For several years when I was much younger, I made weekly visits to an elderly grandmother-figure in my life named Rose. Whenever I stopped by the care center where she lived, I would expect a story from forty or fifty years before. I’m sure I heard some of her stories a hundred times.
And for all you grandparents, I hope you’ll tell stories to your grandkids. Even if you’ve told some of them before, they need to hear about who you are, what you have done, and what you believe in.
But today I’m more concerned about how we listen to our grandchildren. You see, one day as I was listening to Rose’s stories, I noticed that she was watching me. More than concentrating on telling her story, she was watching to see if I was still listening.
In some ways, children are like that too. Much of what our grandchildren tell us may seem unimportant. When they begin to speak of how they view the world, their thoughts may be hopelessly inaccurate, or shallow, or silly, or downright childish. But we need to realize that the value is not so much in what is said, but in the saying of it. When we actively listen to our grandchildren, we say “I love you” without even speaking a word.
In our family, my fourth child, Micah, was the storyteller. When he was young, we’d be driving home from a movie and he’d sit in the back of the van retelling the entire plot, even though we were all there in the theater with him just minutes before. Sometimes he’d even give me another recap the next day.
I eventually learned that by listening to my son’s monotonous reruns, I communicated that I care for him and I’m interested in him. That’s what mattered to him, more than the details of his story. Like Rose, he was pleased that I listened.
One of the great things about grandparents is that we usually have time and energy to give our grandkids all the time they want. We can listen to the longest and most detailed story without getting distracted. It’s a great gift to our grandchildren that we’re uniquely equipped to give.
What’s better, if our grandkids learn to trust us to listen to their long stories, chances are they’ll be more likely to also trust us later on, when they may be facing bigger challenges and decisions.
Keep listening, grandparents.