by Dr. Ken Canfield

Have you heard the amazing story of American gold-medal gymnast Simone Biles? I tell it often, and it’s worth repeating.

We know Simone as the American gymnast who was one of the shining stars of the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She earned gold medals in the all-around, the vault, and the floor competition as well as a bronze medal for her performance on the balance beam.

What fewer people realize is what I believe is one of the keys to her phenomenal success:

The influence of her grandparents.

As a child, Simone’s father was never involved in her life, and when Simone was four, her mother entered a rehab program for substance abuse issues. That meant Simone and her sister Adria were left to the Texas foster care system.

A few years later, her grandfather and his wife, concerned about the girls’ well-being, stepped up and rescued Simone and Adria, adopted them, and raised them as their own, giving them the love and support they needed.

It wasn’t long before Ron and Nellie discovered that Simone had an incredible talent that could open doors to a bright future. They continued to nurture her growing abilities and eventually she became a world-class gymnast, and it’s a storybook plot from there. The bold commitment of these grandparents, Ron and Nellie, made all the difference for these girls. Simone has given performances that won her acclaim and inspired the world, and Adria has pursued dentistry and dancing as well as some gymnastics herself.

These grandparents demonstrated what I call “redemptive grandparenting.”

And it’s happening all the time, though usually not in the spotlight. A young man named Mike, for example, seemed destined for incarceration, after being raised in a very difficult situation where neither of his parents were involved in his life or responsible for his well-being. But Mike’s grandfather brought him home, watched over him, and ultimately provided him with a heritage and a house that would serve as a foundation for Mike’s own family years later. Mike reports that the grandfatherly love he received was the key to his success.

Grandparents also come alongside their grandchildren in less dramatic ways, offering love, support, prayers, and encouragement that supplement what Mom and Dad give.

Truly, grandparents matter—because grandkids matter!

Families can be strengthened and restored when grandparents step up and offer their wisdom, experience, and unconditional love. Children can be healed, nurtured, and inspired by involved grandparents.

We know that’s very much needed in today’s world, where families are facing challenges, and many are really struggling or breaking apart. And most of us are aware of the negative social outcomes, particularly for children, that come with all this.

And yet I believe renewal can happen as we learn to tap into and leverage an underused resource within the family system, which has the potential to generate a long-overdue awakening and provide deep benefits to families. Of course, I’m talking about grandparents.

When we’re doing our best to connect with our grandkids, give them love and comfort and encouragement, and be there for them through the challenges of life …

That’s redemptive grandparenting.

It happened for Simone and Adria Biles, my friend Mike, and millions of others. You never know what can happen when grandparents demonstrate the courage, leadership and sacrifice to do what their grandchildren need.

I hope that, whatever your grandparenting situation is like and whatever challenges it brings your way, you’ll be able to experience the richness of your role in your grandchildren’s lives.

How do you see yourself as a “redemptive” grandparent? How have you been there to help a grandchild work through a difficult time? Share what you’ve learned with other grandparents on our Facebook page.