by Jay Payleitner
Adapted from his book, Hooray for Grandparents!

One of the great gifts you can give your grandchildren is to commingle your own family history with world and national history.

Your grandkids (and their parents, for that matter) never knew a time when cell phones and computers didn’t exist. They can access information faster than any generation that ever lived. But, unless they are real students of history, your children and their children have little sense about when and why things happened.

Sure, today’s middle schoolers may have heard about 9/11, Pearl Harbor, Watergate, and the Gettysburg Address. They vaguely recognize the names Thomas Edison, Neil Armstrong, Johannes Gutenberg, and Steve Jobs. But they probably can’t place them in the context of history. They certainly couldn’t confirm that Edison was working on perfecting the incandescent light bulb about twenty years after the Civil War. Or that Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were sixty years apart. Or that Jobs began his work a half-millennium after Gutenberg.

Many grandparents reading this have some recollection of Neil Armstrong walking on the moon. You probably also could give a little historical context to the civil rights movement, Woodstock, the first PCs, the Space Shuttle Challenger, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Columbine shooting, and the Y2K panic.

It’s all part of your life, but it’s “history” to your grandchildren.

Can you see how investing in a walk down memory lane recalling the real-life events in your head would be much more valuable to your grandchildren than just about anything else they might be doing this weekend?

You’ve seen firsthand the continual evolution in technology, geopolitics, social revolution, exploration, and subsequent career options. Pass on that concept and your grandchildren will realize new ideas and new opportunities are constantly surfacing. As they seek their place in this world, many children can’t imagine where they’re going to fit. Your look back at history gives them motivation and a reason to pursue experience and wisdom for their own future.

Talking about the experiences of you, your parents, and your grandparents can help your grandchild frame the entire twentieth century in a way that no history book could possibly do. What’s more, your perspective will be free of the many political and social agendas that are found in classrooms, textbooks, and online resources.

Now you don’t want to be that grandma or grandpa always talking about the “good old days” or whining about how easy life is for millennials or post-millennials. When you initiate a conversation about history, frame it in the context of a conversation. Become storytellers and secret keepers. Discern what’s important to each of your grandchildren. Weave their discoveries, curiosities, and desires into the stories you tell.

Think of this assignment as giving them the gift of perspective.

Helping them see how generational and historical connections are part of life will help your grandkids find their sweet spot.

Don’t forget that even as you affirm that culture and technology will change over time, you should also confirm that some things don’t change. Such as the value of character traits like kindness, curiosity, personal discipline, respect, and the courage to do the right thing. The miracle of birth, the wonder of nature, and the responsibility to use our gifts wisely.

Also, let your grandchildren know that while the past can’t be changed, it doesn’t have to define people or limit their capabilities. Mistakes or missed opportunities can be overcome and even serve as learning experiences to make them stronger.

Finally, assure your grandchildren that your unconditional love will never change.

Read more from Jay at Grandkids Matter here.

How do you share about the past with your grandchildren? What tips do you have? Join the discussion on our Facebook page here.


Jay Payleitner is a best-selling author of Hooray for Grandparents! and more than a dozen other books on marriage, family, and doing life right including 52 Things Kids Need from a Dad, 52 Ways to Connect as a Couple, and What If God Wrote Your Bucket List? He and his wife, Rita, live near Chicago, where they’ve raised five great kids (and now have eight grandkids) and have loved on ten foster babies. For information on booking Jay to speak at your next event, visit