Rickie began experimenting a bit when she left home and went to college. First, she got a few extra piercings. Her dad, Jim, wasn’t thrilled, but he tried not to let it affect their relationship; it was her decision, after all. Then Rickie wanted to dye her hair blue. Again, Jim wasn’t enthusiastic, but he didn’t make a big deal out of it. He kept telling himself, She’ll grow out of it.
As it happened, Rickie’s grandmother (Jim’s mother) was one of the first to see her with blue hair. Nana took a picture and texted it to Jim with the message: “I think it looks great.”
At first, both of Rickie’s parents were shocked by her response; dyed hair seemed like one of the last things Jim’s mom would like or give her approval. But then Jim thought his mother’s response made perfect sense. Nana was expressing an unconditional love that simply affirmed her granddaughter no matter what.
That kind of love is one reason grandparents and grandchildren have a priceless bond. There’s something different and special about grandparent-grandchild connections, and as dads we need to view those grace-filled connections as huge benefits for our children and our families.
WHY GRANDPARENTS ARE IMPORTANT
Your children need a variety of positive influences in their lives, and grandparents can play an important role.
They symbolize family. It’s in the porch swing, the old kitchen table, the tool bench, Grandma’s dishes, Grandpa’s fishing boat, even their clothes. One man proposed to his future wife in his grandparents’ barn. Why did he take her there, of all places? Probably for a variety of reasons, but for sure that barn held deep family connections.
They are living links between generations. Children look at grandparents as magical creatures because they embody the concrete, wonderful past. Their albums and attics are full of treasures. They’ve lived through wars, hard times, cultural changes, and even your childhood. There is a saying: “When an old person dies, a library burns down.” Make sure your children visit that library often while they can.
They provide connection points for a family. In many families these days, the kids grow up and go to college several states away, and then take jobs in who-knows-where. The demands of “success” often take us further and further away from our roots. But grandparents can help restore what has been lost, and impart to the coming generations the importance of being a family.
Grandparents coordinate schedules so everyone can be together during Christmas, even if it has to be a week early or a few days late. Grandma cooks the turkey as only she can, and Grandpa sits at the head of the table, savoring the noise of all the aunts, uncles and grandkids laughing and carrying on. Grandparents restore the deep meaning of the word home.
HOW THEY BENEFIT YOU
Grandparents can do things for children that few others can, and it’s more than just spoiling them. From a practical standpoint, they provide some benefits because of their unique perspective on your child’s life.
Grandparents are more objective, which usually gives them special insights into your children. It’s always a good idea to ask your mom or dad what they see in your children. They’ll relish the opportunity to talk about their grandkids, and they’ll probably give you a valuable perspective on your children’s growth and development, or point out potential problems which you, in the heat of your fathering role, may have missed.
They are more relaxed. Go to any youth sports event and you’ll see how we fathers invest much of our own ego into our child’s performance. We’re not always emotionally prepared to affirm our children simply for who they are, even when they fail. Grandparents, on the other hand, know from experience that children bounce back, and that a game is just a game. They’ll support a child win or lose. They’re just happy to be out at the ball field watching the greatest grandchildren in the world.
You may feel a lot of pressure at work, consumed with career advancement and providing for your family. Grandparents have been through all that. They’ve learned that net worth and cash flow aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. They know we find our true worth and value in relationships, and they’re determined not to miss out on the joys that children bring into their lives.
They transmit values. Grandparents have a unique window to your child’s heart. When you as a dad relate to your children, there’s always a struggle for authority. You’re the man in charge, the disciplinarian. But when your child is alone with her grandparent, she can relax, with no competition or expectations. She may listen better and ask more thoughtful questions, like, “Grandpa, when Daddy was seven, was he like me?” “Did he have to clean up his plate?” Or maybe, “Grandma, why did Aunt Julie get a divorce?” She’s trying to learn about her world, including school, her family, and relationships in general. A grandparent’s wise perspective can help to shape a young mind and create meaningful times together.
They love your kids unconditionally. As Rickie’s story illustrates, there’s a special bond between grandparents and grandchildren. Your children may feel a level of acceptance from a grandparent that’s deeper than what they feel with you. And you should keep working to create closer connections with your kids, but don’t be upset or feel threatened by your child’s grandparents. View them as assets: more people who love your children, who may be able to teach them important lessons in ways that you can’t, and who might be a stabilizing influence at a time when you and your child have a strained relationship—like during the teen years.
They can make your life easier. I know in some families things are difficult between parents and grandparents, and if that’s the case for you, I hope you’ll do everything you can to reconcile and heal those relationships. What I hear about much more often are grandparents who make incredible sacrifices to help their children and grandchildren. Maybe your children’s grandparents watch your kids while you and your wife work, or they take them at a moment’s notice when one child needs to go to the doctor. Maybe they have kept your kids so you and your wife could get away together for an evening or a weekend—an incredible investment in your marriage. Or maybe they have offered to cover the expenses for your son’s cello lessons, your daughter’s hockey team fees, a new computer or microscope, or a special trip with the high school French club. Be sure to thank your child’s grandparents often for the ways they help and bless your family!
ENCOURAGE THOSE GRAND CONNECTIONS …
Dad, you can do much to help your children stay in close contact with their grandparents, whether they live nearby and see them several times a week, or if they lives several states away and you help connect your kids with them through texts, video chats, letters and occasional visits.
If the visits are only occasional—or if your parents have passed on—your kids are missing out on some rich interaction and you’re missing out on having a great source of parenting wisdom close at hand. The good news is that there may be a dozen potential grandparent figures for your kids within your reach, so actively seek out nearby surrogates in your neighborhood, your church, in a nursing home, or wherever you find them. Your kids will love it, and you may restore a sense of purpose to a time-weathered heart. Who knows, you may even get some free babysitting out of the deal.
If you think grandparents are only good for spoiling kids, think again. That’s one of their jobs, but they can do so much more. They are a valuable resource that’s far too seldom tapped by our current generation. By honoring them and encouraging their involvement in our kids’ lives, we not only do ourselves some good, we also give irreplaceable gifts to our children.
What’s your experience? How do you see your kids benefitting from their grandparents? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.
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