by Dr. Ken Canfield

As grandparents, we’ve been around long enough to know a few things. And one of them is this:

Life is messy.

There’s a lot to celebrate in life, and being a grandparent is one great example. But there are also plenty of hard times to endure: sicknesses, tragedies, strained or broken relationships … the list goes on. And as our grandchildren grow and mature, we can’t escape the idea that they too have to endure some challenges and difficulties.

Those challenges could be in just about any area of life: friends, school, sports, questions about growing up, and of course, family. As we all know, sometimes parents and children have disagreements and conflicts for a variety of reasons, and it’s most prevalent when kids go through adolescence.

It’s just part of family life, and often it leads to positive results. Sometimes, tension and conflict will force important discussions to take place, and maybe both parties will learn and grow in some way. In ten or fifteen years, those children might look back and see that they were immature and unreasonable in some areas, and they’ll be thankful that their parents didn’t give up on them.

As grandparents, we’re in position to encourage our grandkids through struggles with their parents.

It isn’t our place to go against the parents or take sides, but we can offer a listening ear and a wise, experienced perspective. Here’s what one adult wrote:

“My grandmother was a lifeline when my parents and I didn’t see eye-to-eye. She has impacted my life in countless ways.”

My own grandparents were that lifeline for me during some teenage difficulties.

Betty is another grandparent who shows persevering love. Her grandson, now in his twenties, is stuck in a self-absorbed, self-indulgent lifestyle that includes drug use and other aberrant behavior. His poor decisions are taking him toward some big headaches and heartaches in life. But even as he walks that destructive path, Betty hasn’t given up on him. When he was asked about his grandmother, he said,

“She’s my cheerleader and hero.”

There is hope that this young man will turn his life around, and his grandmother’s relentless, persevering, irresistible love will be a big factor.

Maybe there are ways you can play a similar role for your grandkids. It’s likely difficult to plan for because, well, life is messy and unpredictable. But we can set the stage for that kind of relationship with our grandkids, and it can start when they are very young. And if you haven’t had a great connection with your grandkids in the past, you can start building a better one even if they’re a bit older.

The key action point here is: Build trust.

How can you do that? Simply be an involved and loving grandparent, and trust will likely increase over time. Show that you’re reliable. Be encouraging to your grandkids and their parents. Lighten their load in some way. Be excited to see your grandkids and eager to hear what’s on their hearts. Communicate openly about areas of tension and be humble enough to admit your own mistakes and your need for forgiveness.

As a grandparent, you can create a reservoir of trust in the family. You can help lead the way to family unity, and you can work to strengthen relationships and leave for your family a deep-rooted legacy of love.

And when your grandchild has a problem or struggle, or there’s a battle going on with the parents, it will feel natural to come to you about it. You can be that lifeline that restores peace and stability, and that impacts your grandkids in countless positive ways.

How have you been a lifeline for your grandkids? What’s your secret to building trust with them? Join the discussion on this and other topics at our Facebook page.