As a young man, I never imagined my life as a grandpa. For decades, I was still trying to figure out how to be a dad. Then grandchildren happened. I’m up to ten now. And I never want to underestimate the impact and influence I can have during my transition from parent to grandparent.
My grandfather took me fishing on a pier in Southern California many years ago. I was maybe five or six. I remember the event for two reasons. First, it was my first time on a pier over the ocean. Second, we didn’t catch any fish, and he told me rather brutally that it was my fault.
Grandpa said fish can hear and smell, and I was too noisy and needed a bath. As it turns out, he was correct.
Fish can smell and hear (in a way), but Grandpa was incorrect about me being to blame. I never forgot how I felt because of how he treated me. It was sixty years ago, but his words pierced my soul.
My point in this sad fish tale is that as a grandparent, your words and actions do matter to the impressionable little ones who look up to you. And regardless of the age of your adult children, what you do or don’t do as a grandparent can impact them as well.
The Transition from Parent to Grandparent
1. Whenever you can, and wherever possible, intentionally invest in your grandchildren.
Invest your time and reasonable amounts of your money to bless them. Don’t use money to spoil them (too much), but do use it to show them they matter. Kids know adults spend money on what they care about.
However, the greatest gift you can give to a child—especially a young one—is to give them your time. Take them on adventure walks. Read to them as often as you can. Play silly games. Find out what fascinates them and do that together as often as possible.
One of my granddaughters loves to take pictures, which is a hobby of mine. So whenever possible, I let her use my camera, and we edit and post pictures together. We have been doing so for years, and I’m sure she will tell her kids about those fun experiences with me someday.
2. Be the grandparent, not the parent.
Sometimes, I take on the role of a parent in my grandkids’ lives. God, however, gave that responsibility to my adult children. As a parent myself, I learned a few things that might be helpful to my kids. But as a grandparent, I shouldn’t inappropriately cross the line with my unsolicited parental opinions.
Yes, I might know some things about raising children that my kids haven’t figured out yet. However, the best way for my kids to learn how to raise their kids (key concept—their kids) is for me to keep my mouth shut and let them learn the way I learned—through life experience.
3. Be a source of wisdom to your grandchildren
They don’t know it yet, but I’m a fountain of wisdom for my grandkids, and so are you. Yes, times have changed. Yes, our grandchildren will be more technologically advanced by grade school than I will ever be.
Yes, I might not always remember what I said yesterday, and I might smell funny. (Maybe my grandpa was right.) But there are timeless truths about human nature and life that I can and should pass along to the generations in my wake. This is the foundation of the transition from parent to grandparent.
By the way, showing them is even better than telling them. Let your life and your example speak volumes.
4. Understand your grandparenting role. Then, accept it and improve it.
An interesting Psychology Today article identified five types of grandparents:
- Formal grandparent: follows what are believed to be the appropriate guidelines for the grandparenting role, which includes providing occasional services and maintaining an interest in the grandchild, but not becoming overly involved.
- Fun seeker: emphasizes the leisure aspects of the role and primarily provides entertainment for the grandchild.
- Surrogate parent: takes over the caretaking role with the child.
- Reservoir of family wisdom (usually a grandfather): the head of the family who dispenses advice and resources.
- Distant figure: has infrequent contact with the grandchildren, appearing only on holidays and special occasions.
Within your family dynamic, it’s helpful to know who you are and what your adult children expect from you. Whatever your part, rather than resist your role in a way that makes your adult children or grandchildren uncomfortable, choose to make the best of it with thankfulness and joy.
My mom’s mom had a significant role in my early life because she watched me full-time while my mother worked. Due to circumstances outside her control, my dad’s mom was more of a distant figure, but she still had a lasting impact on me.
I have a friend raised by her grandparents, and though it was challenging at times, it was good because her grandparents understood and embraced their role as “surrogate parents” without hesitation.
As someone once said, “Be who you is, or you is who you ain’t.” In other words, stop comparing yourself to others and simply be the best grandparent possible in whatever role and function you have in your grandchildren’s lives.
5. Decide to be a learner and not just a teacher.
No matter how old I am or how much I think I know, I want to be a lifelong learner. I want my children and grandchildren to see me as teachable and open to new ideas and ways of doing things.
The other day, I learned something about math from my granddaughter. She got a kick out of teaching me, and I got to show her that Grandpa is not so old that he is cranky and set in his ways. If I want my grandchildren to listen and learn from me, I must listen to and learn from them.
Final Thoughts on Transition from Parent to Grandparent
It would be easy to be the grumpy old man who always complains, “This generation is lazy and entitled!” However, when you see or sense something is not right, I pray, and then I pray some more because it is always good to pray.
Pray for protection for your grandchildren. Pray for your grandkids’ spiritual development and growth in wisdom. Pray that they will fall madly in love with Jesus early in life and that their future mates will too. And pray that someday, when they’re at your funeral, they will stand up and say, “Grandpa/Grandma taught me how to love God and live life with faith, hope, and love.”
Your kids and their kids are an amazing gift to you—a gift you never want to take for granted— because grandparenting truly is incredible.