When my daughter first announced her pregnancy, I was not ready to be a grandmother. My husband and I had raised three children, but this idea of “grandparenting” was different. What exactly was this going to mean for us? I had just completed my Master’s degree in Youth and Family Ministry, and was serving in a coalition of churches. I hoped eventually to find a position that I was passionate about. I knew that I would become invested in working with children. Sharing stories, and helping them grow in the Christian faith. What would that look like?
Enter James. The first grandchild. One day, when he was very tiny, I was giving him a bottle, and he intently studied my face. I fell in love with him at that moment. The world around us seemed to fade away, and it was just the two of us. I heard in the background, “Look at the two of them. I’m so glad that we asked your mom to provide childcare.”
I invested a lot of my time and energy in building this relationship. The initial outlay was to spend as much of my time as possible with him. I wasn’t sure how to share faith when he was tiny, but had to trust that our time together would yield positive results. I eventually recognized that my job was to provide stability for James and share stories with him. As he grew, I prayed about how I would share my faith with him. My daughter usually worked on Sundays; James was often with his father on the weekends, and did not attend church. I felt the responsibility of building his trust in me, and to teach him the stories that are in the Bible. Friends and family members said it was neat that I had Seminary training and passion – and a grandchild that would benefit from it.
My daughter moved back in with my husband and I when James was four, creating a three-generation household. Things got a little more complicated a few months later, when Eliah was born. She had a very different temperament. When it was naptime, she was awake. When it was bedtime, she was awake. She wasn’t really “just awake,” she was really awake! She did not walk, she ran. I found I had to be two steps ahead of Eliah because she was one curious girl. She got into one thing after another. By the end of most days, I was exhausted.
James is now eight, and he is “my favorite (and only!) grandson.” We love to be together, and I am always looking for something new to do with him. Eliah is now four, is articulate and requires investment on my part. She has not lost her curiosity and my stake in her is as deep as it is for James. She keeps me on the move as she flutters from one thing to another.
I am not the only one trying to keep up with grandchildren.
The baby boom of the 1960s-1970s has become a grandparent boom. Today, there are 70 million grandparents in the nation, and 1.7 million new grandparents are added to the ranks every year. Grandparents lead 37% of all U.S. households in this country — that’s 44 million households nationwide. And that number is increasing at twice the average annual rate of U.S. households overall.
The U.S. Census Bureau published these statistics in a report released in 2015:
7.2 million grandparents had grandchildren under 18 years old living with them in 2013.
2.7 million grandparents were responsible for the basic needs of one or more grandchildren under age 18 living with them in 2013.
1.7 million were grandmothers and 1.0 million were grandfathers.
569,251 grandparents were responsible for grandchildren under age 18 and had an income below the poverty level in the past 12 months
2.1 million grandparents were caregivers had income at or above the poverty level.
$48,016 was the median income for families with grandparent as the head of the house, and responsible for grandchildren under age 18. Among these families, where a parent of the grandchildren was not present, the median income was $35,685.
1.9 million grandparents were married and were responsible for caring for their grandchildren. (This number includes separated couples. )
1.6 million grandparents were working, and also responsible for their own grandchildren under age 18. Among them, 354,464 were 60 years or older.
666,686 grandparents had a disability and were responsible for their grandchildren.
5.7 million children under age 18 were living with a grandparent as the head of the house in 2013. Nearly half, 47 percent or 2.7 million, were under age 6.
3.1 million children were living with or without one or both parents, and with both grandmother and grandfather in 2014.
The responsibilities of raising grandchildren have become tougher as we try to provide structure and support for their different needs.
In September, 2012, MetLife Mature Market Institute and Generations United released the results of a joint study titled “Grandparents Investing in Grandchildren.” According to this report, 74% of grandparents who are caring for their grandchildren, are doing so on a regular basis. Almost one-third are caregiving on a regular basis five or more days per week — a substantial commitment of time. The largest segment (42%) is caregiving fewer than five days/week on a regular basis. Another 10% are regularly providing other types of care, and 1% are regularly caring for grandchildren with special needs.
The reasons for providing care for grandchildren range from “because I want to” or “I enjoy doing it” (58%); “So their parents can work” (53%); to “the grandchild(ren) don’t have parents.” (4%). Most notably, 22% of grandparents are providing care so that they can “pass down family values.” A large percentage of grandparents (41%) hold heritage and ancestry to be very important, and the same percentage felt religion or religious observances were very important. Highest in this area was preserving family ties at 67% of grandparents. More than one-third (36%) of grandparents felt cultural beliefs and customs are very important to pass down to generations following them.
How will our grandchildren learn what our values are – our heritage, ancestry, religion and religious observances? “Some folks say “It’s something their parents should teach them!” There are parents who believe that heritage and history should be taught through the school systems, and that parents are not responsible for these things. After all, character education programs are available. Other folks believe children will receive religious training and will learn about religious observances in a religious educational setting.” They trust that religious teachers are trained and equipped. There are 168 hours in a week, and if your grandchild receives Christian or any other religious education for two hours on Sunday mornings, is it really effective?
We must invest ourselves into these relationships and create safe places for these conversations! I may be stating the obvious, but this is a huge lifestyle change to take on. How can we compete with the many demands on our grandchildren’s time? School, music activities, football, baseball, basketball, martial arts programs, gymnastics, clubs, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts (yes, they do still exist!), 4-H, and a host of other sports The list goes on and on. I am including in this list schoolwork that children must do at home, and the challenges of navigating single-parent circumstances, or shared parenting arrangements. The time spent on the road to various activities accumulates and is a drain, as well as transportation between households whether it is weekly, monthly, or for holidays and special vacations.
There is some serious competition for a child’s or teen’s attention, the main ones being- sports and electronics. Common Sense Media put together a report, the first large-scale study to explore tweens’ and teens’ use of the full range of media, which is based on a national sample of more than 2,600 young people ages 8 to 18. When it comes to consuming media on screens, including laptops. smartphones and tablets, teens, on average, spend more than six and a half hours DAILY on screens and tweens more than four and a half hours, the report found.
These statistics demonstrate that our youth live in this massive 24/7 digital media technology world, and it’s shaping every aspect of their lives. Somehow, between all the activity in their lives, they spend far more time with media technology than any other thing!
I decided I had three options as to how I could spend time with my grandchildren. Let them spend time doing everything else, and take the leftovers. Or I could be aggressive, and insist that they visit me on specific dates, occasions, and holidays. Or I could make myself an integral part of their lives, so much that they would want to be with me, and miss me whether they lived hundreds of miles away or just across town.
Even though they are in my house on a very frequent basis, I found I was not fulfilling the call issued in Deuteronomy 4:9: “… be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”
I need to take baby steps towards sharing my faith with my grandchildren. I have started with what I call “The 3 Minute Lesson.” When they are visiting, I use The Bible in Pictures for Little Eyes by Kenneth Taylor. This Bible has a picture for each story, a basic Bible story, and 3 or 4 questions. This is a good way to begin to lay the foundation for what lies ahead – no matter what that will be.
As they grow, I hope to use will the Arch Bible story books – available at Concordia Publishing House, https://www.cph.org/c-246-arch-books.aspx?REName=Books%20%26%20Bibles&plk=240 They can also be purchased on-line at Amazon https://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=Arch+books There are many other children’s books available, but these are my favorites for my grandchildren who are still very young.
As Christians, the things we do and say will be passed down to them, as a heritage. The idea of traditions being passed down will also be part of the discussion on this site. And that’s a whole other discussion for other day!
What does it mean to you that you are a grandparent and you value heritage, religion, and religious observances? How can you take a baby step to teach your grandchildren about God, Jesus, or your faith?