by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.

Not long ago, I had dinner with a vibrant couple in their sixties. Our conversation focused on travel, and I was fascinated as they enthusiastically described a dozen cruises, as well as outback adventures and various trips to other parts of the world, all since they had retired.

Later in the conversation I asked if they had any grandchildren, and the woman quickly replied, “Yes, we have two young ones and they live a couple of hours from us.” I then asked, “How often do you see them?” For a moment the excitement on her face was replaced with a sullen look. “Not enough. We just don’t see our grandchildren enough.”

This is a somewhat disturbing trend that I’ve noticed among grandparents. Most of us would agree that, yes, grandparenting is a special and important role for us. But sadly …

Too often our actions don’t back up our stated priorities.

We live in a culture that is busy, noisy, and geographically strung out, and family situations continue to grow in complexity due to divorce and other situations. It’s easy to see how the responsibility of grandparenting could end up at the bottom of our bucket list—or not on the list at all. I hear regularly from well-meaning grandparents who say, “Well, we’d like to get more time with our grandkids, but it just isn’t happening.”

This leads me to a pointed question for grandparents: Do you have a responsibility to devote time and energy to interacting with your grandchildren, as well as sharing values and faith, and modeling positive behavior for them? I’m confident you agree that, yes, you do.

As a grandfather myself, I emphatically believe that this is much more than a responsibility; it’s really a privilege and a gift. It’s so important a gift that we need to savor every opportunity we have to invest in our grandchildren, because grandparenting will change our lives. It’s a gift we want to showcase for as long as we have life.

Friends, if we don’t become more intentional, more proactive, more engaged grandparents—truly activating our role as grandmothers and grandfathers—we will be missing a lot of the joy and satisfaction of leaving a legacy that impacts future generations, and depriving our grandchildren of the very best benefits we bring.

A Bigger Vision

Grandparents would do well to recognize the power and potential of our multi-generational influence. Sadly, in America we have diminished the role of grandparents. The supremacy of the nuclear family, geographic dislocation, and a culture naïve to the power of the extended family system are just a few of the contributors.

But a big underlying problem is a general self-centered approach to life which says, “Hey, I raised my kids; I’ve done my work and now I’m going to retire in peace and enjoy life.” All at the expense of our grandchildren, who become a low priority in our retirement plans.

Most of the reasons for delaying or even pushing off our grandparenting responsibilities to others are woefully short-sighted. We can’t go through life believing that our parenting responsibilities extend only to the children we have raised. When they have children, our role is very different, for sure. But the love, encouragement and spiritual nurturing of our grandchildren is as important as the care we provided for our children. There’s a much bigger picture for grandparenting that we need to grasp.

For most of us, age and maturity bring the realization that there are many things we could have done better when we were raising our children, and relating to our grandchildren becomes even more important because it opens up new facets of our parenting. We now can enter through a new doorway, characterized by humility and grace, where we can realize our desires to be better grandparents than we were as parents.

Exotic vacations are fine. Some relaxing may be well-deserved. Maybe you’ll even have time to check off some “bucket list” goals. But please take a bold step of faith and make sure you find ways to give your very best to your grandchildren. Do all you can to help prepare them for the future.

What about you? Where do you place your role as a grandparent on your list of what’s most important in life? Please leave a comment and interact with other like-minded grandparents on our Facebook page.