by Jay Payleitner
Adapted from his book, Hooray for Grandparents!

As a grandparent, you may find yourself in a ringside seat watching as your own children—the parents of your grandkids— frantically, lovingly, and sometimes methodically devote themselves to surviving the here and now.

Their single-minded focus is no surprise. Parenting—as you well know—can be a nonstop battle of just trying to get through today and then crashing into bed with just enough energy to ask yourself, What’s the schedule tomorrow?

For young parents, that is where their focus should be. But that begs the question:

What should you be focusing on as a grandparent?

Certainly, you might prudently come alongside those new or struggling parents with encouragement, small gestures, well-timed visits, labors of love, gentle insights, and an occasional financial investment.

But the primary answer to that question helps define what could possibly be your greatest role as a grandparent. While Mom and Dad think short term, Grandma and Grandpa have the luxury of thinking long term. That’s a key part of building your legacy.

One of the most satisfying legacy-building techniques is remembering, keeping, and documenting family traditions. Perhaps more than anything else, your family traditions are what keep generations connected and lines of communication open. When a tradition comes up on the calendar, every member of the family knows to stop and take heed.

Some traditions happen naturally. Many are rediscovered when a family welcomes a new baby. For example, at a multigenerational baby shower. A decades-old baby blanket being passed down. A colorful mobile that hung over Dad’s crib somehow now hangs from the ceiling in the baby’s room. A christening or baptism.

If no traditions come to mind related to welcoming new babies into the family, then consider this an opportunity to lay some new groundwork in that area. Take a moment to brainstorm ideas and don’t forget to consider your cultural heritage. Many traditions revolve around food, artwork, jewelry, music, prayer, books, nature, crafting, and woodworking. It might be as simple as preparing a welcome-home meal of favorite comfort food for the new parents. Imagine creating and dedicating a quilt, woodcarving, original song, needlepoint, or some other gift for the new little one. That’s a tradition that could be repeated for each grandchild that comes along.

As your grandkids grow, expect dozens of traditions to come to mind. You may not call them such, but that’s what they are, and those traditions become enormously important to kids. Examples include:

  • Going to the same lake every summer.
  • Family talent shows.
  • Touch football on Thanksgiving.
  • Taco Tuesdays.
  • Pizza Fridays.
  • A secret family handshake.
  • Gifting silver dollars on special occasions.
  • Stopping for ice cream during bike rides.
  • Sitting in the same pew at church.
  • Visiting the zoo every summer.
  • Toasting with hot chocolate every New Year’s Eve.
  • Stopping by Nana’s gravestone on her birthday.
  • Making s’mores in the fireplace.
  • Posing for photos on the first day of school.

Traditions help make a family.

And it makes sense for grandparents to crown themselves as “Official Keepers of Traditions.” If you accept that role, you’ll establish yourself as trustworthy and consistent. Your family will honor you and follow your instruction because they have come to rely on you day after day, year after year, generation after generation.


Jay Payleitner is a best-selling author of Hooray for Grandparents! and more than a dozen other books on family life, as well as a speaker, and radio producer. Recent books include 52 Things to Pray for Your Kids and What If God Wrote Your Bucket List? He and his wife, Rita, live near Chicago, where they’ve raised five great kids (and now have eight grandkids) and have loved on ten foster babies.