By Kathryn Graves, Crosswalk.com
Maybe we as grandparents are close to our grandchildren because we’ve lived longer than their parents. Probably it’s because we often have the opportunity to spend time playing and developing friendships with our grandkids—as opposed to being a disciplinarian.
Perhaps it is a result of the Holy Spirit’s unseen work and plan across millennia. But it is undeniable that grandparents and grandkids share a unique bond.
A Special Relationship
I remember how my grandmother helped me navigate a particularly rough patch in my life. You may have a similar memory.
“They just don’t understand.” I blew my bangs out of my eyes with a huff and plopped into my favorite chair in Grandma’s living room.
“Let me fix you a Coke, and you can tell me all about it,” Grandma said with a tender smile.
My tense muscles relaxed under her soft words and with the prospect of a treat unavailable in my parents’ house.
My grandparents lived just behind us. The large yards comprised acreage and were separated by a small wooded area. A path wound through the trees, worn smooth by all our feet as we visited back and forth—but while I was in high school, mostly by mine.
I could air my grievances to Grandma and she didn’t act easily offended or spout off about what I should do differently—or not do at all. Instead, she talked about her latest painting, or the remodel project she planned for her bedroom, or the roses growing in her flower beds.
These subjects interested me and she knew it, using them as distractions to help my temper cool. When the time was right, she turned the conversation back to the reason I came, offering her perspective.
I traversed that woods path often to escape the tension at home. Grandma knew she could offer a godly perspective no one else in my life—not even my Christian parents—could offer.
Grandparents hold a unique place in their grandchildren’s lives. Oftentimes, they combine the role of security blanket with that of school teacher or most trusted advisor. My son began calling my mother Grandma the Great, not merely as a twist on the title of Great-Grandma, but because he idolized her by the time he reached his twenties.
She didn’t ever live in the same town he did, but location wasn’t important. She made her visits special times when he was little. In his teen years, their relationship provided the structure for deep conversations, just like I’d held with my Grandma.
Why do grandparents often occupy a pedestal in their grandchildren’s eyes, and how can Christian grandparents utilize this relationship for a unique influence?
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tom-Merton
Why Can Only Grandparents Offer This Unique Perspective?
Grandparents are less intensely involved in most of their grandchildren’s situations than parents.
There is usually some space, whether physical or emotional, between the issues our grandkids face and ourselves. We don’t live it every day the way their parents do. So when our grandchildren come to us to tattle on their parents’ over-reactions or perceived “unfair” rules, we can see the bigger picture. Because we aren’t mom or dad, our grandkids are more apt to listen to us.
Grandparents often have more time to focus on kids than their parents do.
If not yet retired, visits will be less frequent for an out-of-town grandparent, but those visits will largely be focused on the child. She’ll feel important to Grandma and Grandpa—or in our case, Mimi and Poppy. Even in-town grandparents don’t come over every day, and visits are special.
Our 2-year old grandson will ask for Poppy over and over when he knows Poppy is coming. It’s the highlight of his day. The whole time he’s there, Poppy plays with Connor—while his mommy and daddy fix dinner, wash dishes, or take care of his baby brother. Older children will show off new skills or finished projects that their parents may not have time to fully appreciate due to other demands.
Grandparents gain wisdom over the years.
We can see where we went wrong as a parent, and what we did especially well. We get a sort of do-over with our grandkids. If an issue comes up we know we didn’t handle well with our own children, we can avoid the same attitude or response with our grandchild.
We can also help him understand why his parents may be handling the situation in a way he doesn’t like.
Grandparents are usually not the primary disciplinarian in their grandchild’s life.
We should be a back-up for their parents, supporting the rules and expectations set at home. But we can often act as a buffer if conflict arises over these parameters. For this reason, children may feel on more level ground with grandparents than their parents. Our relationship can be more friend-like than adversarial.
God planned for multiple family generations to interact—and until the last century, society was structured to facilitate these relationships.
In the Bible, it was Timothy’s mother and grandmother who taught him about the Lord. Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi both raised little Obed. The lists of family descendants throughout Scripture reinforce the importance of generational ties.
I think it is evident that God wants grandparents to have a special relationship with their grandchildren.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/DuxX
How Can You Maximize Your Godly Influence?
Begin when the children are still babies.
I bought a Bible story book that I keep at my house. When the little grandkids come for a sleep-over, I read it to them at bedtime. They know this book is different, and they love that it is specially reserved for them. Whenever I hold my grand babies and croon little songs to them, I sing Jesus Loves Me or other hymns I have memorized. When I whisper in their ears, I always say, “Jesus loves you and Mimi loves you.”
Join the play of small children
Let the child lead. If he is building with blocks, gather some and add to his tower. If he’s pouring sand through a sieve in the sand box, pick up a scoop and play along. In every play scenario, add conversation such as, “God made your hands,” or “Thank you, God for the sand.” If he is playing with stuffed animals, ask which one he wants you to have and make it “talk” to him as you play his game. Be sure your animal “says” the words I love you. Playing imaginary games along with your preschool grandchild builds a foundation for conversations about abstract concepts later in their lives.
Develop a routine with a treat
If every time your grandchild comes to your house you make spaghetti and let them help, it will become a tradition they treasure. In my case, it was that ice-cold Coca-Cola at Grandma’s that my parents never kept in our house. It doesn’t have to be food. It can be a special story you read together, or tending a flower bed or little garden that they can call their own and take produce or flowers home. It might be an art project you work on, a puzzle you put together, a game of chess, or a ping-pong tournament—whatever interests you and your grandchild. Be sure to spend at least a few minutes on it together with each visit. These routines can provide a backdrop of normalcy and security when heavy subjects need to be discussed.
Offer to teach a skill
Your grandchildren probably admire something you do well. By setting aside specific time to pass it on, you also provide time for conversation. Learning to “can” or freeze garden produce, crochet, tune up a car engine, collect arrowheads (or any collection requiring research), or any other skill you have is a priceless heirloom you can hand down along with your faith. My grandmother was an artist, so she gave me lessons all through my teen years. I don’t possess her talent, but I do enjoy relaxing by painting with pastels to this very day—and recalling fond memories of time spent painting and talking out my personal issues with her.
Conspire together on a secret surprise
You might want to plan a special “date” event for her parents. Or bake a dessert for a neighbor. Or sneak away for an afternoon of fishing at a local pond, and then invite the family for a fish fry—even if you have to buy the fish! Of course, if you go someplace, you might need to clue in her parents—but keep that conversation secret too, for the time being. Having an adult view her as a co-conspirator will make your grandchild feel like a grown-up and she’ll know she’s gained your trust.
Play memory games using Bible verses with your grandchild
Using a parent-approved treat as the prize, challenge him to memorize a verse you choose. Then let him choose one for you to memorize. You might work on a longer passage with an older child together and when you’ve both mastered it, do something special—just you two.
Be sure to read your Bible and pray
It’s hard to offer godly perspective and counsel if you aren’t spending time in the Word. Being able to share a special way a verse spoke to you that morning with an older child will make Scripture come alive. He’ll know that if it applies to you, it can apply to him.
As your grandchildren grow into older teens and adults, ask their advice
This continues to build their confidence in your trust. It will also help them listen if you need to offer your own godly counsel.
At any funeral for an older person, the grandchildren usually tell the sweetest stories and have the best memories. There is just something about the place of a grandparent in their lives that is unique. As grandparents, we often say the same thing about our relationship with our grandkids. There’s nothing like a new grandbaby to rock our world—and our love for them is remarkable. So it comes as no surprise that grandparents can offer perspective and counsel like no one else in a child’s life. If we intentionally point our grandchildren to the Lord, He will bless our efforts and speak in ways we cannot fathom to draw these precious ones into a personal relationship with Him.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/monkeybusinessimages
Kathryn Graves, author of Woven: Discovering Your Beautiful Tapestry of Confidence, Rest, and Focus, and Fashioned by God, holds a BA in Psychology, is a pastor’s wife and Bible teacher, and spent 15 years in the fashion industry. Kathryn is Mimi to five grandsons, and loves to play with color—including interior design, clothing, and painting with pastels. In addition to her website, find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.