honor and celebrate the influence your grandparents have had in your life during your growing years and in the life of your family. Some grandparents on September 12th will be honored, memorialized, revered, thanked, affirmed and bathed in love. Other grandparents, unfortunately, will be neglected, forgotten, left behind, or depreciated. Remember, a grandparent may not always be someone related by blood. Anyone who has played this role in your life should be honored. Conversely, some grandparents may have chosen not to be part of their grandchildren’s lives, and so, might not be remembered. A warning to all grandparents: you will reap what you sow! Happy is the grandparent that is the recipient of their grandchild’s returned kindness, gratitude and thoughtfulness.
Grandchildren, on Grandparents Day, can honor their grandparents by:
• Sending a card of appreciation: They are special.
• Drawing a picture to be hung in their home: They are proud.
• Placing a phone call to share a personal word of greeting: They are social.
• Making a scrapbook of memories from past year(s): They are historians.
• Preparing a meal and sharing it together: They are table huggers.
• Making a piece of jewelry, bookmark, or a plaque: They are savers.
• Sending flowers or a plant for the home: They are sentimental.
• Making a DVD of the year’s family events: They are family bonding enthusiasts.
A Few Words of Caution
It is essential that grandparents be keenly aware of their potential to be positive and supportive of their children and grandchildren, as well as the risk that their actions may impart an interfering or counterproductive role in the family life of their grandchildren. To be sure, the parents are the designated authority of the children. Grandparents are to be supportive of the parents and a resource of ideas and help when asked. Too often grandparents assume the role of the primary parent and create a mixed message for the children, interfering with the parents being in charge of home life. Children cannot have two sets of authority. If so, they will succumb to playing one against the other and always win, to their long term peril.
For example, grandparents cannot countermand a decision or action of the grandchild’s parents. They cannot undercut, undermine, or diminish a child’s parents. They must support a parent’s decision or action. Should there be a disagreement or a different way to handle a situation, the grandparents and parents must privately caucus and come up with a united plan to implement. A caucus must not be carried out in front of a child or in public. A united front is essential in the rearing of a child to become obedient and respectful.
Essentially, if a grandparent allows a child to do something, and the parent does not agree, the child will take the answer that will suit his/her desires. This is a lose-lose situation for all. This principle applies likewise to parents when differences in behavioral management style prevail between them for a child. It is not uncommon for grandparents to spoil their grandchildren out of their love and desire to bond with them. Unfortunately, too much of good thing becomes a bad thing. Just as kids are not to be abused, they are also not to be spoiled. Being spoiled sets up a huge expectation on their part for the future. They will tend to grow up thinking that things come to them for free and they are entitled to special privileges from the grandparents, parents, teachers, and even the government. Passive-dependent personality traits often develop in children reared in families that spoil their children. They will not become achievers and will need someone to depend on and bail them out throughout life. This is not something a good grandparent does!
Grandparenting is one of the most exciting and influential roles one can play in life. To influence a grandchild determines the course of that child’s life for the next 80 years and on to the next generation. In essence, take the responsibility seriously and diligently. The future of your grandchildren is partly in your hands, but not fully. Do what you can to drill deep into the lives of the grandkids. Do it well and do it in unity with their parents and school, and their family’s church and community.
How Grandparents Can Enrich The Lives Of Their Grandchildren
• Write an annual letter telling your grandchild of their strengths, accomplishments, and ways they are special to you.
• Take your grandchild on a special trip or to a special event that they would not otherwise experience.
• Conduct a Grandkids Camp each summer (no parents allowed).
• Engage your grandchildren in weekly e-mail, i.e., share poetry, ask questions that develop their values, tell of some family trait or tradition, or play the game of 20 Questions.
• Give gifts that carry a message or would help the child advance in an area of skill.
• Set up a 529 Plan for your grandchild’s college education and contribute to it regularly.
• Devote time to listen to individual grandchildren during each visit, paying attention to their successes, achievements, hurts, and plans for the future.
• Make the special days in their lives a very important day for you to share with them and express your interest and support.
• Make a personalized scrapbook or photo-album of their special events and accomplishments for the past year.
Words of Advice for Today’s Grandparents
Grandparents are in an excellent position to teach their grandchildren charitable giving and philanthropy. Once introduced to the giving process, your grandchildren will become lifelong givers and will experience the joy of sharing with those less fortunate. How can this be accomplished? Here are some examples:
• Offer to match the charitable giving of the grandchildren: giving to church, a school project or other charity of their choice.
• Lead by example: talk about the charities you support and explain why you do.
• Include them in a Family Trust, a Lead Trust, or a Donor Advised Fund: tell the grandchildren how they will benefit from your trust fund arrangements in the future.
• Let them have a decision role in the charitable giving you do as grandparents: ask the grandchildren for ideas of organizations to give to from your income or Trust Funds.
• Partner with your grandchildren in supporting an orphan, i.e., Kid’s Alive, World Vision, The Children’s Fund, and others.
• Be sure to include your grandchildren and children in your estate plan: allow the grandchildren to know generally of your estate plans.
About The Author: Allan G. Hedberg, Ph.D. is a clinical and consulting psychologist and maintains a private practice in Fresno, California. He received his Ph.D. from Queen’s University in 1969. He is an author of several books, has written over 60 professional publications, and he is the happy grandparent of eight special grandchildren.