Many of us are grandparents now or will be in the future. It’s exciting and scary.
We so badly want to be good grandparents. But what does that look like?
Where do we begin?
We begin with supporting their parents, our kids.
As grandparents our job is not primarily to train our grands. That’s the parents’ job. Our job is to enjoy them. (This is not to say we can’t influence them; that will come.) Implementing this can be tricky. But it begins with supporting our own kids, their parents.
This may mean keeping your mouth shut. They are the parents, and they will parent differently from you. This is okay. We are not the parents. Remember, your grands are God’s children first. He will take care of them. How you navigate grandparenting will depend upon your relationships with your children, your health, and the geographical distance between you (and other factors).
It will be helpful if you Ask rather than Assume.
“How can I help you when the baby comes?”
If you go to visit, ask again: “What can I do that will be most helpful for you while I am here?” What they want is likely to vary from family to family. Let them call the shots.
There are three themes to keep in mind as we nurture relationships with our grandkids: Play, Ponder, Pray.
Playing will look different at each age but realize that if you play with them when they are young, they will be more likely to talk to you when they are teens. (This is true for parents as well).
Play involves doing what they like, not necessarily what you like. If they like puzzles work them together, If they like building or coloring or even cooking do it with them. If they like you to throw a ball, do it even if you aren’t a sports person. If you need ideas for what will please a child, ask their parent. Little children need short amounts of time.
Keep in mind the importance of laughter. In some ways we’ve lost our ability to laugh in today’s serious, stressful culture. Our grands can help us recapture this quality. Be silly with them. Laugh with them.
But what if our grandchildren live far away?
Our friends’ grandkids live a long distance. Grandma wanted to build a connection with her 2 young granddaughters. She suggested to their mom that she have a regular reading time once a week on zoom with the little girls. This exhausted young mom was thrilled to have a break herself and grandma and the girls began a weekly reading club.
“Play” will look different as your grandkids grow up. Play might mean taking 2 cousins to get their nails done, or taking some boys to a ball game.
Because our grandkids live in different locations, they don’t have the opportunity to see each other regularly. Years ago, John and I initiated a “Double Digit” trip in which we take 3-4 kids who are close in age — the double digit years — from different families on a 2-3 day outing. We have the kids come to us and then do driving excursions to keep the price down. We’ve been to the NASCAR museum in NC, Hershey Park, a Pirates baseball game, etc. We ask the parents for suggestions. Our goal is to build relationships between cousins and to get to know our grandkids without their parents. It’s amazing what you can learn as you hear kids talking in the car. They forget you are there!
Alongside the theme of play is the theme of ponder. And this is a loaded one.
When I was a young mother of 5 “littles” I discovered Proverbs 27:23.
Be sure you know the condition of your flocks. Give careful attention to your herds.”
I took this as an admonition for me to ponder each of my children. I asked the Lord who created them uniquely to reveal to me how He had packaged them and to help me discern their individual needs for the coming year. What was this child’s particular gift bent? Potential leadership? Musical or artsy? Thoughtful and detail oriented? In what specific ways might I encourage the gifts?
My own mother use to say, “What I love about my grandchildren is how different each one is.”
She had a gift of discerning the makeup of each and enjoying each one.
It’s important not to compare your grandkids to one another. They will each have faults and weaknesses, just like we do. But take care not to compare one to another based on your personal likes.
Find out their interests and join in with them. If one is into photography, go on a walk with him to take pictures. Get him to show you his collection.
Some of your grands will be good communicators and some will not. You will have to work harder with those who are not talkers. One of the blessings of being a grandparent is you can get away with asking pointed questions which, if their parent asked, would result in an eye-roll, an “Ah, Mom,” or something more negative.
If you want to know your grands, ask questions that call for more than a one-word answer. A teen walking in the door from school is asked, “How was your day? “Fine or it stunk,” might be a likely answer. It’s much better to ask, “What was one thing that was encouraging for you today? Who is someone you admire? Why? What is your hardest class, your favorite teacher?” And tacking on “why” will get you more information.
However, accept the fact that some will not talk. Don’t push them. Simply leave them notes or send texts to let them know you are thinking of them and love them. Your relationship may feel one-sided, but you are making deposits for the future, and they will mature.
A main question to ask ourselves: “How can I nurture my relationship with this child at this age?” (Keep in mind, this will change year to year.) Always seek ideas from their parents.
There is a great power in storytelling. Tell your children stories of the stupid or funny things you did as a child. Share with them a time you failed and what you learned from it. Recall a time you were afraid. Show them 1 or 2 of your favorite scriptures and tell them why. Tell them how your faith became real to you. (Your testimony).
My grandmother was a godly woman. I have fond memories of curling up on her bed in the morning with her in a ragged silk nightgown, an old-timey hair net firmly in place surrounded by various worn-out devotional books and her old Bible. I knew she prayed earnestly for me but back then it didn’t mean all that much. But God answered.
Granny exemplified Proverbs 14:26:
He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge.”
Her faith was a refuge for me. She did not waver.
Whether your grandkids are in the womb or in college the most important call for us is Prayer.
When each of our 5 children were born, I began to pray for their future mates (if it was God’s will that they marry). I prayed for them to come to know Christ at an early age and I prayed for their parents raising them to have wisdom. I hoped there were some future in-laws somewhere praying for me as I raised my kids. I needed those prayers!
Another prayer I’ve prayed over all the years comes from Psalm 119:105.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, a light to my path. “
My prayer for each one is that they would fall in love with word of God. It is the one truth and can be the foundation for their life.
Share scriptures that are meaningful to you. Show them your marked up Bible. One of my granddaughters was experiencing night fears. Together we looked at Psalm 121 which describes a “watching-over-you God.” We went to the store and bought a pillowcase. We wrote this Psalm on it with a marker and put it on her pillow. Now she could go to bed on the word of God.
Ask college kids: What do your next 2 weeks look like? How can I pray for you?
Once a year we ask our children to email us a list of things they’d like us to pray for each of their kids. We glue these into prayer notebooks and assign each family a specific day to pray for them in detail. These prayers change every year. Today we have mostly teens and young adult grandchildren. Prayer requests are usually for Christian friendships, protection, a summer job, the right college, a mentor, a dating relationship, etc. What a privilege to be able to support their parents in prayer.
Recently I found Psalm 116: 6:
The Lord protects the unwary; when I was brought low, he saved me.”
And I began to pray this for my grands: Lord, please protect this child. You know kids are not always aware.
There is no perfect grandparent.
We will all mess up with our own children as well as with our grandkids. Let me say again, “Your ability to ruin your child (or grandchild) is not nearly as great as God’s power to redeem them.”
Their heavenly Father loves them even more than we do and Jesus is praying for them right now. He’s the best intercessor. (Hebrews 7:25 Romans 8:24)
If you want more ideas of things to do with your grands, check out my book Cousin Camp. It gives you instructions for hosting a cousin camp of your own AND tons of other fun ideas even if a camp isn’t a good fit for you.
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