Give Grandchildren Timeless Love in an Ever-Changing World
- Tuesday, November 11, 2008
Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of D. Ross Campbell, MD with Robb Suggs's book, How to Really Love Your Grandchild … in an Ever-Changing World, (Regal Books, 2008).
The world your grandchildren are growing up in has changed in some disturbing ways from the world you knew when you were young. But what hasn’t changed is God’s call for grandparents to love their grandchildren. Your grandchildren need your influence in their lives to strengthen them in today’s world. So answer God’s call by making the most of your opportunities to love them.
Here’s how you can give your grandchildren the timeless love they need in an ever-changing world:
Help your grandchildren’s parents. Building positive relationships with your adult children, son-in-laws and daughter-in-laws will benefit your grandchildren. Express love and respect for them, even when you disagree with their parenting choices. Never try to undermine their rules or question their authority in front of their children. Consider their perspectives on issues. Refuse to react in anger during stressful situations, since doing so will hurt your grandchildren. Keep in mind that what your grandchildren need the most is a safe and secure environment where they feel loved. Avoid competing with your grandchildren’s parents for your grandchildren’s affection. Make sure the parents don’t feel as if you’re somehow usurping their place of honor in their children’s lives. Aim to be a valuable resource to help the parents, rather than a replacement parent.
Be just as intentional about spending time with, and expressing love for, your adult children and in-laws as you are with your grandchildren. Don’t give unsolicited advice; wait until your grandchildren’s parents ask for it. If they do ask for it, give your advice in loving, nonjudgmental ways. Encourage your adult children and in-laws to share your grandchildren with grandparents on the other side of the family. Do all you can to be patient, considerate, and unselfish when interacting with everyone in your grandchildren’s lives.
Keep in touch well from a distance. If you live far away from your grandchildren, you can still build and maintain close relationships with them. Get an email account and send them short messages often. Set up an affordable cell phone or long-distance telephone calling plan so you can call your grandchildren regularly and talk about whatever interests them and what’s going on lately in their lives. Learn how to use text messaging to stay in touch with your grandchildren. Send them care packages full of personal and memorable items, like handwritten letters they can save and heartfelt things like toys or snacks that you know they’d especially enjoy. Make audio or video recordings of yourself describing how much you love your grandchildren or sharing some special stories from your life with them. Then burn CDs of these messages on your computer and mail them to your grandchildren.
See about getting your family together for reunions as often as possible. Make the most of the times you’re able to visit your grandchildren, by purposefully spending one-on-one time with each of them through special activities like nature walks or picnics. Help your grandchildren’s parents pay for travel costs to come visit you
Rely on God’s help if you’re asked to parent your grandchildren. A crisis in your adult children’s lives may cause circumstances that stress them to the point of asking you to take over some of their parenting duties. Think and pray carefully before deciding to take on those responsibilities. Remember that you can’t take good care of your grandchildren if you don’t take care of yourself first. If you can’t reasonably meet your own needs while parenting your grandchildren, it’s best for your grandchildren to decline to do so and help their parents find other resources.
If you do decide to parent your grandchildren, make sure that you don’t neglect your own health (body, mind, emotions, and spirit) while you do so. Give yourself regular sleep, eat the right foods, get regular medical checkups, exercise regularly, be honest about your emotions and talk about them often with your spouse or close friends, take regular breaks by yourself to rest and do something you enjoy, pray and read the Bible often, and reach out to your fellow church members to let them know how they can help you.
Give your grandchildren the love they need. Constantly ask yourself these questions when you look at each of your grandchildren: “Does this child feel profoundly, unconditionally loved?” and “When and how can I express my love and support for this child again?” Do all you can to express love to your grandchildren consistently at every age they go through. Ask God to help you love your grandchildren as powerfully as He wants you to love them. Let your grandchildren know that no matter what happens in their lives, and no matter what mistakes they might make, they will never lose your love. Always protect them, trust them, hope for their best, and persevere in putting up with them.
Make eye contact with them when you’re together. Listen carefully to what they have to say, giving them your full attention. Touch them affectionately and often. Schedule special times to be alone with each of your grandchildren once a month, encouraging or helping them with something.
Help your grandchildren learn to express their anger in healthy ways. If your grandchildren learn how to successfully deal with their anger, they’ll be much more successful in life than if they don’t. Provide consistent love for your grandchildren even when they have tensions in their relationships with their parents. Help your adult children defuse their anger about situations that upset them, so that anger won’t spill over into your grandchildren’s lives. Manage your own anger well, by keeping a journal of your thoughts and feelings, discussing your feelings with others, and asking for help from others whenever you need it. Try to set a positive example for your grandchildren by showing them how you to turn to God to gain the self-control and peace you need when you’re angry. When your grandchildren express anger, recognize it for what it is and talk about it to help them figure out why they’re angry. Fill their emotional tanks by giving them unconditional love.
Be patient but firm when dealing with them while they’re angry. Always listen to their concerns, but never change the rules. Be consistent with both love and boundaries. Notice what your grandchildren are doing right (not just what they’re doing wrong), and encourage them. Ask them resourceful questions to help them consider how they can better handle upsetting situations and make things right between themselves and the people with whom they’re conflict. If your grandchildren are rebellious, encourage them to pursue positive activities like sports and nature adventures that will give them healthy outlets for their energy.
Discipline your grandchildren wisely. Keep in mind that discipline should be positive training to help your grandchildren reach their full emotional and spiritual maturity. Discipline isn’t just punishment; in fact, punishment should be the last resort in discipline. Rather than trying to force your grandchildren to behave by punishing them until they comply with rules, guide them toward right thinking and mature judgments. Instead of creating a power struggle, work alongside your grandchildren to help them reach goals and shape their character. Apply discipline based on each grandchild’s need rather than your own frustration. Use self-discipline to keep your anger from overwhelming the process. Make sure there’s an atmosphere of love rather than a battle of wills. Treat your grandchildren with respect and dignity even when disciplining them.
When faced with a grandchild’s misbehavior, first ask whether or not the child needs his or her emotional tank filled. If not, consider whether the child has a physical need – if he or she is in pain, ill, tired, hungry, or thirsty. If not, ask whether they child may be just acting defiantly – openly resisting and challenging adult authority. In that case, put down the rebellion without hurting the child’s spirit. Be available as a resource to your adult children whenever they want to come to you for help thinking through their own discipline efforts.
Help protect your grandchildren. Take advantage of every opportunity you have to help your grandchildren develop critical thinking skills so they’ll be able to discern what’s right and what’s wrong – and why – and make their own wise decisions once they grow up. Discuss news events with them. Watch TV and movies together. Emphasize integrity, and show them what it looks like to tell the truth, keep promises, and take responsibility for behavior. Teach them your values by showing them the processes you use to think through your own decisions, in light of your faith. Present your opinions in non-confrontational ways. Let your grandchildren think for themselves when they’re faced with problems, rather than just jumping in and solving the problems for them. Instead of correcting them harshly when they make immature remarks, gently and patiently help them move toward a more mature perspective. Pay special attention to moments when your grandchildren bring you questions and when you’re connecting to them emotionally; those are great opportunities to teach them valuable lessons of faith.
Encourage grandchildren who have special needs. If one or more of your grandchildren have special needs, don’t be embarrassed or deny the reality of the situation. Instead, help diagnose the issues and give your grandchildren the help and guidance they need. If a grandchild suffers from frequent fear and anxiety, provide the comfort of permanence and stability by consistently expressing unconditional love for them. Show them how you turn to Christ for peace, and encourage them to turn their worries into prayers. If a grandchild is depressed, do all you can to help him or her participate in positive activities like a church youth group and outdoor recreation. Work with your grandchild’s parents to get him or her into counseling if her or she displays a cluster of depression symptoms.
If a grandchild suffers from an eating disorder, nurture him or her and emphasize that God’s love is based on who people are rather than what they look like. If a grandchild has attention-deficit disorder or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, urge the parents to have the child evaluated thoroughly by a doctor. If a grandchild is being bullied, keep the lines of communication open between yourself and that child, ask questions, listen well, and make sure your grandchild knows that he or she can talk with you about anything. No matter what special needs your grandchildren deal with, reach out to them in love and expect that God will use even the worst circumstances to accomplish good purposes if you trust Him.
Share your faith with your grandchildren. Make the most of your opportunities to draw your grandchildren closer to Christ. If they don’t currently go to church, help their parents find a church near their home that has a lot of young people in the congregation and offers great worship and activities for young people. Pray for your grandchildren daily. Do your best to be a faithful role model for them, showing them what faith in action should look like. Encourage your grandchildren to express their love for God by serving others as He leads them to serve.
Tell them stories about how God has worked in your life, and help them notice how He is working in their lives. Let them see how you apply your faith to help you solve the crises and everyday problems you encounter. Urge them to ask God for His perspective on their own problems. Counter the world’s cynicism by showing your grandchildren that there is always hope in God, and everyone who turns to Him will be blessed.
Leave a powerful legacy for your grandchildren. Invest fully in your relationships with your grandchildren so your positive impact on them will live on after you have passed away. Make sure that your will is up to date and your estate plans are set the way you’d like them. Do all you can in the time you have with your grandchildren to demonstrate love and integrity, so they will remember your example when making decisions themselves after you’ve left this earth.
Adapted from How to Really Love Your Grandchild … in an Ever-Changing World, copyright 2008 by D. Ross Campbell, MD with Robb Suggs. Published by Regal Books, a division of Gospel Light, Ventura, Ca., www.regalbooks.com.
D. Ross Campbell, MD, has spent more than 30 years as a clinical psychiatrist, concentrating on the parent-child relationship. He has counseled thousands of parents throughout his extensive career and is the author of the bestselling book, How to Really Love Your Child. Dr. Campbell also works with the Ministering to Ministers Foundation, serving individual ministers, their families and church organizations. He and his wife, Ann, have 14 grandchildren.
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