Baby boomers are a large group of grandparents. Statistically, there are about to million of us in the United States alone, and the number continue to grow. We all have one thing in common–we have at least one grandchild. But the similarities end there. Some grandparents are active in the grandparent role, others are passive. None of us have unlimited resources, and the amount of our resources vary. Some grandparents live hundreds of miles away while some are raising their grandchild in their own home. The mistake is to compare yourself to the other grandparents around you. Even worse, is to try to compete with them. But there is also danger when you do not decide what kind of grandparent you want to be.
Reflect back on what kind of grandparents you had
My grandparents took a passive, supportive role in my life. We lived hundreds of miles away from them and only saw them once a year. We went to them. They didn’t come to us. They had mobility issues and health issues and they were retired by the time I was born. But they loved us! Grandma baked with me and hugged me and complimented me. Grandpa let me watch him work in his garden, or repair old toys. They never came to a piano recital. I never got a birthday present or card. And they didn’t call to see how I was doing. But I knew they loved me.
They modeled for me hard work and hospitality. They were both creative people–grandma quilted and grandpa took trash he scavenged from the junk yard and turned it into treasures. Both of them had reputations for being fair, for being responsible, for being generous. Were they perfect? Nope! Some of the stories I’ve heard from my girl cousins and from my mom let me know that they were also flawed, and at times impulsive. But all of their children and grandchildren respected them. We all strive to incorporate their best into who we are.
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Decide what type of grandparent you want to be
We make the mistake of thinking that there is only one way to be an effective grandparent. Call, give gifts, entertain, spoil, and how up to everything. In truth, that is the model I am embracing in this season of my life. My youngest son doesn’t have a family yet. Someday I may not have the energy or stamina as a grandparent for his children that I have for my current grandkids.
But the most important thing we can give our grandchildren is the example we leave of how to live their life with integrity. I learned from my grandparents how to lead a simple life, to mind my own business, to work hard with my hands and to not be dependent on anyone. As a result of seeing the living out of their daily lives they won the respect of their family, friends and community. Note: for those of you familiar with the writings of Paul, that is exactly what he said should be the ambition of those who follow The Way (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12).
I want to encourage you to give some thought to the example you are living that will be there long after you are gone to guide your grandchild in how they should live.
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But I also want to encourage you to clarify what role you want in your grandchild’s life. I have identified several roles (there may be more). I think it is important to know what kind of grandparent you want to be. When you have chosen the role that you want to embrace, it makes it clearer how you can best fulfill that role. You get to decide what kind of grandparent you want to be.
Decision to be passive or active
These labels are not judgmental. There are many reasons to be a passive grandparent. Your children may be withholding your grandchild from you. Divorce, death and distance often make it difficult to play an active role in your grandchild’s life. Health concerns and being significantly older grandparents will also play a role in how active you can be. Don’t feel that a passive grandparent is a bad grandparent. When you have lived a life that your grandchild can respect, you have done your main job.
However, if age, health, and relationship complications are not part of your current story, determine what resources of time and energy you have for being actively involved in your grandchild’s life. Make a plan for how often you are able to see them face to face. Decide if you want to have call them regularly. What kind of activities do you want to do with them? What financial resources do you have to support their interests and goals?
Decision to support and/or mentor
Many of the grandparents I know are the supportive type. They show up for games and graduations. They may write notes of encouragement or send gifts that fit with their grandchild’s current interests. My parents were the type of grandparents who wanted a larger mentoring role with their grandkids. They wanted to encourage their grandkids to a life of faith and discipline. They both had a strong work ethic and they wanted my kids to have a strong work ethic, so they had them work! My older boys shoveled the snow from a really long gravel driveway on one of our visits. The often loaded the wood room with wheelbarrows of cut wood from the wood shed. My dad was not shy about mentoring his grandsons into a role of hard physical labor. But, my dad also modeled that same kind of commitment to working hard.
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The grandparents of baby boomers didn’t often cater to every whim of their grandkids, or attend every event. They didn’t give extravagant gifts and they didn’t all take their families on fabulous vacations.
Decision to observe (and cheer) and/or to be engaged
My mom was both an observing grandparent and an engaged one. She frequently corrected my children on their behaviors and manners. (She was a bit critical of my parenting style as well). But she also played games with her grandchildren. She delighted in board games and card games of every type, but she loved playing bridge the most. So she taught her grandchildren to play bridge.
She broke the rules of this complicated card game down into basics any beginner could learn, and she patiently worked with each of my kids to help them master the fundamentals of the game. She complimented them frequently saying, “You are going to be a fine bridge player!” We still have a tattered copy of “Grammy’s Bridge Rules” stashed with our face cards.
Her influence extended beyond her immediate family. My cousin, Bill, was talking about my mom after she died. My mom would give him unsolicited advice and she would challenge the example he was setting for my baby brother. So I was surprised when he wrote, “She was my favorite aunt of all time.”
My mom chose to play the long game with her family by focusing on the things that she was excited about and encouraging those things in her grandchildren. There are several generations of bridge players who got their original start with Grammy. She determined what role she was going to take as a grandmother. It was up to her to decide what kind of grandparent she wanted to be.
Decision to babysit (or not!) and how often
One of the grandparenting roles that is pretty common these days of two income families, is the babysitting role. The reality is that many grandparents are also two income families when their children begin to need help with childcare. You get to decide how you want to handle this. I know grandparents who offer to babysit a day or two each week. There are some who take on the whole load of babysitting every day. Some grandparents don’t have the option of being available to babysit. Some grandparents don’t have the ability or the desire to provide childcare. That’s okay. Babysitting is not the foundational requirement for being a grandparent. The foundational requirement is to be an example of the virtues you value and want your grandchild to observe in your life.
You don’t have to play the comparison game, or the competition game. Don’t look at the other set of grandparents and try to best them in the grandparent role. You get to decide what the role looks like for you at this season of your life, and with your resources. If you don’t decide, you may default to a role that you don’t want to be remembered for. Or circumstances sill steer you into a role your children want you to have, but not the role you would choose for yourself. Be intentional about deciding the role you want. Be excited about choosing the path you want to take in your grandchild’s life. It is up to you to decide what kind of grandparent you want to be.
Again, you don’t want to compare or compete or be corralled into a role you don’t want. But you do need to decide what being a grandparent looks like for you. Then you need to be intentional about making that role happen.