Remember that line from years ago, “It takes a village to raise a child”? Well, there’s definitely a nugget of truth there.

Mainly it takes devoted parents. But we’d be foolish not to admit that a larger group of people can have a profound influence on a child. And fathers and mothers would be wise to make the best use of the available other people who can invest in their children—especially grandparents, of course.

Children need many positive influences in their lives, and we grandparents can play a unique role. For one thing, we symbolize family: the porch swing, the old kitchen table, the tool bench, even our clothes. I know one man who proposed to his wife very early one morning in his grandfather’s hay loft. Why did he take her there, of all places? People do all kinds of strange things for love, but I think there was something else working as well. That loft was a place that held deep family connections.

Children look at us grandparents as magical creatures, because we embody the concrete, wonderful past. Our albums and attics are full of treasures. We are like living links between generations. We’ve lived through wars, hard times, cultural changes, as well as their parents’ childhood. I’ve heard it said that when an old person dies, a library burns to the ground. We need to make sure our grandchildren visit that library often while they can.

Grandparents also provide connection points for a family. In our world, so often kids grow up and go away to college and then take jobs in who-knows-where. The pursuit of “success” might take them further and further away from their roots. But we grandparents can help restore what has been lost, and impart to the coming generations the importance of being a family.

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So we call around and coordinate schedules so everyone can be together during Christmas, even if we celebrate 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 cousins laughing and carrying on. We help to restore the deep meaning of the word home.

I suppose the only negative here is that we only have so many years to bring these benefits to our grandchildren—and maybe our great-grandchildren. So we need to make the most of every opportunity, wouldn’t you agree?