What did you call your grandparents? I called mine ‘grandma’ and ‘grandpa,’ and then use their first names when talking about them: Grandpa Jim and Grandma Louise, my maternal grandparents, and Grandpa Pat and Grandma Lulu, my paternal grandparents.
If I asked you to recall the most vivid memory of each of your grandparents, what would it be?
Here are mine:
Grandpa Jim: taking us fishing in a creek that ran past his home in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Grandma Louise: making cinnamon and sugar crisp. She always baked us a cake for our birthdays.
Grandpa Pat: riding on top of his John Deere tractor when I was elementary age.
Grandma Lula: taking me aside when I was 29-years old and telling me she had prayed us out of the Catholic Church.
Religion played an important part in my family during my formative years. My mother was raised Catholic, and my father was raised by a Pentecostal mother. My father converted to Catholicism when he married my mother. My grandmothers were always feuding about with us and each other about religion, and it seemed like the grandchildren were caught in the middle.
My parents were practicing Catholics until I was eight years old. We left the Catholic Church due to disagreements they had with their Priest and my Catholic grandmother disowned us for five years.
Score one for Pentecostal prayer.
During those next years, we were Lutherans, Methodists, and Unitarians, but never Pentecostal.
Score one for open-mindedness.
I could share more about my “faith“ development, but this is about grandparenting, not religion, even though religion and grandparenting we’re completely intertwined in my family life. Make no mistake, I learned a lot about grandparenting from my grandparents.
What were those lessons? I want to make a point as I share these lessons. These lessons are the things I learned from MY grandparents. Many of us have very diverse experiences with grandparents. Some people were raised by their grandparents. Some people lost their grandparents when they were young children. My Grandpa Pat died when I was 13 years old. I didn’t have a lot of exposure to him as a teenager and adult. So, these are the lessons that I learned from MY grandparents.
Lesson One: Mind your own business!
Listen to me, those of you who have adult children and are anticipating or already have grandchildren! Mind your own business.
You don’t like the politics of your grown children? Mind your own business!
You don’t like the way you’re grown children parent your grandchildren? Mind your own business!
You don’t like the way your children spend their money? Mind your own business you don’t approve of their choices of friends, or choices of occupations, or even their choice of partners? Mind your own business!
You don’t like the tidiness or lack of tidiness of their home and think they should be getting along better with your other adult children, their siblings, or they get divorced. Mind your own business.
If you don’t approve of their choice of pets or the number of pets they have, keep your opinion and your advice to yourself. Even if you don’t approve of their choice of religion, denomination, or the church they attend, mind your own business!
If you want to have a loving caring, nurturing, supportive relationship with your grandchildren, then accept their parents, your grown children, for who they are and mind your own business.
This includes giving unsolicited advice. Never do it! Giving unsolicited advice is a subtle form of disapproval. I always felt alienated and the disapproval of my grandmother‘s because they disapproved of my parents’ choices.
Lesson Two: Spoil your grandchildren with your time and attention.
Hug them. Kiss them, even when they don’t like it. My older granddaughter is at that stage, but I hug her when I see her and kiss her on the forehead and tell her that I love her! My granddaughters live in another state, but I see them every three months. Before I go, I visit bookstores and other stores where I can pick up small things to make a grab bag for them. I love watching them open the grab bags. Later during my visit, I take them on a shopping spree to H&M or American Eagle, or Charlotte Russe.
I love going camping with them and their parents. We love going to a state park in Colorado called 11 Mile Lake. On my last visit we went out on the driveway and played basketball with their mother. My granddaughters have three other grandparents that are actively involved with them doing all types of things. I see them fishing with their other grandfather often on Facebook. One of their grandmothers is constantly encouraging them to go hiking with her. We all tell them that we love them, and we hug them, and spend as much time with them as we possibly can.
We all think about leaving our grandchildren money for things like college or a down payment for a house. And if we can, that’s an important form of inheritance that we can leave them.
I believe the most important things that we can leave our grandchildren are the memories and experiences we had with them.
In the business world, investors make a distinction between tangible and intangible assets and investments. Tangible investments are things like buildings and equipment. Intangible assets are things like a company‘s brand, their goodwill, and intellectual property.
In parenting and grandparenting, we can make tangible and intangible investments in our children’s and grandchildren’s lives. Leaving a college fund or down payment for a home or car can be helpful for our grandchildren. Those are tangible investments.
The way you make intangible investments in your grandchildren is by spoiling them with your time and attention.
Making an intangible investment in your grandchildren isn’t being proud of them! It’s telling them that you’re proud of them.
It means encouraging them to follow their bliss. It means telling them that you love them.
What did you learn about grandparenting from your grandparents? Think of ways you can learn from them. They made mistakes. We all do. I have. I hope that I’ve been a good grandparent and set an example for my granddaughters when it’s time for them to be grandparents.
This is part ten in the Healthy Aging Series, written by Mark Neese, LCSW, BCBA. To see more entries in this series, click here.