I love being a grandparent, and I know I am not alone in that. I have three grandchildren, and they are all special and unique. But my role for one of my grandkids is now different from the typical grandparent.
Jordan is twelve, and for the first six years of his life, both of his parents were there with him pretty much every day. But then multiple changes occurred and his mom moved to Houston, where I live. His father lives in another state, and while he is still a father and continues to be a big part of Jordan’s life, he can’t be a constant presence for him. Since I live nearby, I have become my grandson’s main father figure. I am not alone in this either; it’s more and more common in today’s world.
Stepping into that role is not something I was looking forward to doing. My ideas about being a grandparent mostly involved sitting in a rocking chair and having lighthearted or serious conversations with the grandkids. I would give them sage advice, kind of like Yoda. But being the primary father figure does bring some interesting dynamics as I try to navigate how I’m involved in Jordan’s life. I’m a grandparent, and yet I’m taking on some aspects of being his parent, and it involves much more than rocking-chair conversations. It’s often challenging, for sure, and I make plenty of mistakes, but here are four ways I try to make a difference:
Respect the parent.
Jordan is my grandson, but first and foremost, he is my daughter’s son. All grandparents have to figure out a balance between trying to help train and shape their grandchildren, and going too far, where they’re overstepping their bounds. This is more of a factor, and more of a challenge, as we spend more time caring for them.
I try to always be careful about not stepping on my daughter’s role or saying something that undercuts her and what she is telling her son. Even though she is my daughter, she is a grown woman taking care of her child, and I am mainly there to help her, not to try to put forth my authority as her father or get my way with her son. I have to respect her position as a parent, and sometimes that means receiving feedback from her on things I may do with Jordan that she wishes I had handled differently— and not getting offended by her feedback or offending her in how I respond.
I’m still learning, for sure, but I try to be very sensitive about how my actions are received. If I go too far with something, I’ll get that look from her, and I know it’s time to back off or adjust how I’m interacting with my grandson. We may disagree on what is best for him sometimes, and I try to state my opinion in a respectful way. But she’s the parent, so I need to modify my approach.
This one may seem obvious for grandparents since time with our grandkids is so precious, but it’s worth mentioning here. Because I’m part of my grandson’s life every day, it’s easy to go through our daily routines without really connecting with him. So I have to carve out time, suggest activities, and make the most of each moment.
These daily investments don’t have to be extravagant or expensive. Often, it works well just to include him in something I am doing, or we’ll go outside and play basketball. On several occasions, the two of us have taken road trips to see his cousins, about eight hours round-trip. Those extended times together are often when the unplanned memories and conversations happen.
Make intentional investments.
Although I am not the main authority in Jordan’s life, I still try to be very purposeful in what I do with him and how I try to influence him. He’s in junior high now, and I know that’s a difficult time of life. Surely he is hearing all kinds of negative messages from other kids about what is right, who he is, and what he could become. So part of my role is to combat those messages and make him strong and confident enough to deal with whatever difficulties come his way.
As we’re spending time together in various ways, I often challenge him to tell me about the good things he sees in himself. I’ll say, “Tell me one positive quality you have.” And I don’t let him say, “I don’t know.” I want him to recognize that he has things to contribute and that God is at work to build him into a great man. Whatever your goals are with your grandkids, keep them fixed in your mind and find ways to encourage and challenge your grandkids toward those character qualities on a regular basis.
Take your role seriously.
One of the main thoughts that keeps me motivated is how much my grandson needs a consistent father figure to help him know what a man is supposed to be like. There are qualities he needs to develop if he’s going to be his very best later in life. He can get many of those from his mother and other influences, but he also benefits from my masculine approach. There are things I can teach him and ways I interact with him that he can’t get from the women in his life, no matter how committed to him they are.
I hope he sees what I stand for, the love of Christ in me, and the kind of character I hope he will continue to develop—even though he knows I’m not perfect. As a counselor and a youth sponsor at my church, I regularly have a chance to interact with young people, so I am very familiar with the ways kids can go wrong these days. I want to help make sure my grandson doesn’t take that path, and I know I play an important role in that.
James Myers and his wife Thelma live in Houston, Texas, and have two grown daughters, two grandsons, and one granddaughter. His professional career began in the aerospace industry before he became a licensed professional counselor. He has also worked with children and teens at his church for over 30 years. James comes from a very large family, and working with children and their families is very important to him.