When my oldest son announced that he and his wife were expecting their first child, I was thrilled. My husband and I had recently become empty nesters. As a result, we were enjoying our new role as friend and advisor to our adult children. But this announcement that we were soon to have the title of “grandparents” seemed to make life even richer than just being empty nesters. We see all of the members of our family–ourselves, our children and our grandkids–as providing family capital. At the beginning of our journey as grandparents, we needed to understand what a valuable gift a grandchild is.
What is family capital?
My family was growing. As my children were finding their respective partners and beginning families of their own, they were adding real value to their lives and to mine. As they were adding children to their families, we were growing in family capital. James Hughes, in his book Family Wealth, explains that there are at least three kinds of capital available to families:
- Human Capital
- Intellectual Capital
- Financial Capital
The definition of human capital is the adding of people to a family through birth, adoption, or marriage. Our family was growing in human capital, making us a richer family. Without a big investment on our part, our children were providing us with capital as they added spouces and grandkids to our world.
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Intellectual capital includes all of the knowledge, skills, interests, passions, and experiences that make each one of us unique. This type of capital makes the individual’s life, and the lives of the people around them, richer. Each member of your family will add to the growth of the whole by sharing their intellectual capital.
Financial capital needs little explanation. Every family needs to have enough resources to cover basic needs. There also needs to be resources to provide for the development of the intellectual pursuits of each family member. Each new person provided our family with greater human capital.
Where does capital reside?
Think about all of the skills and interests represented by each person in your family. Do you have a teacher, a nurse, an electrician, an accountant, an entrepreneur in your ranks? Are their people who love to make music, cook and entertain, can grow plants or are good with animals? Do you have family members who can tell a good story, or who are amazing listeners? Do you have people in your family who can balance a budget, or who give great gifts? Maybe Grandpa or Uncle can teach the grandkids to hit a baseball, or pass a soccer ball? Can you teach the grandkids to crochet or bake? Who can show the grandkids how to use basic tools or change a tire? Every family has a wealthy of intellectual capital that often goes unrealized. This type of capital makes each a family unique collection of attributes.
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How do grandkids add capital?
Knowing that your child has intentionally chosen to have a baby is affirming! It means your adult child likely felt valued as he or she was growing up. Their decision to start a family suggests that they see children as adding value to their own family. I’m sure your are looking forward to watching them blend the good things from both of their backgrounds into their new family. Recognize, too, that they are also creating their own family wealth.
I bet you are looking forward to the fun part of being a grandma! I had heard that grandkids are the reward for having children, and I have found that to be true. You get all of the benefits of children, without most of the responsibilities that came with them. No sleepless nights, no child training responsibilities, no day-to-day financial responsibilities. Just the fun of watching them discover the world for the first time.
Planning ways to help your grandkids grow in intellectual capital (the skills, passions and knowledge that a person gains) becomes a great way to thinking about how to spend time with your grandkids. When you are working to help them grow into healthy, well-rounded people, the possibilities are endless for ways you can engage with them.
Why capital is important?
The season of parenting is short. So is this season of grandparenting. Being a grandparent requires us to play the long game. Without the 24/7/365 marathon that is part of the job, you will be able to enjoy the sweeter pieces of the journey. However, know that the journey will not be without setbacks, disappointments, and concerns. Enjoy the easy parts of the journey. But Iearn to prepare for the difficult parts that will undoubtedly be there as well.
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The best way to help you and your family understand that children are a long-term commitment is to start thinking about what kind of adult this child could become. You need to set in place now those things that would strengthen your family for the next 100 years. Successful families prepare for the long game. Babies do not stay babies for very long. Because they grow so quickly, they will soon be on their own. You want to tie your grandchildren to the larger family and community that they are a part of.
How do you go about doing that? Part of the solution is to collect the traditions, rituals and stories that are a part of your own life. As I began to collect those pieces of my extended family, I began to plan how I could share those things with my grandkids. As I have shared many of these recipes, traditions and stories with various families, my grandkids are beginning to connect to all of the cousins. Creating these horizontal relationships between the cousins will be more powerful over time than just creating a vertical relationship with me.
Family Capital has three components: the individual people that are part of the family, the skills/talents/passions of each person in the family, and the financial resources available to support the needs and development of each family member.
Intellectual Capital resides in each member of the family and will be unique to them. This is what adds both depth and breadth to a family’s make up. Grandkids add capital in two ways. First, the birth of a baby into the family adds to the human capital ledger. Second, they start out by adding joy to the family, but as they grow, they add their interests, passions and skills to the family unit.
Paying attention to your family capital is a good way to keep track your long-range goals for your family. Periodically reflect on where your family is at and compare that to where you would like your family to be. Take inventory of your family intellectual assets. As a team, dream and plan for what you can be doing now to bring health to your family and to help your family develop their unique blend of people, skills and passions.
Current Family + New Baby = More Family Capital!
As I think back on becoming a grandma, I am thankful for several things. First, I appreciate the affirmation I feel as a mother as my kids are having kids. Second, my life feels enriched with each new person joining the family. Third, I have been nurtured through the joys of being a grandma. Fourth, I have been made stronger because of the heartaches that we have experienced. And finally, I have grown in excitement as I realize that I am adding value to my growing family through what I am learning and doing in this season of my life. Children and grandkids, (and grandparents!) provide family capital!