The Many Roles of Grandparents

grandpa and grandson installing flooring
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Creative grandparents play several roles throughout the lives of their grandchildren. They are historians, mentors and role models, among other things. All of these roles are significant and important as grandparents seek to love and nurture a new generation.

Historian

Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting, calls grandparents “living time machines that transport children to the past through firsthand accounts of family history.” As historians, grandparents tell their family story, giving grandchildren a sense of the past and creating awareness of family roots. They tell stories of themselves, their parents and their grandparents. Some of the stories are funny; some, serious; some, insightful.

Storytelling gives us a sense of history and connection. God instructed Joshua to tell future generations about His deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt and their passing through the Jordan River on dry ground, into the Promised Land:

When all the nation had finished passing over the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Take twelve men from the people, from each tribe a man, and command them, saying, ‘Take twelve stones from here out of the midst of the Jordan, from the very place where the priests' feet stood firmly, and bring them over with you and lay them down in the place where you lodge tonight.’ ” … And Joshua said to them, “… When your children ask in time to come, ‘What do those stones mean to you?’ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord.” (Joshua 4:1-3,5-7)

Picture a Jewish grandfather telling this story, with his grandchildren sitting in awe at his feet, asking questions like, “What happened then, Grandfather?” This grandfather would tell them about how their ancestors crossed the Jordan River on dry ground. He would tell them of God’s wonderful love and redemption of His people, Israel. The grandfather would then tell his grandchildren of his own love for God, and challenge them to love Him with all their heart, soul and mind.

Creative grandparents are connectors to the past and to past generations. Grandparents provide connection between at least five generations: They are the third generation, their parents the fourth, and their grandparents the fifth generation. Our world has changed so dramatically in the last 100 years. Our grandchildren will find it hard to understand the world of our parents and grandparents unless we tell stories, unless we provide connections to the past.

Our stories give grandchildren a sense of connection to past generations and provide awareness of family roots, which in turn provide security and strength. These family roots help them shape an identity.

Mentor

Creative grandparents are also mentors to their grandchildren. Most grandparents have unique abilities and knowledge to share with their grandchildren. They know how to do things their grandchildren can’t do (at least without some training and supervision). Creative grandparents are not only open to teaching their grandchildren these skills, they are also enthusiastic and willing to take the time necessary to share their knowledge and expertise with their grandchildren.

My grandson, Jay, calls me (Jerry) at least once a month to help him fix his old Jeep, which always seems to have something wrong with it. Jay and I have replaced his muffler and tail pipe, repaired a lock on his door and replaced the brakes on the front of his Jeep. More recently we repaired the rear brakes. After replacing the rear brake shoes and cylinders and then bleeding the brake lines, we still had fluid leaking from one of the wheel cylinders. Whenever Jay and I work on his car, I usually share the job with him. I teach and supervise and usually allow him to do more than half of the work. With the brake jobs, Jay repaired one side and I repaired the other. He did the driver’s side while I replaced the passenger side. When we checked the repairs to see what had gone wrong, Jay reminded me that it was my side that had been incorrectly repaired, causing brake fluid to leak from the cylinder. We agreed that my usual practice of checking Jay’s work needed to be changed. From then on, Jay would check my work. We laughed together, fixed it correctly and drove away, not only having fixed his car but, more importantly, having learned together and laughed together over Grandpa’s mistake. Every grandparent has unique opportunities to mentor his or her grandchildren, to teach them something interesting or useful, for now and for later.

Jerry and Judy Schreur are the authors of Creative Grandparenting.

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