Being a grandparent is a unique and special role—and for many of us, it’s a calling.

One of the ways grandparenthood is unique is that there are parts of it that are like parenthood and parts that are like being a mentor. Unless we are raising our grandkids, then we aren’t the main authority figures in their lives. If the parents are there, that’s their role.

And we can be thankful for that. We don’t have to teach our grandkids proper behavior, resolve sibling battles, make sure they get to school and practices on time, figure out where all their meals are coming from, and on and on. Sure, there are times when we likely will be involved in most or all of those things, but it’s more a choice than a responsibility. And there’s a feeling of freedom in that.

We’re also likely to be more relaxed. There are probably less obligations on our schedules and fewer things to keep track of in our heads. We’re less likely to get caught up in the busy-ness of life that comes with parenting children. We can simply enjoy being with them.

We play a secondary role in their lives, but we can still be purposeful.

If we’re involved but still at a small distance, we’ll likely notice opportunities to step in and help. Maybe a grandchild is struggling in a particular school subject, and we can set up regular tutoring sessions. Or we’ll offer financial help for a special device or service that a child needs. Or we’ll simply be an extra source of comfort and encouragement through the challenges of life.

Maybe there’s something you’re uniquely equipped to teach a grandchild, and he or she is open to learning it from you. Or maybe you see some worrisome trends in today’s youth, and you want to focus on equipping and supporting your grandkids in those areas. One granddad regularly talks with his grandson about the messages he is hearing at school and continues to challenge him to be strong and confident in a tough environment.

Being purposeful applies to making our grandkids feel special, too.

Along with their parents (we hope), we are additional people who are their biggest fans, who want to make sure they know how much we love them, we believe in them, and we’re here for whatever they need. This probably comes naturally for many of us; we love our grandkids and want the best for them, and that love spills out whenever we’re with them.

Still, it’s good to be intentional here, and it can be as simple as taking each grandchild out for ice cream on a regular basis or hosting one at a time for a week at our house, where of course generous amounts of spoiling will take place. It might mean sending encouraging texts, or learning and using the smartphone app that they’re using so we can connect with them there. Or simply making sure we’re giving them lots of hugs and I love yous.

Grandparents, being a secondary influence on our grandkids is still an important position—like a “best supporting actor” can have a huge impact on a film or production. Let’s do our best with the opportunities we have.

How do you fill this secondary role for your grandkids? Check in with other grandparents on this and other topics at our Facebook page.