Grandparenting: a balancing act

Wellbeing advice for grandparents from Keith and Sarah Condie.

This is an edited excerpt from Keith and Sarah Condie’s chapter of Footsteps for Future Generations.

Having recently welcomed two grandchildren into our family, we are new to this season of life. As one grandparent saying puts it, ‘There are no words to describe the happiness in holding your baby’s baby’. And there aren’t. The experience has been captivating, enchanting, fulfilling. Even thinking about our grandchildren brings a smile to our faces and warmth to our hearts.

Being a grandparent and spending time with our grandchildren is not just good for us; it’s also good for them. Grandparents have a significant contribution to make to the lives of their grandchildren. In Paul’s second letter to his co-worker and friend, Timothy, Paul mentions Timothy’s grandmother by name, which provides a glimpse of this inter-generational relationship that can be significant enough to leave and build a legacy of ‘sincere faith’ (2 Timothy 1:5).

This is not to say, however, that the grandparent role is always smooth sailing. Alongside the joys and opportunities for legacy building are the challenges. How deep is the heartache when we find our grandchildren edged out of our lives due to busyness or relational difficulties! We may feel bewildered by social changes around gender, sexuality and identity, and be uncertain how to navigate this terrain with our grandchildren. Perhaps we are fearful about their mental health or worried that they might not share the faith that has been so sustaining for us. These and other factors can impact our own sense of wellbeing and mental health.

And, of course, there is the humbling and confronting reality of growing older, with all the consequent physical challenges—aches, pains, chronic pain, difficulty sleeping, diminishing capacities and such like. Teenagers, young people, little ones, babies—they have such energy and vigour, how do we keep up? Oh, to be a Granny and Grandpa with more youthful bodies!

How, then, do we persevere in this role, particularly in the midst of the inevitable stresses and difficulties that come our way? How can we stay mentally and spiritually strong for the long haul to fulfil our desire to make a positive contribution to the lives of our grandchildren?

It’s good to be healthy

In a short New Testament letter, the Apostle John prays this deeply personal prayer for his friend Gaius: ‘Dear friend, I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well’ (3 John 2). John suggests that it is ‘well’ with Gaius’ soul, that he is spiritually alive and walking in the truth of God’s ways (see 3 John 3–4). But this prayer also acknowledges that there’s something inherently good about being healthy and enjoying a positive experience of life. Neither of these things is a reality for any of us all the time. And what good health and good happenings might look like differs according to our situation. But the fact that John prays for these things shows that our ability to persevere is not simply a self-help project. We are deeply reliant upon God, our Creator and Redeemer. If we are to fulfil our grandparenting responsibilities faithfully, we need to start with an attitude of prayerful dependence.

But our need for God’s assistance doesn’t negate our responsibility to act. The Scriptures consistently bear witness to the truth that we are active, responsible agents. The choices we make impact the lives of others and our own physical, mental and spiritual health. There are habits and routines that are good for us personally, as well as benefitting others, such as our grandchildren. We are all aware of how children observe and mimic the significant adults in their lives. Thus, the choices we make can model wise living to them. This includes:

  • Looking after your body through exercise, sleep, healthy eating and relaxation
  • Connecting with others
  • Showing concern for others
  • Having a healthy mindset
  • Practising thankfulness
  • Resting in God.

None of us drift into these types of habits, but small changes in these areas can assist our mental wellbeing and help us cope when life is uncertain and stressful. And, if the Apostle John’s prayer has anything to teach us, we can call upon divine aid in these matters—the burden of resolutions need not rest only on human shoulders. Might we not ask the Lord for his gracious assistance in making wise choices, for others and for ourselves?

In this article, we only have space to discuss two of these healthy habits. For more practical advice for physical and mental wellbeing, read our chapter in Footsteps for Future Generations.

Showing concern for others

Helping others is a very significant way to turn our focus outward, and it benefits us as well as them. And, of course, we can be a supportive grandparent by showing concern for our grandchildren.

Focus on the positive

Wherever possible, we should be a positive supporter for our children and grandchildren. Notice and provide feedback on what they are doing well rather than being critical. We may not be entirely on board with the parenting practices we observe, but it’s normally more helpful to keep our mouths zipped unless we are asked for advice.

Be a joyful, loving presence

We all find it easier to spend time with people who lift us up just by being in their company. When we’re like that, our grandchildren will want to spend time with us.

Have a long-term perspective

If possible, we want to be in this for the long haul. We want to have a meaningful relationship with grandchildren continuing into their teens and adulthood, as someone they can talk to and spend time with. If you’re a Christian, wouldn’t it be a wonderful legacy to model wise, godly Christian living over the course of decades?

Find ways to connect

You may not get to see your grandchildren very much because of where they live or due to the choices of their parents. Think of other ways to connect, like through Facetime, emails or regular postcards or posted letters.

Invest in the lives of the families at church or in the community

We can play a significant role in the lives of children who are not necessarily related to us by blood.

Be an advocate for your grandchildren if you notice concerns

If you notice ‘red flags’—warning signs in your grandchildren—work out how you can communicate this with their parents in a way that is loving, kind and not filled with criticism. Begin these conversations with gentleness. Perhaps suggest the value of seeking professional help.

Resting in God

Our culture is very performance-based. People measure their worth by what they achieve, how they look, by trying to make a name for themselves. But Christian faith is not about performance. It’s a message of grace. Jesus says: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 29:11). Our salvation and the other blessings of the Christian life are God’s gifts. God loves us so much that he gifts us with forgiveness, with a new identity as his beloved children, with purpose, with hope for the future. These truths are so psychologically freeing. Even bad days can be good when these truths are deeply woven into our hearts.

When the world doesn’t feel safe, we rest in safe hands. ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble’, the Psalmist reminds us (Psalm 46:1). When our trust is in the Lord Jesus Christ, we rest in the everlasting arms of the good and powerful God. He’s not going to drop us, and one day he will put everything right.

And that is a truth that will keep us grandparents mentally and spiritually strong no matter what ups and downs come our way.

Footsteps for Future Generations

This collection of essays and wisdom from Christian grandparents and those influenced by them will inspire and encourage grandparents to embrace our unique opportunity with purpose and passion: that of leaving the generations following us the legacy of faith in Jesus. These believers from various backgrounds and viewpoints share their triumphs, tips and troubles in this important book, which has grown out of the tide-turning National Grandparent Movement.

Buy it from Youthworks Media

This article was first published on Growing Faith

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