As a child, John didn’t have relationships with healthy men in his family of origin. He had virtually no relationship with either one of his grandfathers. One left home and disappeared before John was born. The other suffered from untreated alcoholism. When he was drinking, he was rude and demanding. And when he wasn’t drinking, he was cold and distant.
Unfortunately, John’s father also became an alcoholic. After many difficult and embarrassing situations associated with the alcoholism, his father died when John was just eight years old. Although his mother re-married when John was twelve, his step father never became the loving role model that John wanted and needed.
As a young father, John threw himself into his role as a provider at the expense of his other functions within the family unit. Even when he was physically at home, he struggled to make emotional connection with his family. On many occasions, his wife and children tried to communicate with him that they needed more of his focus. He was working without a model of healthy fatherhood and didn’t know how to divide his time to meet everyone’s needs. And over time, his family came to lower their expectations and to work around his workaholic lifestyle.
This whole system came to a crashing halt when John retired in his early 70’s. Without a sixty hour a week job to keep him busy and give him a purpose in life, he would have to rework his identity. And this time, he recognized that his family would need to get more of his attention.
So as a grandfather of six, John started the process of learning the skills needed to open up lines of open communication and healthy relationship. Despite his remorse for the many missed opportunities—with both his grandchildren and especially with his children—and the relational bridges that had suffered from his neglect, he slowly started reaching out with a hand of affection and emotional connection. It was slow going at first, but John knew it was worth it. He could never make up for years of absence, but he could commit to giving it his best effort. And with his family’s support, that is what he did.
A growing grandfather is not a perfect grandfather. In fact, some who feel the closest to perfection have actually lost some of the edge to improve. As grandfathers, we can’t do it all right all the time. But we can commit to admitting our mistakes quickly and learning a little bit every day. As one popular TV show character says, “What matters most when you make a mistake is what you do next.”
GROWING GRANDFATHERS HAVE:
A Steadfast Commitment
How do you assess your commitment to your grandchildren? Many times, it isn’t so much what you’re doing, but what you’re not doing—what you’re willing to give up in order to gain in the eyes of your grandkids. Being a good grandfather may take sacrifice.
Some of the best stories of grandfathering sacrifice come from extraordinary situations. Men have altered the course of their careers and their entire lives to help take care of their special-needs grandchildren—children facing unusual physical or mental challenges. Those men should inspire us, but we should also recognize that all kids, to some extent, have special needs.
You may have to make adjustments for the sake of your family, sacrificing job advancement, activities you enjoy, or even extra service in your community or church. As a committed grandfather, sometimes you have to sacrifice what is good for what is best.
Maybe you stay up late to talk on the phone with your grandson about a speech he’s nervous about—when you also have plans early the next day. Or you give up your Saturday round of golf to go bicycle riding with your granddaughter.
Committed grandfathers recognize that difficult circumstances aren’t an excuse to bow out on their role. Grandfathers aren’t just defined by who they are, but also by what they do. And grandfathers … grandfather. Growing grandfathers find ways to have a positive influence even in the face of adversity and discouragement.
It may seem like no one notices all you do, but the fruit of committed grandfathering—a close bond with your grandchildren—is its own reward. And there are few satisfactions in life that can compare.
A Long-Range Perspective
Growing grandfathers know that their actions today have an impact on tomorrow. Many of them have been through the phase of life where they were tempted by recognition, power and achievement that the world offers. They know it’s more important to succeed first with their families. Steven Covey’s advice, “Begin with the end in mind” has almost become a cliché, but good grandfathers know how meaningful it is.
Grandfathering from a long-range perspective means that when grandchildren bicker or fight or act up during a meal, you can still be patient and gentle with them. Chances are, due to your years of experience, you’re likely to consider what’s in your grandchild’s best interest and the long-term effects on the relationship, and it’s more natural to handle the situation calmly—maybe even with a smile.
You realize that ten or twenty years from now, some passing conflict isn’t likely to be important to anyone, but your relationships with your grandchildren will matter. That long-range perspective is a big asset for you.
Sources of Ongoing Encouragement and Equipping
Other adults in your grandchildren’s lives. You gain confidence when you know you are in sync with someone with the same goals and purpose. Ideally, their parents are the first line of collaboration. And in fact, your grandchildren’s parents are their primary gatekeepers. It behooves everyone involved to focus on mutual goals, even as you bring your individual style to bear. You compare notes, get feedback on how you’re doing, and gather the strength to love your grandkids through whatever struggles tomorrow may bring.
Grandfathering Education. When you commit yourself to learning about being a better grandparent, good things almost always happen. Besides the practical insights you learn, it can be encouraging to see that others share your desire to be there for your grandchildren—and some have very similar struggles. Maybe their stories will encourage and inspire you, or you’ll hear something that completely changes the way you look at grandparenting.
Other Resources. There are more quality resources available for today’s grandparents than our own grandparents ever could have imagined: books, magazines, radio programs, podcasts, feedback surveys, Internet sites, seminars, and ongoing training curricula.
Accountability Partners. There are men on your block, in your church, and at work who are grandfathers just like you, and you’d benefit from meeting regularly with them. Some of them have difficult relationships with their adult children. Some have grandkids that strayed from the path they intended. When you bring up a recent problem with your granddaughter, one grandfather says, “Boy, I know how tough that is.” He tells you how he handled it and what he’d do differently if it came up again. These men could have a dramatic impact on your grandfathering, and you may have some insights to share with them.
They should also have permission to confront you about some destructive habit in your life. It’s uncomfortable, but you know they’re only looking out for you. And, with their continued concern and encouragement, you’ll find motivation to make changes for the better.
A Willingness to Adjust
Our grandkids need us to be consistent—predictable in our moods and habits. At the same time, we need to adjust our behavior to the ever-changing demands that come with being a committed grandparent. While we’re reliable and our character is rock solid, there should also be room for creativity, spontaneity and change.
We need to be aware of our grandchildren’s development as they move through various stages. Ask any grandfather of a teenager if he has adjusted the way he relates to his grandchild. We also need to alter our approach according to each child’s unique personality and life dreams. One child is embarrassed easily in public; another thrives on that attention. Each child is unique, and we need to adapt our approach accordingly.
There are other good reasons to make adjustments. Maybe like John at the beginning of this article, your grandfathers and father were emotionally distant, and you’re just now learning about the deep satisfaction of connecting with your grandchildren emotionally. As you grow in this or other ways, that should show up in your grandfathering.
We also want to change when we recognize any of our own unhealthy behavior patterns—like an explosive anger, avoiding conflict, or some overbearing personality trait. We need to take whatever steps are necessary to improve in those areas, for our grandkids’ sake.
Humility precedes hope. Even “good grandfathers” struggle to meet the many challenges of their role. Some of us have made many mistakes, and we’re trying to win back our children and grandchildren’s trust. Others have spent years frustrated with work schedules that have kept us apart from our family members. Some had success early, but lost touch as our joyful grandson or granddaughter turned into a brooding teenager.
But there is always hope for growing grandfathers. We trust that things will get better, not worse, and that prevailing optimism affects the way we think, talk, and live our lives. It restores our larger purpose and provides a sense of confidence and enthusiasm. There are no guarantees that everything will turn out fine, but the best predictor of the future is the present. What we do today will make a difference tomorrow, the next day, and the next.
Each one of us must face our past and our shortcomings, and then step up to be the everyday heroes our grandchildren need.
∙Read a book that addresses an area of personal development for you: communication, self-discipline, anger management, etc.
∙Develop long-range goals for your grandfathering. Write them down; verbalize them to someone; review them periodically.
∙Talk with other adults in your grandchildren’s lives about each of their specific needs—including issues you might help to address in the next six months.
∙Buy breakfast or lunch for a grandfather or two who seems to be doing things well. Ask them what they would do again, and what they’d do differently.
∙Sit down and write a mission statement where you define or reaffirm your important life values. Make sure several points mention your grandchildren, and post it somewhere where they will notice it.
∙Form or join a group of grandfathers who meet regularly to share encouragement, accountability, and grandfathering insight.
∙Tell your family, “I want to be a better grandfather.” Ask them for suggestions or ideas.