“Young people need something stable to hang on to — a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.” – Jay Kesler
When our grandchildren are small, it’s easy to hold them on our laps and read books with them. They are a captive audience for Bible stories. We know that we are planting seeds, and hope that they will have strong faith in God.
St. Paul refers to our lives as being in a race. In Hebrews 11, he lists off many people who are in the Bible, and reminds us that not one of the people in the list got their hands on what was promised, but lived lives that were great examples to others.
Paul asks: “Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)
If you read this, and consider your grandchildren, think about the fact that their ancestors are cheering them on! That’s US!
Paul continues, “Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in.”
We want them to keep their eyes on Jesus. So, we take them to church with us. When they are little, they are usually fun to take to church. Everyone oohs and ahhhs over them. They may make a bit of noise, so we take them to the nursery.
As they grow up, the grandchildren sit pretty well during the church service and pay attention when there is a children’s message. Then after a donut and some orange juice, you drop them off in a Sunday School class, and go to the adult class.
When they get a little older, you realize, “Hey! My grandkids have never received Holy Communion,” and “maybe they should be in Confirmation class.” So you urge your adult children to get the kids into these classes and activities. You encourage attendance at youth activities, service projects, and mission trips.
Attending church and going to Sunday School are important things, and so is reading your Bible. But when you are gone, will your grandkids remember things they have been taught? Will they remember some of the things you did? Will they want to carry on the same things that you have done? What will happen when they stumble over some problem? Will they turn to the God you taught them about?
Here are a few things to keep in mind about your time together.
1. Invest your time and involvement in your grandchildren; it will pay off in significant ways that have eternal value. When you are making decisions regarding your time and energy, it is easy to become complacent. It is really challenging to stay connected, emotionally engaged, and personally involved in your grandchildren’s lives. If you find yourself struggling, talk to the other grandparents around you. They may have similar experiences and advice.
As a Christian grandparent, you may see some of the great potential that God sees in your grandchildren, particularly when they are misbehaving, argumentative, and just plain contrary. And if you ever wonder where your grandchildren stand in their relationship with God, then ask. You might be surprised at the answers that you get. Talk with them regularly, and encourage their desire to do good, like Lois, the very influential grandmother of the pastor and evangelist Timothy. (Timothy 1:5)
2. Don’t argue with your children (your grandchildren’s parents) especially in front of the grandchildren. Although it may be tempting, don’t take sides; let them work things out. Show respect for, support, and hold up your grandchildren’s parents. Arguing with your son or daughter creates confusion on the boundaries grandchildren are supposed to live by. Instead, talk to your adult children away from the kids. Mutually agree what things are appropriate that will give grandchildren stability, accountability, and clarity.
Praise your grandchildren when they honor set boundaries, and lovingly correct them when they don’t.
Acknowledge the fact that your adult children may feel stretched beyond their limits as parents, or that they worry about being too strict or not strict enough.
3. Play with your grandchildren. Spend special time with each of them. It may be true that the grandchildren often come to your house so they have a place to be safe after school, before school, and during summer vacation. They may spend a lot of time with you. You don’t need to entertain them the entire time, but they will remember later that you played together. Drag out your favorite toys – you know, those Lincoln Logs in the back of the closet, the Hula hoop that’s in the garage, the Barbie dolls and G.I. Joe figures.
My daughter who now has children of her own, fondly remembers the times that her Grandma would stretch out on the floor and play “Husker Du?,” and “CandyLand.” All three of my children fondly remember the “walks” that their Grandma took them on. Usually a walk was to the nearest stop sign, half a block or so.
Help with homework, if you are asked to. Make sure you check with your son or daughter, regarding their opinions regarding homework. Parents may know better what the teacher is expecting. (Does your granddaughter just need to provide the math answer, or does she need to show how she arrived at that answer?).Do they want homework done immediately after school or wait until after dinner? What are the rules about video games and electronics? If a child has homework to do, be available to help if needed.
4. Even though it may be complicated spending time with the grandkids, limit electronic connections with friends and playing electronic games when they are with you. Whether it is a phone, a tablet, or a gaming system, ask them to turn it off. Be an example and turn yours off too.
Really, it IS worth bothering the kids to turn the electronics off. It is easier to have conversations, play games, or do something together in the kitchen or outdoors without an electronic tether.
I really struggled with this issue. I like my Cell Phone. A lot! And my Kindle Fire is wonderful. I can do so many things on it. Why should I ask my grandkids to give theirs up, if they like theirs as much as I like mine?. I want my grandkids to be connected with other people. I am very introverted, and I value these electronic ways to know what is happening with other people.
At the same time, I do not appreciate feeling that I am in competition with a little electronic box! In a good faith effort to at least provide some electronic-free time, I made a little sign for the dining room table. “We really enjoy the time we spend with you, and would like you to enjoy that time too. Please do NOT bring your electronics to the table. Charging cords are available in the living room.” I set the sign out when a group is gathering, and so far have gotten about 99% compliance. Set a boundary and stand by it. At home they may be allowed electronics anytime, but at my house they can find better things to do.
If you have chores to do, include the kids. I know this is a hard thing to do; it seems to make more work for you. But how will they learn the value of hard work, unless they see you doing it, and work alongside you?
If my grandkids can’t find something to do, they know I will find something for them. It is amazing how many times the windows need cleaning, or there are dishes that need to be washed! (Never mind that they get to play with the water sprayer or in the sink of water. )
I have learned to limit personal electronic time when other people are around. With just a glance, I know who is calling me just to talk, and which calls are truly important.
5. Pay attention to your teenage grandchildren. You may have days when this tall, lanky creature greets you, and his voice has suddenly deepened. Or she whispers in her ear, asking if you might have an extra tampon. Suddenly you don’t know what to say. It’s as if they’ve changed overnight!
Know that you can still enjoy close relationships with your grandchildren even when they become teenagers. Just keep in mind to accept them for who they are, be patient with them, find out about what’s going on in their lives (such as by asking them thoughtful questions) Get to know their culture so you can engage in discussions that are relevant to them.
6. Treat all grandchildren equally. You may find that one child reminds you of yourself as s/he grows up, or is the easiest to care for. It is a complicated thing to work through these relationships, make sure you try to give each child equal time.
Love step-grandchildren and adopted grandchildren. Ask God to give you His perspective and view your step-grandchildren and adopted grandchildren as vital parts of your family. Give your new grandchildren plenty of time to figure out where you fit into their lives, and be gentle with them. Speak respectfully about the other adults in their lives. Pray for each of your grandchildren often.
Next to their parents, you are quite possibly the greatest influence that your grandchildren will ever have. They will see your faults and imperfections. If you admit this to them, kids can see that it’s okay not to be perfect and to admit it when they are wrong. I want my grandchildren to know that I was never perfect, but the Lord that I trust in is. (Hebrews 1:1-3)
Your grandchildren are watching you. What are they learning?