Grandparents – Their Role in the Family

About 3000 years ago, a wise man wrote, “There is a time for everything” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NIV), followed by a long list of life events. No, we don’t find “grandparenting” on that list. And yet, that also has “its time” and is part of life. 

I have had the privilege of experiencing grandparenting from both perspectives. As a child, I grew up with both my grandmothers and grandfather under the same roof and experienced the blessing of such a relationship. Again and again, I remember certain situations, see their actions, their wisdom, and also how they treated us children. The years have passed, and my grandparents have long since gone to be with the Lord. 

Now we are “in their shoes” and are grandparents to 6 grandchildren. Our children are grown and have their own families, and we are grandparents. We have experienced raising children and have strived to give our children a good upbringing. With grandchildren, however, it is a little different. This is new territory for us, and we are trying to find our way to build a positive and blessed relationship with them. We realize that it is not our job to raise our grandchildren. God has “imposed” this task on the parents; they carry the responsibility. And what is our job as grandparents? Are we simply silent spectators, watching patiently on the sidelines, waiting and hoping that everything goes well? 

It takes wisdom to find our role. On one hand, we should not interfere in the family matters of our children, but on the other hand, we should not be indifferent. We are faced with questions such as: Should we speak up or rather remain silent? Based on our experience, we may have good advice, but will it be accepted? Is it possible that our views are not relevant today? Still, there are ways to be involved in the upbringing of our grandchildren. 

One way to come alongside our children (in their parenting role) is through prayer. We have decided to support our children in their journey of childrearing through intercession. It always fills me with joy when my wife, Doreen, prays for each child and grandchild by name. We also add the specific needs of each one. We pray that God will give parents much wisdom in parenting. Prayer is sometimes the only thing we can do. However, the value of prayer should never be underestimated, because God answers prayers. 

When we are asked for advice, we may be able to help by drawing from our experiences. It is important to listen first, rather than speaking prematurely without really considering what has been said. Empathy, understanding, and compassion are necessary to respond tactfully and thoughtfully. Criticism is usually inappropriate. We should not respond as omniscient grandparents who always know everything better. Sometimes it is better to reply with a question or make suggestions.

We often talk of being a positive influence on our children; that is easier said than done. Yet it is possible to be a role model by our conduct and manner. I believe Paul was thinking of such behavior when he refers to his young co-worker’s grandmother in 2 Timothy 1:5: “I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you, which dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded is in you also.” Paul speaks decisively of a grandmother’s influence on her daughter and also on her grandson, Timothy. The grandmother, Lois, lived her “sincere faith” (NIV) and thereby influenced not one but two generations.

We often hear about spoiling the grandchildren. What does this really mean? Is it permissible, and is it really advisable? Spoiling means granting the grandchildren more freedom than we gave our children. It is important to understand that the situation and the relationship are quite different, since we do not carry the responsibility for raising the children. Over the years, we have also changed and grown in a positive way. We have become more relaxed and gentler and do not react as hastily or to the extent we used to. We are usually better off financially and can do things for the grandchildren that we were unable to do for our children. It could also be that we recognize oversights in the upbringing of our children and now want to make amends through our grandchildren.

However, we should be mindful and not take on tasks that are not within our authority. In all our decisions, we should consider the values of the parents. If they would not allow it, we should not permit it either. It must not come to conflict between parents and grandparents. When in doubt, it is advisable to discuss expectations and boundaries with the parents.

We should also consider whether something is for the good of the children. Certain toys, books, or videos could even be harmful. It is important to stay informed in order to make the right choices.

Despite all of this, I believe a certain amount of spoiling occurs naturally because we have more time on our hands as grandparents. We have fewer obligations than their parents and therefore can spend more time with the grandchildren. It gives us the opportunity to participate in their lives, play with them, do things, just be there, or just listen. Children have a lot to tell. Through sharing, they process their thoughts and learn to solve their own problems. Care must be taken not to interrupt or answer hastily, lest they close themselves off to us. By asking questions like, “What do you think should be done?” we can be more helpful than by always telling them what they should do. Only once I have established a foundation of trust can I expect my grandchildren to see me as credible and listen to my advice. All of this requires patience. We use the phrase, “Rome wasn’t built in a day either” to express that meaningful things simply require time. 

The longer we think about it, the more we realize how significantly our conduct impacts our grandchildren. On the other hand, we become aware of the opportunities God gives us to be a blessing in our extended family. 

Harry Semenjuk

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