by Leland A. Griffin
I returned home after another long day anticipating a good meal and then a few hours of R & R in front of the TV. But when I opened the door, evidence to the contrary was obvious: a pink coat, a small, glittery shoe, and then a shriek of delight as my granddaughter sped to greet me. Suddenly I was rejuvenated.
After a lively dinner, we set off on one of our adventures. We watched ants, talked to cats, played in the park and watched the sunset spray the Colorado mountains orange and rose. As we walked back toward the house, she got quiet, and I got philosophical. I thought, “What better way to spend the end of this day—or any day?” Our lives as grandfathers can be noble, purposeful and even, I would say, vital.
TAKE PRIDE IN BEING A GRANDFATHER
Grandfathers bring some unique characteristics that children need. First, we can provide strength and stability at a time when our children are busy making adjustments and figuring out their new roles, and a time when our wives may be experiencing the hormonal chaos that often comes with that stage of life.
We are also models of a healthy, grown-up male (a child doesn’t always think of his or her father as male—he’s “Daddy”). Little boys need to see what a responsible, loving male acts like, and little girls need to learn that not all males are rowdy and rambunctious, and that they can relate with the opposite sex.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOUR PERSPECTIVE
Compared to fathers, our personalities and egos are much less closely wrapped up in the child’s performance. While fathers are in the bleachers fighting the temptation to scream at the ump or chide the coach, we can say, “Hey, it’s just a ball game. I’m just glad you enjoy playing and that I got to see you play.” We’ve seen how kids overcome setbacks, and we’re less likely to blow things out of proportion. We’re free to express love unconditionally; grandchildren can fail and still save face.
FOSTER – DON’T FRUSTRATE – YOUNG PARENTS
One of our most challenging jobs is to let our children be their style of parent. We have to step back and trust that the knowledge or discernment that we modeled will be there, buried somewhere in their subconscious, when they need it. Trying to “raise” them again as parents will only cause friction and resentment.
Showing them respect as parents will earn us opportunities to make suggestions when they realize they need them, but unless there is some developmental problem that they’re overlooking, it’s best to let young parents learn on their own. We weren’t A+ parents either, so if our kids are C to B+ parents and they’re not dysfunctional, we need to take a back seat and become cheerleaders, even if we don’t always agree with them.
MAINTAIN A SENSE OF FAMILY
I want my grandkids to know their aunts and uncles, to see that strong marriages run in the family, and to watch generations relating to each other. Some grandparents go too far and place guilt trips: “If you want to be part of this family, you get those kids here by Christmas Eve.” Others, in an effort to avoid making demands, communicate apathy: “Well, stop by when you can.”
There is a happy medium. Let them know their presence is important and still be flexible: “We’d like to have everyone together during Christmas break. We’ll make the plans and cook the turkey, but let’s make sure and get together. When can you make it?” Show the entire clan—including grandchildren—that in your family, togetherness is important.
SPEND INDIVIDUAL TIME WITH EACH GRANDCHILD
Just like with parenting, in-depth relationships are built during time alone with each child. Sometimes we have to trust that our values will be transmitted through the generations, but we also have opportunities to do it directly. When I’m alone with one of my grandchildren, that’s when they are most “themselves.” There’s no competition with siblings and no consequences to worry about from their parents. That allows them to listen better and ask more thoughtful questions. When it’s just two of us, they are much more open to learn.
And, of course, individual time with grandchildren is rewarding in itself. A fool-proof method for resurrecting new hope in a discouraged, pessimistic heart is to allot special time to play with children. Little creatures who have their eyes fixed on tomorrow can make a gnarled veteran of life’s wars forget the pain of past failures and believe in the future again.
Leland Griffin is a retired pastor and counselor, a father of two and grandfather of 5. He and Janet, his wife of more than 50 years, live in Gardner, KS, after many years in western Colorado.