Grandparenting: Giving and Letting Go
“I just can’t do enough for them!” a new grandmother of twins confessed. Little surprise, since most grandparents are enraptured with their first grandchild. She was excited about her first shopping trip with her daughter and the babies. Reluctantly they cut the shopping trip short when the babies let them know they’d had enough already!
Even though the babies and their mom thought she’d bought enough, Grandma still wanted to give them more. She could hardly wait for the next shopping spree. She likened her experience to God’s love and delight in giving good gifts to us. It was a true-to-life illustration.
Her excitement brought sweet memories of when my first grandchild was born. I wanted to do and buy everything for him. But my husband wisely reminded me that whatever I did for him, I’d have to do for all the grandchildren who would follow or be suspected of playing favorites. It turned out to be good advice since six more grandchildren were born within the next six years.
We have always enjoyed giving gifts to our kids and grandkids, but we have never given lavish gifts. We have taken care not to give them too much in the way of material possessions; first, because we have had limited resources, but also because that would not be good for them.
A Meaningful Investment
Being a pastoral family, we have focused a major part of our time and attention on other families during our lives. Now in our retirement years, we find great joy in focusing more time and attention on our children and their children. It is a ministry to be sure, one that we love and value just as we’ve loved our pastoral ministry.
My husband’s counsel has served us well in 17 years of grandparenting. We have focused on them, but not so much in material gifts. We have chosen to give them more time, attention, experiences, and opportunities to create memories.
Their busy, working parents provide their necessities and often give them many things they want. What we can give them—that their parents cannot always give—is abundant time. Time to listen to their stories. Time to take them to the park to play. Time to read to them and listen to them read. Time to help them with a special school project. Time to tutor them in areas needing one-on-one help.
We also give them experiences. We’ve taken them to plays, museums, and art festivals. We’ve visited our state capitol and other local areas of interest. We’ve open our home to them, covering the living room floor with sleeping bags to make sure they spend as much time as possible with relatives, especially cousins from out of state.
We have a closet in our home filled with toys, art supplies, and games they can access any time. We kept some of their parent’s favorite toys and games so our grandchildren could enjoy them too. We bought a tent, toys, and dress-up costumes at garage sales. They play with them each time they come to spend a day. We allow them to have tea parties with a real tea set. We even encourage play-doh and modeling clay!
As they have grown older, we spend our time doing different things. We’ve shown them walnuts, cherries, and grapes growing in our yard. We’ve taught them to cook and bake. We go for walks and take them fishing. We take them shopping at free places like Bass Pro Shop, where they can see over 100 taxidermy animals up close.
We’ve kept them at our house during summers when their parents worked so they would not have to go to a day care program. We cherish our time spent with them because we love them dearly, and it gives us opportunities to influence their lives. We teach them to pray, to read the Bible, to share, to give, to tell others about Jesus. They have learned a lot playing Bible guessing games we have invented. We talk about important issues like war, poverty, and crime —things they ask about—listening to their fears and opinions.
We show them old family pictures and tell stories about their ancestors. We take them to visit their great grandparents to help instill the value of family in their lives. We talk about the day when Jesus will come again, and we’ll all go to Heaven and see family members who have gone on before us.
We’ve taken them on vacations to Disney World, to the mountains, and to family reunions. We’ve played tree tag with them at the park. We take pictures of every day events, and look through the albums regularly to enjoy the memories all over again.
Children never get tired of learning as long as they don’t know they are learning. We have taken them to the library since they were toddlers. We’ve taught them how to use a computer and monitored the websites they visit. We bookmark the places they can go and help them learn to play games online. We’ve spent time on Google Earth showing them the world and letting them pick the places they want to view. We helped them find the Grand Canyon, the White House, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, Old Faithful, the Pyramids of Egypt, the Amazon River, and their own houses and schools from the view of outer space!
We’ve kept a library of books in our home for every age, so they are constantly learning and growing. We’ve helped them write letters to the President of the United States (for which they got an answer). We’ve helped them write accounts of summer vacations, so when they are adults, they will be able to read details of where they went, what they did, and what they thought.
It is easy to make a habit of buying things. But like all of us, a child’s appetite for more can be insatiable. We can give our grandchildren something so much better. We can give them time and experiences that no one else can give. We can pique their curiosity for life and make them life-long learners.
One mistake grandparents often make is not giving instructional discipline to their grandchildren. We were not perfect parents, and may have been accused of being strict with our children, but we seldom had to discipline them. They knew how much we loved them, but they also knew what we expected and the consequences if they did not obey. Because we have done this, whatever their ages, we enjoyed being with our children and grandchildren.
Grandchildren must also understand we have rules and that they must follow them. Children need to know the boundaries of acceptable behavior, something we can teach them. Grandparents should not have to physically discipline if we are firm and consistent in instructing and enforcing our rules.
I enjoyed hearing that grandmother’s experience of giving gifts to her grandchildren. It brought back sweet memories for me. Fourteen years have passed so quickly, and we have enjoyed making wonderful memories with all our grandchildren.
Like every young person, our grandchildren’s focus will soon turn away from their families. They will focus their attention on peers, altogether proper and necessary to establish themselves as individuals. They must loosen ties with their parents to focus on their education and life training. They must find a job, find a husband or wife, and start a life and family that is independent of their family of origin. This does not mean they will abandon their families. In fact, family becomes more important to them as they begin families of their own.
For a few years, parents (and even grandparents) may feel abandoned and suffer from the “empty nest syndrome.” The key is to let them go. To quote an ancient Chinese proverb, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” We do not own anything in this world, and especially other people. We may think we do, but our children and grandchildren are only loans from God. They possess the right to live their own lives just as we do. Attempting to control our children and their families is as harmful as neglecting them.
Rather than lamenting their “loss,” parents and grandparents can enjoy this new stage in life by doing things we could not do when they were young. We can take trips we could not afford when we had little ones. We can pursue hobbies we did not have time for when our families required our time and attention. We can volunteer time to serve in our churches and communities in capacities we could not do before. We can even pamper ourselves a little by focusing on our health and leisure. We can walk, play tennis, and swim to improve our health. We can read books, take classes, learn new skills, work puzzles, and play games to improve our minds. We can make new friends and entertain people in our homes. We can go to local events, get to know our neighbors better, and impact other lives for Christ.
As we refocus and get busy with our own lives, we’ll realize that we miss our children and grandchildren, but we will view them in a different way. We will see them from a different perspective as adults and treat them with a new respect.
Just when you think your time of parenting or influencing your family has passed, your children and grandchildren will bring their little ones back. They’ll want to show you their most valued possessions. They’ll want their own children to know the grandparents who filled their own lives with fun, meaning, and memories. They will want them to have what’s best for them, instead of the trappings of this temporary world.
We often hear someone joke, “If I’d know being a grandparent was so much fun, I’d have had grandchildren first!” Or as Proverbs 17:6 says, “Children’s children are the crown of old men…” We can have great fun while also having a ministry that will outlive us and bless our families for generations.
Do you want to give your grandchildren something of value? Give them the things that money cannot buy – a legacy of faith in God, a love and respect for family, and a curiosity for life.
Post your own experience and comments below.