By Stacey Monaco, Crosswalk.com
The wise and loving grandparent has the opportunity to treasure and value their grandchildren, seeking at all times to nourish both the child and their relationship with their grandchild. As is common with all relationships, there can be many seen and unseen pitfalls ready to wreak havoc between grandparent and grandchild.
1. Falling Into Favoritism
There is a multitude of reasons why a grandparent may find himself or herself giving way to favoritism within the family system. They may have already set up the standard of favoring one child over another, and now continue with this toxic mentality by preferring one grandchild over another. It could be the first-born grandchild, the one that lives nearby, or perhaps a granddaughter or grandson that more closely resembles the grandparent in temperament, personality, or appearance. Perhaps the grandparent is struggling with behaviors from a grandchild that impede the grandchild-grandparent relationship.
It can be easy for a grandparent to put the onus for a good relationship on the parent or the grandchild, and yet to avoid this potential relational misstep, it is essential that as grandparents we lead through exampling Christ by taking responsibility for our own heart attitudes and actions toward others.
We must search our own hearts and allow God to guide us into actively beating back favoritism. We can do this through praying for each and every one of our grandchildren regularly, and by seeing each one as uniquely and beautifully made by God.
2. Avoid Comparisons
The root of favoritism can often be found in what may seem to be an innocent contrast and comparison of your own grandchildren to one another, or to their parents when they were young. You may even be sizing up your grandchildren against your friend's or acquaintances' grandkids. It may seem that you are simply pointing out differences in personality or accomplishments, but if you are not careful this can lead to one child finding themselves as the scapegoat of the family, and another as the favored or golden child.
Comparison can lead to the child believing that they can never hit the mark of whatever expectation or other people they are being measured against. It drives a wedge between the grandparent and the grandchild, as the child may feel devalued and even at times unloved. To the child, achieving the required standard may seem to be an unspoken requirement of receiving love.
Scripture is very clear on the perils of comparison, from the depiction in the book of James on how one can choose to value a poorly dressed person as lesser than a nicely dressed, to the reminders throughout the pages of the New Testament that we are each created by God for distinct purposes and are to be valued equitably.
A mindset of comparison circumvents our ability to see the unique design of each one of our grandchildren. It diminishes our gratitude for God’s amazing differentiation and creativity within the personality and design of mankind. Ultimately, comparison is shortsighted and lacking in redemptive vision, as its judgment assumes it knows the end of the story for the one it weighs up against.
A godly grandparent who desires a strong and lasting relationship with their grandchildren has the distinct opportunity to pray and ask to see these young ones through the eyes of Christ. They can choose with hope and a heart of loving-kindness to practice the tenets of Philippians 4:8, finding in each of their grandchildren the true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy ways that God is working in them day-by-day.
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3. Dishonoring the People and Things That They Love
Grandchildren come in all shapes, sizes, ages, interests, capacities, and relational circumstances.
As Christian grandparents, we are building a relationship that we hope will long outlast our lifetime. We want our grandchildren to remember how we loved them well and took an interest in who they are and the things and people they loved from their infancy to the day we possibly see them walk down the aisle or even have children of their own.
If we are fortunate, we are given box seats to the seasons of their lives. We cannot take this lightly, or act indifferently or critically towards those things that they care about. This includes honoring their parents in word and deed. This can be especially difficult if the family is not fully intact, and presents a striking opportunity for the grandparent to lead out in love through choosing to honor the people our grandchildren love.
We can translate this relational win to caring about friendships, hobbies, academic interests, and things as simple as food and clothing preferences. Showing interest and an open mind draws our grandchildren near. Judgment and criticism hurt the relationship and diminishes trust, creating a classic generation gap misstep that has the effect of pushing a grandchild into a corner of feeling dishonored and misunderstood.
Grandparents who desire to build and honor their relationships with their grandchildren must listen with sensitivity, looking for clues to what their grandchildren value. Grandchildren desire to be seen and heard, and to know that the adults in their life are available, safe sources of wisdom and friendship.
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4. Failing on the Follow Through
My almost-three-year-old granddaughter remembers when I tell her that I am going to do something for her. The summer months are upon us, and for weeks now she has been asking when we will set up her little swimming pool. She can feel the days warming up, and she knows that if I tell her I am going to do something, I will do my utmost to follow through on that promise.
This is my commitment to each of my grandchildren. It starts with the intention to consider my words to them, and then to understand that what I say to them becomes a commitment. It is a mindset consistent with how God keeps his word to us, and it honors the weight of the simple yes or no.
In order to follow through on our commitments to our grandchildren not only do we have to consider our words, but we also need to ensure that we are in good communication with their parents. Commitments that violate the wishes and parenting style of your children can hurt your grandchildren and create an unnecessary generational relationship strain.
In order to avoid failing on the follow-through, it is important to know the boundaries of what you are able to commit to and to choose to avoid the carelessly spoken yes.
5. Lacking the Ability to Apologize
In every family, failures and misunderstandings will come. The grandparent-grandchild construct is no different. Lacking the ability to apologize to our grandchildren is perhaps one of the most devastating and faith-harming actions that we can take to open the door into long-lasting hurt within the relationship.
We may “Ooh and Ahh” when we first hold our grandchild in our arms, but there will come a day when we will misstep, fail, or exhibit flaws still awaiting transformation, just like every other human being. The inability to apologize denies that we are flawed human beings who are in need of Jesus.
The prophet Micah says it best when he writes, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah 6:8
To apologize to those of a younger generation and admit our flaws can seem humiliating; conversely, it creates an opportunity to exhibit the humility of Jesus and to example authentic humanity. What we may feel we lose in authority, we gain in trust and openness of communication.
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Avoid the Pitfalls
The truth of the matter is that like parenting, becoming a grandparent doesn’t necessarily come with a manual. While we can apply some of what we learned as parents, we might also have some unlearning to do.
At some point, each of us will have moments where we will have stronger feelings about one or the other of our grandchildren. We may reminisce about the methods and ideals that we implemented within our own parenting context. We may find ourselves trying to fill up some piece of our identity through our grandchildren. These are normal behaviors that we should not be concerned about, as long as we take the time to contemplate their value or lack thereof, and allow God into our grandparenting experience to create a redemptive, loving, and transformative experience for both generations.
Seeking to understand himself, as well as the heart of God, the psalmist breathed out a prayer of reflection in Psalm 139:23-24. “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
As grandparents who desire to be an example of Christ, we can find benefit in joining together with the Spirit of God in the contemplation of the ideals and paradigms we bring into the context of being a grandparent. To best reflect Christ as grandparents, our primary goal should be to avoid the aforementioned pitfalls and to daily seek to allow our lives to be transformed through a rich and consistent union with Christ.
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