One of the great opportunities grandparents have is to help our grandkids avoid the mistakes we made. We can clarify how our priorities have changed over the years. Through our stories, we can help them see how we have grown and changed. Using the lessons we have learned, we can make our stories helpful for our grandkids. If we have any regrets about things in our past, we have an opportunity to use those missteps to help our grandkids avoid some of our mistakes.
Being a grandmother that takes an interest in your grandkids is a wonderful gift to your family. One of the most impactful ways to influence them is to use storytelling to help them avoid mistakes. Even if you don’t have the ideal situation where you all live in the same town, you have an opportunity to guide your grandkids through some of life’s difficulties. Grandkids grow up so quickly! There is no time to waste in preparing them for the future. Use your stories as a tool to help them.
There are no perfect families
We all know there is no such thing as a perfect family. Sometimes we forget this is true, and we think that our family will be the exception. It won’t. Being the perfect family is the wrong goal. Mistakes don’t destroy a life. They give us the opportunity to figure life out and make it one worth living. Mistakes that we learn from help us to be prepared for the next challenge that presents itself.
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Instead of dreaming about being part of a perfect family, or being a perfect grandma, I want you to start thinking about how to become the most helpful grandma for your family. I want you to reflect on your past experiences and find a way to tell your grandkids what you have learned. The goal is not perfect grandkids, but grandkids that have the grit to lead lives that will bring them satisfaction. The goal is a family that can survive and thrive for a 100 years. Focus on using stories to help you play the long game in your family.
How to use your mistakes to help your grandkids avoid them
Living through several seasons of life may not make you as wise as you want to be. But you do have wisdom that is valuable to share with your family. Spend some time reflecting on your past decisions. Pull out a piece of paper and divide it into three columns. In the first column, write down the decision you made that you are proud of; the decisions that were helpful to you. Then make a list of the decisions that you wish you could take back in the second column; the ones that you wish you might have done better. The most important column is the third one. In that column, write down everything you learned from both types of decisions. I think you will find that you learned more from your mistakes than you did from your successes!
As you continue to reflect, identify the pivotal decisions that either helped or hurt you. Identify the elements that made those pivotal points powerful.
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For example, I made a decision in my 40’s to go back to college and get a degree in nursing. After I graduated with my BSN, I spent the next 20 years working as a nurse. I worked for 15 years in the hospital as a floor nurse and later as a charge nurse. I spent the last five years of my nursing career teaching nursing students at my local community college. Up until I became a nurse, we were living on one income and spending most of it. After I became a nurse, we still lived on one income, so we were able to save for our retirement.
I have a negative example, too. When my husband and I first got married, we lived in an affluent part of Orange County, CA. We were not affluent; we were the newly married poor couple who helped out with the college group in our wealthy church. I often felt insecure and uncomfortable because of both my age, inexperience, and our low rent lifestyle. We invited a family from our church over to our one bedroom apartment for dinner. The youngest child walked into our house and said, “You live here?!?” His parents were embarrassed, and so was I.
As a result, I put too much emphasis on upgrading my “stuff” to what I thought was an acceptable level. I would have been much better served by focusing on enjoying time with people than on having the right home and the right things for entertaining them. When we retired and moved into our fifth wheel camper, all of my “stuff” had to go!
Craft your pivotal moment into a story
My grandkids know the story about my going back to school to become a nurse. They know that I think education and preparation are important. They also know that I feel it is important to use money wisely and to not spend more than you make. Some of my grandkids were around as we were downsized our 40-year collection of stuff to fit in a 38-foot camper. I was able to share with them how I learned to invest in people, not in things.
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Telling grandkids your stories creates an emotional response that allows them to remember the point. Storytelling doesn’t feel like a lecture. It is a sideways approach that provides information and guidance without running into issues head-on. Storytelling also allows for questions, feedback, and additional clarification.
As we were packing the truck to take our sectional sofa to our daughter, my granddaughter asked me, “Why are you giving away your sofa?” I was able to explain that things are valuable to us when they are useful. “This sofa was no longer useful to me, but it will be useful to Aunt Hannah.” Being a practical child, she asked, “Well, what are we going to sit on?”
You can tweak your story to emphasize the parts that are more pertinent for a particular issue. You can tell variations of your story. Your story does not need to be perfect. It can be conversational and short. The point is to share details of your life with your grandkids to illustrate a lesson you have learned. Once you craft your story, you can tell it over and over again. As an additional bonus, your stories do not interfere with the parenting style of your adult children. These stories belong to you and they are part of your toolkit for having an impact on your grandkids.
As you consider the stories you want to tell your grandkids, don’t be nervous about the stories that highlight your mistakes. We all learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes. The younger generation often will say that they want to learn from their own mistakes. But we know that it is even more helpful to learn from the mistakes of others. No one should make ALL of their own mistakes. Sharing your “mistake” stories with your grandkids give them an opportunity to avoid a potential minefield. It also gives them a step up in the world as they figure out who they are and who they want to become. They will make their own mistakes. But through your storytelling they will avoid some of the hurst that often results. And if they know how to frame their own mistakes into lessons learned, they can pass them on to their own grandkids one day.