Over the years I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Disney. To be completely honest, recently I’ve been leaning more toward the hate side. That was until I saw the Disney movie “Cars 3.” On the surface, this movie looks like a typical Disney movie where the hero has to overcome a large obstacle to be victorious. But this movie did more than deliver the usual hero’s journey. It delivered a message our society desperately needs: getting older is not bad, but part of life. And, the younger generations should look to the older generations for wisdom and strength.

A Few Powerful Lessons from “Cars 3” for Today’s Families

Here are a few of the powerful lessons from “Cars 3” that provide needed perspective and insight for today’s families.

First, the older Lightning McQueen learns that a person doesn’t have to be the newest and fastest to have a lasting impact on the world.

Second, digital devices can’t replace people. Even though there are fantastic innovations in training for racecars in the digital world, nothing builds character and real-life skills like wisdom and person-to-person education.

Third, the older generations are the hidden power in the world that society is overlooking. The older cars and the newer cars both think that older cars are washed up and of no use. However, in the end they show the greatest power and have the greatest wisdom to lead the younger generation — that’s struggling with self-worth and lacking vital adult skills— to success and happiness.

What Grandparents Are Seeing

We can easily see the need for these lessons from “Cars 3” in the world around us too! I really shouldn’t single out grandparents in the section on what society is noticing because most mature adults are noticing social problems as well, but my recent conversations with wise and caring grandparents are especially enlightening. Here’s one of those conversations:

A concerned grandmother approached me one day at an event I was attending and asked, “Nicholeen, what can I do to help my grandchildren learn to behave when their parents are putting up with, and even sometimes celebrating, the most disrespectful and selfish child behavior I’ve ever seen?”

This grandmother then explained how she knew she wasn’t a perfect parent, but she never allowed disrespect and emotional manipulation from her children. She said one of her granddaughters regularly talked over her parents and other adults — clearly not caring about roles or respect. She said her eight-year-old grandson had tantrums and behaviors like a two-year-old if he was ever corrected or told he had to do something he didn’t want to do. All the children talk like babies around their parents and hang on their parents like insecure kittens when they know other adults around them are wise to their manipulations.

This grandmother saw selfish, disrespectful behaviors being tolerated and even encouraged by the modern, self-proclaimed enlightened parents of her grandchildren. Can this grandmother do anything to help this situation? Is there room in the hearts of young parents and children to learn from the older generations?

Another grandmother told me her grandchildren are only concerned with technology. After an initial hello, they don’t pay any attention to her. She explained, “My granddaughter is obsessed with social media. She doesn’t seem to be able to go five minutes without checking her pages. Her parents say that’s the way kids make friends these days, but I don’t see her having any actual friends at all.

My grandsons are gamers. When they aren’t in school or doing their mandatory house chores, they spend every second on their tablets and game systems. When I try to talk to them, they don’t seem to have any point of reference except for their games. They look at me like I’m an alien, yet I’m the real person. Is there a way to bring them back to the real, human world, when their parents think that their perceived world is the new real world?”

Is there a way for this grandparent to bring her grandchildren back in touch with real relationships and real life without stepping on their parents’ feelings?

What Society Needs from Grandparents

Just like Lightening McQueen needed to learn from the racers from the past and gain from their wisdom, young parents and grandchildren need to learn from the older generations in society too. Here are a few simple, effective ways grandparents can help their grandchildren see life differently when they seem to not be interested.

  1. Have increased regular contact with the family. Due to the business of family life these days, grandparents mistakenly think their children and grandchildren don’t have time for them. Over time they get used to having the bulk of their time to themselves and don’t schedule time to mentor the young.
  2. Create family traditions. Have regular things you do as a large family, and regular times you meet up. Have camping traditions, holiday traditions, picnics, parties, quilting bees, and barn raisings. The more family service projects and family parties you have, the more your children and grandchildren will feel the love of family and the beauty of the generational roles in society.
  3. Talk to them on the phone, as well as have video calls. Whether your family lives far away or just around the corner, call them to chat. Before the call, think of what you want to say and ask. This will help broaden your relationship. Just talking to your children on the phone will help them learn important life skills. Of course, sending texts is also okay. The rule of thumb on this type of communication is to always have something of substance to share or ask about. Then this regular contact with you becomes more meaningful and effective.
  4. Do things one-on-one with your grandchildren to create personalized, unique memories. I used to do genealogy, quilting, crocheting, cooking, gardening and camping with my grandparents. They invited only me to sleep over at their home or go a trip with them. This created a strong relationship that kept me coming back for more. I used to bring dates to their home to sing songs with grandpa’s ukulele or to help grandma make rolls. I knew my grandparents were the best grandparents in the world, and I wanted to show them off.
  5. Support their activities. Sure, this takes away some of the time from your quiet evenings, but they will always remember hugging you after a dance recital or big game.
  6. Write to them. Don’t just send birthday cards, but write them notes from time to time. Tell them about the things you care about most, like your love for God and family. Tell them about the strengths you see in them. People build upon the strengths that other people notice in them and tell them about.
  7. When you’re with them, don’t judge. Instead, look at them with love — even when they’re doing things you wish their parents would correct, but aren’t.
  8. It’s okay to correct your grandchildren. Do it honestly and unemotionally. Tell them what they are doing that’s incorrect, how that behavior is received by people around them, and what they should do instead and why. Give them depth and principles, but don’t lecture. Always have faith that your counsel will be remembered if it’s given in love and understanding. You’ll need to discern if the parent is okay with you doing any correcting in front of them or not. Sometimes you can just have the child for a day out with grandparents and then do some minor corrections during that time. Grandchildren will respect you more if they know where they stand with you and that you’re confident in your role. Always support the parents as parents, even when you are correcting an issue away from them.
  9. Take them along with you. Teach your grandchildren adult skills, even if it takes more time. Tell them stories and show them pictures from the past. Even the laziest person likes to hear a good story that makes him feel like he’s learned something no one else knows. Since you’ve been around for a while, you have the unique ability to tell stories the child will immediately notice as unique, even cool. Don’t keep your life and the lessons you’ve learned to yourself. Instead, share them often. These are a great source for the power the younger generations need.

If you get the chance, see “Cars 3” with new eyes this time. Maybe even show it to your grandchildren. Then, recognize the power grandparents have and how much we need wise leaders not just for our children but for all of society. Grandparent power is real. Grandparents who recognize their power and deliberately influence the younger generations, even if it means reprioritizing their golden years or retirement, end up leaving a legacy that really has the power to change the world for good.

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