by Ken Canfield, Ph.D.

As I have reviewed hundreds of comments made by adults about their grandparents, it’s common for strength and perseverance to be dominant themes. Here are two examples:

My grandmother, who died when I was a teenager, always taught me what a great example of a godly woman was. She lived a hard life and raised eight kids on her own just by doing odd jobs in the church. I never heard her say a bad thing about anybody, even my grandpa, who cheated and drank and left when my mom was young. My grandmother always was a perfect example of how to live and have faith even in the hard times.

My grandmother literally came over on the boat, alone and as a child, during the war. She had nothing and no one. Through the years she lost a child and a husband, and he fought cancer, but she never gave up. Although not physically strong, she was strong as a woman, strong as a person, and the ultimate example of what a grandmother should be.

While I suspect few of us today are facing those kinds of adversities, we all know that life is messy. Just when we think we have escaped major trials and challenges, the unexpected things come to our doorsteps. Difficulties are the norm for the human journey, whether they’re our own health issues, relationship problems with our adult children, a grandchild who loses his way, the loss of a spouse or other loved one, a global pandemic, or any number of other life situations. It’s the rare exception that anyone gets spared from most of these.

So, knowing that we all face difficulties, here are three thoughts to keep in mind:

Expect difficulties in life. Even the most vibrant people get old and frail eventually. The healthiest relationships have inconveniences and irritations and require a lot of forgiveness. When the trials of life aren’t a surprise, they’re easier to accept and adjust to, and then move on in a positive way. Maybe we can even begin to look for a larger purpose in the pain, where we can see ways to encourage or help others who are going through something similar.

Don’t Make Negative Assumptions. Sometimes we like assign blame for life’s challenges: What did I do to cause this? What should I have done differently? If only my son or daughter would wake up and get a clue. We have to remember that families are complex, we’re all vulnerable, and problems are seldom easy to explain. We shouldn’t make assumptions. If you’re in the middle of a huge challenge as a grandparent—like raising your grandkids, or maybe you don’t get to see them at all—find ways to stay positive.

Remember: You’re an Example. The two testimonies at the top of this blog are not uncommon. Our grandchildren are watching us—especially when things get difficult. Our life challenges can bring about something positive for our children and grandchildren, whether it’s an example of a virtue or a truth they need to know or store away in their memories for future use.

Being forthright about our difficulties in life—talked about appropriately for a grandchild’s age and understanding—can allow the true strength of our example to be released. Our grandchildren can learn a lot from watching us.

Grandparents, I hope none of us are discouraged by the idea that difficulties are coming our way. We can embrace the idea and prepare ourselves to help our grandchildren learn and grow even from our trials.

After all, it isn’t about being perfect; no one is. It’s about making the most of our opportunities and persevering through whatever adversities come our way.

What has kept you going through difficult times as a grandparent? Please comment on our Facebook page and encourage other grandparents.