Have you ever wondered what makes a GREAT grandparent? I know I have. I’ve asked myself questions like:
“What can I, as a grandparent, bring to the table that strengthens our family’s dynamic?”
“What can I plan to do with my grandkids that will be special, just between us?”
Many times grandparents have a relationship with grandchildren that is unique and special, and I certainly hope for that in my role as grandpa. I started thinking about what folks might say if they were asked about being a GREAT grandparent.
I’m sure at the top of the list would be spending quality time. My wife and I are planning to devote as much time as possible doting on our grandkids. Our strategy is to help with babysitting when they are little and then spend a lot of time going to ball games, lessons, or recitals as often as we can as they mature. Of course, we have no idea yet what their interests will be; but, regardless, it will involve lots of practice sessions and travel. We look forward to being able to lend a hand occasionally.
Starting a college fund for grandchildren is always a good idea. It can give a grandchild a real jumpstart, making the road to success a bit smoother. Just getting the financial ball rolling with a college fund can help parents when the time comes to pony up for tuition. My wife and I hope to do that regardless of whether our grandchildren attend college or not.
Sometimes grandparents are able to provide financial security to grandchildren. Perhaps our careers have allowed us to acquire assets that can be transferred to the next generation. Preserving and transferring generational assets, both large and small, can be something grandparents really get into. It’s something we are proud of accomplishing; therefore, we are all about passing the fruit of that effort to the next generation.
I’ve actually asked this question of my kids and their cousins several times, “What makes a good grandparent?” Since they now have children of their own, the comments I’ve received are interesting. Even more interesting, the things I’ve shared above never actually make the cut. If there is a consistent theme running throughout these conversations, it can perhaps be summarized by using the term “impressions.”
The overwhelming impression of a well thought of grandparent is he/she is someone who listens intently–someone who does little scolding and correcting and a bunch of listening. This is a person who uses loads of open-ended questions like: “How did that make you feel?” or “What do you think about that?” Asking these types of questions don’t “judge” and allow the grandkids to maintain in control of the conversation. Don’t put words in their mouths. A good grandparent listens intensely. This is hard to do because our favorite stories and memories tend to clog up our conversations as the desire to be heard one last time burns intensely within us precisely when our grandchild needs to be heard, perhaps for the first time. Being able to set aside our personal need to be heard and listen to our grandkids is an art requiring practice and passion. The nice thing is our grandkids will take note and remember. Being able to shut up and listen leaves the impression that we really care.
The other consistent impression is that highly valued grandparents tend to be the ones who love unconditionally. All kids are different, so loving unconditionally takes many forms. One general quality of “good loving” is an ability to empathize. Knowing that you had the same sorts of pressures “back in the day” helps more than trying to leave the impression you were somehow immune to them. I think if grandparents practice holding their tongue and hugging liberally, the impression left behind is we love them no matter what.
And finally, a totally surprising impression–one that keeps being brought up–is a grandparent needs to be, first and foremost, an encourager. We need to encourage not only our grandkids, but their parents, as well. The meddling grandparent or the one who badmouths parents in front of grandkids works at cross-purposes to family unity and can be a real stumbling block to a family. Be the grandparent who, when in doubt, encourages and celebrates family successes. Be the grandparent who looks for the light at the end of the tunnel, searches for the silver lining, and makes yourself available to be part of the solution to temporary setbacks.
Being a GREAT grandparent isn’t easy, but it’s simple.
Perhaps the scripture from James 1:19 would be a helpful reminder, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
Be the grandparent who is quick to listen, slow to criticize, and quick to love, at all times. Let’s try to bring the joy of grandparenting with us when we show up at our grandkids’ door.