A Grandparent's Greatest Challenge
Spend time with the wise and you will become wise, but the friends of fools will suffer.
Proverbs 13:20 (NCV)
People have a propensity to complain about the youth of today. Throughout history, one can easily find moanings and groanings about these young people and how their attitudes and actions are destroying the very moral fiber of our country. We tend to recall our time of adolescence as a wonderful time of innocence and wonder.
I’ve found connection doesn’t automatically happen because you are a grandparent or parent. Deep engagement isn’t inherited; it’s cultivated. You cultivate it every time you are intentional in reaching out to your grandchildren in ways that make them want to reach back.
This process begins with grandparents asking questions. Hopefully, it then blossoms into a relationship where the grandchild asks the questions. This exchange is a process; one I’ve learned from my relationships with thousands of teens at Heartlight, a Christian residential counseling center I founded almost 30 years ago.
There are five necessary steps in this process of engagement and connection with your adolescent (and sometimes older) grandkids. Let’s unpack them a little here.
During the first years of our grandkids’ lives, I think we get involved for our own selfish reasons. We love their cuteness, enjoy watching them grow, feel ecstatic when they give us a name. Grandbabies make us feel good, look good, and put a smile on our face.
If your grandchild feels for a moment that your purpose and intent in their life is just to transfer all the wisdom you’ve gained in life, you will bore them to tears. You may think adolescents and teens have no common sense, but they can be incredibly savvy. And they can quickly spot a fake. Remember, grandparenting is not about you. It’s about your grandkids.
Paul writes about this when he says to the Philippians, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others” (Philippians 2:3-4).
One of the hardest challenges of grandparenting is sharing the wisdom you have gathered through life in a way that applies to their world and their culture, not the world you grew up in and learned from.
Adapt to Their World
Okay, so you live in a world of immodest girls who are unladylike in their behavior, foolish boys who think only of themselves, a world where kids have a great sense of entitlement. They are impatient, know everything, and hardly respect their elders. That is the world of kids today, it seems. But it’s the world your grandkids have to live in.
If you want to be an influence and make an impact on their lives, then you will have to adapt your message so it includes an understanding of the world they live in. When I say adapt, I’m not telling you to scrap your standards or beliefs and discard what you hold to be true and valuable. Apply it all to their world.
If your message is relevant, don’t change your content. Do change the way you approach it and say it so the intended recipients of the message can embrace the message, engage with applicability, and value the effectiveness of the wisdom shared.
A real relationship takes an investment of time and effort. The key word is investment. The focus of that investment has to be the benefit of the grandchild, motivated out of love for that child.
Paul wrote to the Thessalonians and said, “We loved you so much that we shared with you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
Teens are looking for genuineness, authenticity, and relationships that offer something more than only correction when they mess up. They desire someone who is frank, honest and isn’t afraid to speak the truth in love because they know the motivation comes from a deep empathy for their plight.
The connection I’m talking about is the next step in the relationship with your grandchild. It’s when communication, effort, and desire to spend time together become a two-way street. This is what you want to happen with your teenage grandchildren. It is more important than the message you have to share. It has to be cultivated…and watered…and fertilized…and allowed to grow.
So here are some things I’ve learned about connection with grandkids:
- Connection is more than just a relationship.
- Connection is not measured by the number of pictures of your grandchild you post.
- Connection is having the relationship that is measured by two-way communication.
- Connection is not an opportunity for correction.
- Connection is a mutual love for one another established because a grandparent determines to pour life and love into a child.
When I initially show interest in any teen, including my grandkids, I do it by asking questions about his or her life, thoughts, and heart. It’s not the interrogating type, but types of questions that convey value.
I want them to start asking me questions. You’ll know you have a connection when your grandkids start asking you:
- Can you keep a secret?
- Can I tell you something?
- Hey, want to get together for dinner?
- Grandma, did you ever fall away from Jesus…I mean, just not get it sometimes?
As a grandparent, this is what you’ve been waiting for. It’s their invitation to you to speak the truth (however painful that may be) into their lives. Their questions will let you know there is a connection, and they want wisdom.
Over time, you’ll find that talking about the hard stuff and sharing the reality of the lessons you’ve learned will convey those rare qualities of good relationships called genuineness and authenticity—two items in high demand in today’s teen culture.
Known as the “Teen Whisperer,” Mark’s effectiveness in helping parents and grandparents connect with their teens can be heard on his nationally award-winning radio program, Parenting Today’s Teens with Mark Gregston as well as his new book, Leaving a Legacy of Hope: Offering Your Grandchildren What No One Else Can. Mark is the founder of Heartlight, a Christian residential counseling center for struggling teens, for nearly 30 years.
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