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Five Ways Grandparents Can Cultivate a Healthy Family Environment

  • Cavin T. Harper Author
Five Ways Grandparents Can Cultivate a Healthy Family Environment

It can happen in the best of families. Tensions grow when a new grandchild arrives, and the new mom and grandma have some significant disagreement on the best way to care for that newborn.

Or Grandpa sees some behavioral concerns in a young grandchild that he believes needs to be dealt with, and Dad has a different way of handling that.

These are common issues, and usually easier scenarios to deal with compared to matters of faith when a parent or spouse wants nothing to do with Christianity or church. It hurts deeply when even the mention of Jesus or the Bible around the grandchildren is forbidden.

Besides the questions surrounding how we got to this place, the bigger question is what do we, as grandparents, do about it?

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No one size fits all.

No one size fits all.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula guaranteeing resolution of these matters to the satisfaction of everyone involved. However, there are some basic biblical practices that can help cultivate a healthy, respectful environment in any family.

When put into practice diligently and consistently, God can use these biblical principles to transform strained or broken relationships. They also work for maintaining strong, healthy relationships.

So, let me take you to the letter Paul wrote to the Ephesian church to unpack with you five ways you can lead the way in building an environment of trust, respect and conciliation:

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#1: Be completely humble and gentle (Eph. 4:2).

#1: Be completely humble and gentle (Eph. 4:2).

Humility is one of those things we talk about a lot, but it’s one of the hardest things in life to consistently practice. Paul defines humility as “considering others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3).

It comes down to not being so concerned with my own interests and agenda as the interests of others. Our example is Jesus Himself, who laid aside all His glory and authority to become “nothing” as human being. 

Humility is paired with gentleness in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians because they are complementary qualities. Pride always wants the last word; and is often mean-spirited. Humility not only seeks the best interests of others above its own – but does so with gentleness and kindness.

Practicing humility relieves us of the need to tell a young mother how to raise or discipline her children. It recognizes that perceptions matter. It produces a gentle spirit that does not push our faith upon our adult children (or grandchildren); but lives so that our walk and our talk match.

Perhaps, because of our gentle and humble spirit, they might be more receptive. 

If we feel the need to constantly push back because they don’t believe as we believe, that is not humility. It’s pride, and God opposes the proud.

Humility certainly does not preclude speaking the truth, but it does so with grace and gentleness worthy of our Lord and the calling we have received.

GrandPause Action Step:

Write down one thing God may be revealing to you in this area of humility that you can change right now. Ask God to show you how to put that into practice in your family in a way that is worthy of the calling you have received.

Now, let’s add to humility the second of five ways to cultivate a healthy relational environment:

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#2: Be patient and restrained (Eph. 4:2).

#2: Be patient and restrained (Eph. 4:2).

Patience does not come easily for me. Some of you know what I’m talking about. The opposite of patience—impatience—wants things fixed NOW. That’s me.

I have a grandson who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Though high functioning, he still has physical and relational limitations. I remember the challenge of teaching him to ride a bike when he was six or seven years old.

Besides having to cope with his fear of falling, he also struggled with balance and control. His muscle strength in his legs was considerably less than many boys his age. I’m embarrassed to admit that I found myself getting impatient with him when he couldn’t do the basic things most boys his age do.

My impatience only aggravated the situation and demotivated him from trying. I learned to take a deep breath; and remember that he was not other boys.

God made him with the limitations he has for a reason, so there was no point in being impatient. I asked God to help me be patient and restrained in my responses to him.

Patience in practice:

When I put patience into practice, his response to me and his willingness to try changed dramatically. He still struggled; and he has never been able to ride a bike like most boys his age. But he did learn better once he felt safe with me. My impatience only served to make him more insecure and fearful.

Patience freed him to try harder. (The same is true now that he is learning to drive. God help me!)

Not every situation we face in family relationships is as basic as learning to ride a bike or drive a car… or is it? Is it possible we make more of things than is necessary?

Granted, there are situations that are unspeakably devastating in some families. We don’t always know why. It could be the product of dysfunctional circumstances and attitudes. Sometimes these things can result from wrong messages that have been repeatedly communicated via friends, culture or from us. But many times, there is no clear explanation. It just happens because we’re all sinners, and Satan is hard at work to deceive and destroy.

The point is, how will we respond? Do we worry and try to fix it, or patiently wait upon the Lord?

Patience has a way of easing tensions and opening doors of communication.

Patience removes the need to judge or condemn.

Patience frees us from worry, so we can trust God knowing that He persistently pursues those He loves and calls to himself.

We are not God. We do not know all that is going on. We can, however, patiently pray, hope, and restrain our actions and reactions for the benefit of all. 

If your adult child has walked away from the faith they once professed and embraced as a child, be strong. “We who are strong,” Paul reminds us, patiently “bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves” (Romans 15:1). Patience is a product of our view of God.

It is a quality of strength that recognizes only God is “able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us…” (Ephesians 3:20).

That’s worth waiting for.

GrandPause Action Step:

What tends to push your impatience button, and why? Write down one step you will take this week to demonstrate more patience in this area. Ask your spouse, if possible, to pray with you about this area of impatience.

Humility combined with patience, where we consciously bear with one another, are key factors towards achieving that kind of mutually beneficial relationship. It is a great start for rebuilding and repairing broken relationships, and for maintaining those that are already strong.

Let’s look at a third critical piece, that when added to humility and patience, can move our relationships in the direction of healing and strengthening:

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#3: Practice compassionate forgiveness (Eph. 4:32).

#3: Practice compassionate forgiveness (Eph. 4:32).

Forgiveness without compassion is feigning a disingenuous, “I forgive you”, while holding an internal grudge. Let’s face it, it’s hard to forgive when someone has deeply hurt you and refuses to repent of that act that caused such hurt.

Even if they do repent, it can be hard to forgive when the hurt cuts deep—like when you are cut off from contact with your grandchildren without justification. There are not many things more painful than that.

Forgiving can be hard. Perhaps that’s why Paul ties kindness and compassion to the act of forgiving in Ephesians 4:32. Compassion communicates care for another. Holding a grudge circles back to me—how I feel. Compassionate believers understand they are sinners in need of grace and forgiveness like everyone else.

Compassion longs for reconciliation and restoration of a relationship above justice… for all parties involved, no matter how much it hurts.

Compassionate forgiveness doesn’t deny or ignore the hurt and loss caused by another’s actions. It is, however, strong enough to rise above that hurt and empathize with the pain of the one who wronged us. Never ought that be truer than with our family relationships. We may not understand, but we must try to figure out what might explain the hurtful action toward us. 

Compassion extends a heart of forgiveness knowing there is more at stake than my injured feelings. Forgiveness provides the most compassionate act we can offer through a hand reached out in reconciliation. That is how the Father reached out to us through the sacrifice of His only Son.

His forgiveness is no trite matter. No wrong against us compares with our sins against the Most High. 

When forgiveness springs to life:

Forgiveness springs to life in our hearts when we come to grip with two things:

1. How God much forgave us (and how much others have forgiven us too)

2. How much we still need to be forgiven

As we increasingly take forgiveness seriously, and put it into practice with compassion, a remarkable transformation occurs. Our hearts are transformed. Like cholesterol-fighting medicine unclogs arteries in the human body, forgiveness unclogs the arteries of ‘heart,’ allowing God’s lavish grace to flow freely in and through us.

Forgiveness opens the door to reconciliation. Unforgiveness shuts it. 

Forgiveness is also like a two-sided coin. On the one side is our willingness to forgive others. On the other side is our willingness to ask for and accept forgiveness from others. I am indisputably unworthy of God’s forgiveness, yet He offers it to those who are willing to ask. We may be surprised at the willingness of others, especially our family, to do the same.

Are the relationships in your family important enough to put forgiveness into practice? Do you believe God is able to do more than we can possibly imagine?

Then do it – and watch the transformation that can’t happen unless we do it.

GrandPause Action Step:

Ask God to show you one person you need to forgive, and/or you need to ask forgiveness in your family. Write down that person’s name and ask God to fill your heart with compassion for that person, and to help you understand why there is a gulf in your relationship.

Let’s move on to a fourth practice, when added to humility, patience, and compassionate forgiveness, that can work toward healing:

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#4:  Be an unwavering peacemaker (Eph. 4:3).

#4: Be an unwavering peacemaker (Eph. 4:3).

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

In a world of incivility fueled by individual rights and personal agendas, peace seems unrealistic. Rudeness is not new, but it does seem to be intensifying. Families embroiled in conflict often seem beyond any hope of reconciliation.

Perhaps we need more unwavering peacemakers.

Peacemaker and ‘peacekeeper’ are not the same thing. Only ‘peacemaker’ is found in Scripture. So, what is the difference? Isn’t it merely a game of semantics? I don’t think so. I believe the differences are significant.

Peacekeepers value the image of peace—eliminating the appearance of conflict rather than accomplishing true reconciliation. A peacekeeper is satisfied with the impression of winning peace, even it means compromising the truth to accomplish it. They will settle for some measure of peace regardless of consequences. 

In other words, peacekeepers value the impression that conflict is restrained, even if it is only short-term, rather than the achievement of true reconciliation and restored relationships.

Peacemakers, on the other hand, have a very different objective. It is not about them; but about honoring the value of every person involved in a conflict. It is about an unwavering resolve to hold firmly to what is true, honorable and lasting.

Their objective is not ‘winning’, but reconciling.

They aren’t concerned with image or their own comfort, but rather they desire to build a foundation of trust upon which God’s grace can transform hearts, and the peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7 ESV) will dissolve the conflict and restore families.

Peacemakers are unwavering in their pursuit of what’s beneficial for all, not simply the cessation of conflict. They are motivated by compassion and the compelling of Christ and His Gospel. 

For the love of Christ compels us (controls us), because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died… that those who died should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died for them, and was raised again (2 Cor. 5:14-15).

Peacemaking is hard work. These suggestions are but first steps towards creating a peacemaking environment. Prayer is the most powerful tool you have in your arsenal. Use it regularly.

How would your kids label you—a peacemaker or a peacekeeper? There is a world of difference—the difference between real peace and pretend peace.

Peacemakers shall be called “sons of God” because the Gospel compels them to imitate their Prince of Peace. In Him alone is our hope for peace.

GrandPause Action Step:

Here a few thoughts about how peacemakers might “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3):

Listen carefully and compassionately. Let everyone talk without responding except for clarification. Don’t get defensive. If someone believes you are part of the problem, swallow your pride and ask for forgiveness. (It doesn’t matter if you think you are right. Be sincere. They will know if you aren’t.) When someone expresses a concern or problem, ask them for ideas about how to resolve it. Don’t dig up the past and replay old hurts. Focus on what is needed to move forward. What are some of the good things that build each other up we can focus on?

And finally, let’s move on to a fifth practice (in addition to humility, patience, compassionate forgiveness, and peacemaking) that can cultivate a healthy family environment:

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#5: Be a habitual blessing giver (Eph. 4:29).

#5: Be a habitual blessing giver (Eph. 4:29).

My wife, Diane, and I had the privilege of speaking a special blessing over all but one of our nine grandchildren in the hospital room soon after their birth. We have since written and spoken numerous other blessings over them through the years. Why do we do it? Because we believe spoken blessings make a major impact upon their lives. Their parents also need our blessing.

When God commanded Moses to tell Aaron to speak a specific blessing over Israel (Numbers 6:22-26), He had a reason for doing so. It was to remind them that His name was upon them and because of that, He would bless them.

A blessing spoken with sincerity on God’s behalf has the power to change how someone thinks of himself/herself when they realize God’s name is upon them as His child.

Powerful examples of blessings:

Other than the Numbers command to Aaron and his sons, there is no other Scripture passage where we are commanded to practice the spoken blessing in our families. There is, however, substantial evidence that the blessing is important to God.

Consider these passages:

1. The first act of God after He created man and woman was to bless them and give them a purpose (Genesis 1:27-30).

2. The Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob—all spoke blessings over their children and grandchildren as an important way of communicating how God’s promises would be passed generation to generation.

3. Jesus forbade His disciples, or anyone, from keeping the children from Him. In fact, He gathered them to Himself, put His hands on them and blessed them in front of everyone (Mark 10:14-16).

4. The Father spoke an amazing blessing over His Son, twice – once at His baptism; the other at the Transfiguration. Pay attention to the words of blessing the Father spoke: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11). He spoke very similar words in Mark 9:7“This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!” What child wouldn’t want to hear those words from a father or grandfather?

Now, I don’t know about you, but these few examples are enough for me to realize that this matter of speaking blessing is huge. Paul comments about the importance of not letting any “unwholesome talk come out your mouths, but only what is helpful for building other up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29).

Our words matter, and when we deliberately and habitually speak blessing into the lives of our adult children (and their spouses), something transformational is possible. We become conduits of God’s transforming power to change hearts and mend broken relationships. 

Three vital components of a spoken blessing:

1. Meaningful Touch:

A hand on the head or shoulder – or holding the other’s hand as you speak – makes it intensely personal. Touch communicates identity and value; it closes the distance between the giver and receiver; it expresses intimacy, something frequently missing in today’s relationships.

2. A Specific Message:

A blessing is a reminder of the high value each of us has as an image-bearer of our Maker. It also should affirm God’s plan for a purposeful future (Ephesians 2:10). Our lives have meaning and purpose.

3. A Personal Commitment:

The one who speaks the blessing is committing to being there for them as long as God give us breath. It is a commitment to be actively involved and supportive, dedicated to fervently pray for them.

Humility and gentleness combined with patience and restraint, compassionate forgiveness, an unwavering commitment to peacemaking, and the practice of speaking blessing—these are the secure handholds God will use to help us scale the mountain of family conflict.

Conflict is the fruit of pride, unforgiveness, impatience, bitterness, and unkind words. There is a better way—five ways, actually—with the power mend and restore those relationships. They are also amazing ways to keep good relationships strong. 

GrandPause Action Step:

Embrace the truth in this quote by Tony Evans: “The blessing doesn’t stop the storm, but it shelters you under it.”  

Cavin Harper is the author of Courageous Grandparenting, A DIY GrandCamp Field Guide, and Wayfinder. He is Founder and President of the Christian Grandparenting Network, and a contributing author for the Legacy Coalition and Joni and Friends. His newest book on grandparents raising grandchildren will be released in late 2019. He and his wife, Diane are the innovators behind GrandCamps, started in 1998. Cavin and Diane were married in 1969, have two daughters and nine grandchildren. Their home is in Colorado Springs.

This adapted article originally appeared on Christian Grandparenting in a series of five blog posts. Reprinted with permission.

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