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Editor’s note: This is the first article in a three part series on “Mormon Grandparenting”. The second article will appear here in a week and the final one two weeks from today.
Statistics tell us that if you are a baby boomer, (now in your 50s or 60’s) you likely have another 20 good years ahead of you and that you probably have grandkids who you consider to be the best part of this “Autumn of life.” (They don’t call it GRANDparenting for nothing!) And if you are a Mormon Baby Boomer, guess what? You likely have 30 good years ahead of you instead of 20 and more grandkids to glory in and worry over.
The question is, how much time and mental energy will you expend on these living legacies? How much will you prioritize them and how proactive and deliberate will you be as a grandparent? And where do you go to learn the art of effective but unobtrusive grandparenting?
We basically believe that Grandpas and Grandma’s can save the world—and have a lot of fun doing it.
When someone asks, “Who is going to teach this generation of children the values, the character, the family narrative, even the street smarts that they will need?” most of us would answer “the parents” and “the Church.” But in today’s world, where most parents work full time, and where life’s business and all its demands seem to increase exponentially, who is to say that parents will find the time or the means to give their kids all that they need? And as much as we love the support mechanism of the Church, all the programs and guidance that goes on there should be thought of as supplements to the family, not substitutes for it.
So who else can possibly do it…build kids testimonies, and identities, and character?
You guessed it—Us—the Grandparents.
And who will give kids the confidence, the self-image, and maybe even the resources they need to become all they can be? Same ideal answer of parents, with help from the Church, but the same problems—too much to do and too little time to do it.
So who else can pick up the slack? Same answer—Grandparents.
There can be an incredible connection, even a symbiosis, between generation 1 and generation 3. It is a connection that can preserve traditions, that can build character, and that can bring joy to both.
And it’s not a new idea, not by any means. Most of the world works like that—grandparents doing much of the teaching, nurturing, identity-building and supporting, while the parents are earning the living. Three-generation households are the norm and not the exception in most of the world. And the kids and the grandparents are the happier for it.
We don’t need to live in the same house, but we Grandparents can save the world by how proactively we grandparent our grandchildren. This little series of articles is designed to give us a few good ideas on just how to do so.
And it’s not a duty, it’s a joy! We quoted a large national study in our new book LIFE IN FULL that found that 85% of 65 year-olds are grandparents and that 83% of those who are consider their grandchildren to be the most joyous and fulfilling part of their lives.
But the fact remains that most of us don’t just automatically know how to be effective and highly helpful grandparents. We need all the good ideas we can get!
And that is what this little mini series will try to give. As baby boomers and grandparents ourselves, we write to other baby boomer grandparents. We write as people with a lot of interests and passions and priorities, and we write to others of our age who also have a lot of interests, passions and priorities. We have our careers, we have our sports and our friends and our hobbies and our travel and our music and our other personal interests. We have our church callings, we have our causes, we have our bucket lists, we have our cars and our boats and out toys, we have our politics and our clubs and our hobbies and our other responsibilities. We have our siblings and our extended families and some of us still have our own aging parents. And we have our children who, even as adults, are still our children.
But none of us, when we really sit down and think about it, have anything quite as delightful and as joyful as our grandchildren. They are our flesh and blood. They are our pride and joy. And ultimately, they are our only real legacy.
How much of our time and our mental energy are we devoting to those precious and perfect little kids who carry on our name and our genetics and who can carry on our causes and our view of the world? And how deliberate and thoughtful are we about the time we spend with them, about what we can do for them, about the relationship we want with them now and for the rest of our lives? How grand is grandparenting? About as grand as we make it!
We don’t get a lot of training about how to be grandparents. It’s different than parenting, and there is no owner’s guide or instruction manual.
When your kids have kids, you have a decision to make: What kind of grandparent will you be?
There are several alternatives, and each comes with a different attitude:
1. Disengaged Grandparenting.
Attitude: I raised my kids and now it’s their turn to raise their kids; I’m done.
This attitude might lead you to downsize into an adults only condo in sun city by a golf course where your days would be quiet but boring.
Attitude: Love to see them but in limited doses and on my terms.
In this model, grandkids are like amusement parks; you go there once in a while to have fun. Or like dinner guests; you have them over now and then when it’s convenient.
Attitude: My kids need all the help they can get with their kids and I want to be there for them.
With this approach you become part helper, part martyr, sacrificing your own life to be at the beck and call of your adult children whenever they “need” you to help with kids.
Attitude: My children are the stewards for their children, but I can teach these grandkids things their parents can’t and be an essential part of an organized three generation family. And by thinking about it—hard—and coming up with a strategy and a plan, I can make a real difference in my grandkids lives, even as I add joy to my own life and keep myself young.
Only at this 4th level does Grandparenting become effective, consequential, and truly fun. At this level you deliberately ponder the needs you can uniquely fulfill and you set goals and plans to enhance your grandchildren’s lives; and you do so in concert and in teamwork with the goals and stewardship of their parents. This approach will stretch and test you but it will also reward you with levels of fulfillment and well-being and love and peace otherwise unobtainable.
We will use this three article series in Meridian to explore the possibilities. And lets do it not only in terms of everything you might DO for your grandkids, but in the more controllable terms of what you can BE for and to your grandkids. Being an effective, influential grandparent is not about changing the grandkids, its about changing yourself!
Give this some thought during the week ahead, and tune again a week from today for some specific thoughts and ideas on how to become a more effective, more deliberate, more influential, more proactive grandparent—and on how to do more for these young spirits who do so much for us!
Richard and Linda Eyre are the New York Times #1 bestselling authors of Teaching Your Children Values and a dozen other parenting books. They are now focusing on writing and speaking to grandparents (see Lifeinfullcruise.com and Lifeinfullonq.com). Their latest book is LIFE IN FULL: Maximizing Your Longevity and Your Legacy.