Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of Meridian Articles to and about grandparents. One article will run each Tuesday for at least the next ten weeks. Richard and Linda, who spend more and more of their time these days writing and speaking to Grandparents, would appreciate your feedback on each of these articles.
Most of us will be grandparents for more years of our life than we were parents with children in our homes. And grandparenting, a role of ever-expanding stewardship, is easy to imagine extending into the eternities, with more and more “greats” attached to the title.
Yet there is little being written or spoken about grandparenting—a tiny fraction of the endless writing and advising and theories that we can read about parenting.
This series of weekly articles will seek to remedy that somewhat—to give us grandparents some things to think about, and to provide something of a forum (through your reader comments) where we can discuss together how to make the most of this role, and maximize the joy that can come from it both to ourselves and to our grandchildren.
We have a blessing or a gift that no generation of grandparents before us has had. It is the gift of more time! We Baby Boomers (all 80 million of us in the US—and most of us grandparents) will live on average at least a decade longer than any other generation of grandparents in history. The question is, what are we going to do with those extra years. It is a particularly important question for Grandparents who belong to the Church, because our whole doctrine of Exaltation centers on extended families and on the links that Grandparents can establish.
How Grand is Grandparenting?
We all have a lot of interests, passions, responsibilities and priorities. We have our extended 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 finances and our investments; we have our causes, we have our bucket lists, we have our cars and our boats and toys, we have our politics and our clubs and we have our Church callings and responsibilities. We have our siblings and our extended families and some of us still have our own ageing 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 our name and our genetics? 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!
Choosing what Kind of Grandparent we will Be
We don’t get a lot of training about how to be grandparents. There is no owner’s guide or instruction manual.
We all have a decision to make, a choice that will have big and lasting consequences: We need to each ask ourselves, What kind of grandparent will you be? And if we’ve been a grandparent for a while now, but not yet made that decision, now might be the time to make it.
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.
2. Limited Grandparenting.
Attitude: I 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 and eternal 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 grandkid’s lives, even as I add joy to my own life and keep myself young.
Only at this fourth level does Grandparenting become effective, consequential, and truly fun. At this level, we deliberately ponder the needs we can uniquely fulfill and we set goals and plans to enhance our grandchildren’s lives; and we do so in concert and in teamwork with the goals and stewardship of their parents. This approach will stretch and test us but it will also reward us with levels of fulfillment and well-being and love and peace otherwise unobtainable.
Thinking Back and Thinking Forward
No one can fully describe the exhilaration of holding that first grandbaby in your arms! The baby of your baby, fresh and new to this world. There lies joy and rapture, anticipation and wonder, along with some worry about what the future will hold for that precious bundle! It is an especially wonderful moment for Church Grandparents, because we recognize that this little brother or sister just arrived from the Premortal life.
The inevitable ups and downs ahead are all wrapped up into a big beautiful sphere of adventure for grandparents called, “the joy of leaving a legacy.”
It is said that “Parenting is an investment and grandparenting is the return on the investment.” How much time and thought and effort we invest in grandparenting can eventually produce substantial returns. Maybe we don’t start out thinking about leaving a legacy to these beautiful little people who bring so much light to our lives, but as the years go by, we realize that the legacy that we leave to our grandchildren won’t be a bronze plaque dedicated in our honor. What we leave will be invisible. It will be a monument of understanding and integrity and courage and unconditional love inside their minds and hearts that will stand forever.
As mentioned, most of us are going to be grandparents much longer than we were mothers or fathers with children in our homes. Pull back and mentally hover over your life as a grandparent for a moment. Look down from above like a drone and survey these questions as you see yourself with your grandchildren:
- How do I maximize my time with my grandchildren?
- Do I know what they love? Do they know what I love?
- Am I teaching them about our family narrative—stories of their ancestors and where they came from?
- What role do I play in teaching them the Gospel?
- Do I spend quality time with each of them or send messages of support and love if they live far away?
- When they are in our home, am I asking them questions about important things or am I just tending them?
- What will they remember about me?
- Am I remembering to have fun?
- What legacy do I want to leave that will help light the path ahead of them in this jarring but joyful world?
- How do I make each feel that he/she is my favorite?
Making Each One Our Favorite
Each grandchild can be your favorite in his or her own unique way. Each has unique gifts and unique problems. Some are dreamy and artistic, some are balls of fire, some are quiet and reflective. The legacy we leave will be a little different with each one.
If we have several grandchildren, does each one dilute our love? Anne Morrow Lindbergh was so right when she said, “Only love can be divided endlessly and still not be diminished.” Nothing is more exciting than welcoming each new little soul to our growing family!
The learning curve for leaving a legacy as grandparents is slow and thoughtful, unlike the heat of the refiners’ fire that we felt as young parents. We are wiser and even though we’re a bit “wrinkled up” we can make a difference and we can shine in the lives of our grandchildren!
The best part is that we can send them home when we’re tired. For most of us we are no longer responsible for the nitty gritty every day discipline and character building of these children. But the secret is that we are still able to teach them the values we hold dear. They may not snatch it right up and say thanks, but they will remember more than we realize if we make deliberate efforts to teach them about the meaningful and magical things of life. And looking to the far distant future, our example of love and caring will almost surely make them better grandparents.
Love and Legacy
Most importantly we can leave, through our grandchildren, a legacy of unconditional love. We can love them with abandon, even when their parents may not like them very much at the moment. As the clever Erma Bombeck said, “A grandparent loves you from when you are a bald baby until you are a bald father and all the hair in between.”
The love we give to our grandchildren often has a substantial return that is filled with delight! Our daughter Saydi transcribed this message to me (Linda) straight from the mouth of her three-year-old, who was too young to write: “Dear Grammie, I like your face. I like your cheeks. I like to kiss and cuddle them. Love, Emmeline.”
Each situation is different when it comes to nurturing our grandchildren, but no matter what our circumstances, we can make a difference in their lives! Whether we live next door or half way around the world, we can be deliberate in teaching them the joys of life and the joys of the Gospel that will be woven into the fiber of their souls long after we are gone.
Let’s use this column each week to explore the possibilities. And let’s do it not only in terms of everything we might DO for our grandkids, but in the more consequential and controllable terms of what we can BE for and to our grandkids. Because being an effective, influential grandparent is not about changing the grandkids, it’s about changing ourselves!
Each Tuesday, this column will explore specific ways that we can become more proactive grandparents, specific how-tos that work, ideas that we can all enjoy and that will help our grandkids to become all they can be. Thanks for joining us on this journey.
Richard and Linda Eyre’s parenting and life-balance books have reached millions and been translated into a dozen languages. As fellow Baby Boomers, their passion and their writing focus has now shifted to the joy of Grandparenting. Linda’s latest book is Grandmothering, and Richard’s is Being a Proactive Grandfather, each of which is now on sale on Amazon or in Deseret Book. The Eyres have 31 grandchildren and counting, so they have an ample laboratory to test their grandparenting ideas. Their Mission Presidency in London also resulted in another 500 “children” so if you count the children of those missionaries, Richard and Linda may actually have thousands of grandchildren. At any rate, they want to share thoughts from you and hear thoughts back from you, so please comment on this and future articles.