Often when my kids and I would visit their great-grandmother, I'd use those opportunities to teach them to value their elders. This had become an enjoyable experience until the moment my cantankerous Great Aunt Bobby moved in with my grandmother. Her attitude, outward appearance and wheelchair projected such a foreboding image that my children were afraid of her.
Granny Bob became a life lesson and a challenge. She had no children of her own and had been abandoned by her husband when she became confined to a wheelchair. I had taught my children to care for the elderly and find ways to meet their needs, so when my kids had the opportunity to extend this courtesy to Granny Bob, it could have been a natural fit — except that Granny Bob was, well, unlovable.
Although she knew my son had asthma, she would smoke two cigarettes at once. Granny Bob complained and refused to eat the food Grandma prepared. She disagreed with everything and often took over conversations that didn't necessarily include her. She once threw a shoe at us for not doing things her way.
While interactions with my great-aunt were a challenge, I still encouraged my children to be courteous by listening and not interrupting when Granny Bob spoke. This experience grew into learning about her life. She would share stories of her youth, and my kids were intrigued by her growing-up years. After a few months of our visits, Granny Bob began to show interest in the kids' activities as well.
Recognizing they had common interests also helped my children develop the relationship. When my kids and I came across an old movie or book at a store, I would talk about how Granny Bob might have enjoyed this type of entertainment when she was younger. I wanted my children to recognize that her interests might not be so different from their own. Soon they were mentioning Granny Bob in relation to things they saw. From this understanding, my kids were able to look past her rough exterior to see someone who once was, and in many ways still is, much like themselves.
Before our visits to my grandmother's house, I reminded my children of proper manners such as shaking hands, speaking clearly and looking people in the eyes. Through these interactions, they increasingly felt safe with my great-aunt and learned that everyone deserves to be affirmed, valued and appreciated, if only because we are all made in God's image. As Granny Bob's heart began to soften, my kids discovered that sometimes the unlovable simply need an extra dose of love.