By Lori Hatcher, Crosswalk.com
If you passed my grandmother on the street in the 1970s, you’d have been unimpressed. A World War I immigrant who dropped out of school in the fourth grade to work in a textile mill, she looked like every other Portuguese grandmother in town.
She wore a kerchief, sturdy shoes, and stockings. Granny carried a big black purse and smelled faintly of cabbage and coffee. She loved children, soap operas, and laughter.
Granny had a big personality in a small body. When she was happy, she’d throw her head back and cackle. When she was mad, you’d better run. Words I could never find in my Portuguese/English dictionary flew out of her mouth like fireworks on the Fourth of July.
She spent most of her life caring for other people’s children. She never learned to drive, never owned a house, and never left a bill unpaid. Of all the people who have touched my life, my grandmother made one of the greatest impacts.
Now that I’m a grandmother (four grands and counting), I think often about my granny’s legacy. And I think about my own. What do I want to teach my grandchildren? What virtues do I want to pass along? What memories do I hope to make with them?
One thing I know for sure—if I want our time together to be meaningful, I can’t just wish it. I have to intentionally make it so. Here are 5 ways to make time with your grandchildren more meaningful.
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1. Begin with the End in Mind
While marvelous moments often happen spontaneously, they’re more likely to occur if we set the stage for them.
Early in our grandparenting lives, my husband and I set five goals. These set the tone and direction for how we interact with our grandchildren, how we spend our money on them, and what activities we pursue with them.
When we face a choice, we ask ourselves, Does this support one of our goals? If the answer is yes, we do it. If the answer is no, we let the opportunity pass.
Here are our goals:
- To share our faith with our grandchildren and point them to God.
- To pass on our values and priorities (a Christian worldview).
- To develop deep and loving relationships.
- To enjoy each other.
- To support and encourage our daughter and son-in-law as they raise our grandchildren.
Your turn. Take some time to meditate and pray over your core values and what you want to pass onto your grandchildren. What characteristics or strengths would you love to see your grandchildren emulate? What would you love to see them prioritize? What kind of relationship do you want to have with them?
It might also lead to a wonderful conversation if you ask your children what their goals are for your relationship with your grandkids. It will give them a chance to express the wisdom they want you to impress upon their kids and at the same time express healthy expectations.
Now think of how these goals can be accomplished in a sustainable way. It won't be overnight that these goals are met--rather, they take years of intentional sowing.
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2. Be Intentional, Part 1
We’re fortunate to live in the same town as our grands, but many grandparents don’t. Whether you live nearby or far away, wise grandparents don’t want to waste a minute. Approaching each opportunity intentionally will help us maximize our time with our grandchildren.
At our house, we have Fun Friday at Gigi’s House. I babysit the grands for four or five hours so my daughter can have some personal time. I suspect, if we didn’t have a regular commitment, busyness would prevail, and weeks would pass without us seeing each other. Because we’re intentional, we spend regular time together.
I’m also intentional about how we spend our time. My grands are young, under 7, so our priorities are simple. Every Fun Friday we spend time reading, creating, exploring, and playing.
My grandmother was uneducated, but she loved to read. She passed on this love by buying me books and reading with me. My love of reading helped me succeed in school and became the foundation for my work as an author.
Every Friday, I intentionally take time to read with my grandchildren. I let each child choose a book, then we read “Gigi’s special selection.” I choose my books for several purposes: either to teach a lesson, give them the opportunity to practice reading skills, or expose them to an author or subject I think they’ll enjoy.
There aren’t too many artistic branches on our family tree, but we are made in the image of God, the Creator of the world. To nurture creativity and give my grandchildren a chance to explore their abilities, I plan one artistic activity every week.
Some weeks we paint rocks or dabble in watercolors. Other weeks we build a model or form shapes out of play dough. We’ve finger painted with shaving cream, drawn birthday cards for relatives, and built castles out of blocks. It’s amazing what creativity oozes out of us when I provide the raw materials and we dive in.
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Be Intentional, Part 2
One of the best ways to point little ones to God is through meaningful exploration. Whether we explore the neighborhood by playing I Spy on a walk or turn over rocks in the garden to hunt for bugs, the world is our science experiment. Every discovery points to the Creator.
Some days we visit a zoo and learn about animals. Other times we hike the woods to discover habitats. Still other times we leaf through an animal encyclopedia or field guide and read the descriptions. As we do, I look for natural opportunities to share our biblical worldview and help them see God as the Creator, Sustainer, and Provider of all.
Kids love games. Most parents do not. They’re so busy earning a living, cooking, cleaning, and helping with homework they have little time or interest in playing Pretty Pretty Princess or Candy Land. Grandparents, on the other hand, can defer chores and other responsibilities til the grandkids go home. This frees up time for endless rounds of Go Fish and Uno.
We can teach our grandchildren classic outdoor games, too, like Kickball, Four Square, Croquet, Hop Scotch, and Horseshoes. And don’t forget imagination games. My grandchildren spent an entire afternoon pretending they were puppies and I was their master. They ate cereal out of bowls I placed on the floor, lapped water from dishes, and curled up in “doggie beds” I made out of blankets.
Entering into their games validates their interests. Sharing laughter knits our hearts together.
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3. Tell Stories
Who doesn’t love a good story? Children find tales of “days gone by” especially entertaining. The thought of someone growing up without a cell phone, microwave, or computer is astounding, and they love hearing our survival stories. You delivered newspapers in a blizzard? (I did.) Papa saved a boy from drowning? (He did.) You almost set the family car on fire? (I did.)
And if you really want to get their attention, talk about what their parents did when they were kids.
While you’re telling stories, if the tale lends itself to a moral a la Aesop’s Fables, go for it. Capture every opportunity to share biblical truth, character qualities, life lessons, and morality. Don’t just tell the stories that make you look good. Also tell (age-appropriate) stories about when you messed up and suffered the consequences. Any time our grands can learn from our mistakes, it’s a good thing.
The greatest storytelling material comes from the Bible. Instead of reserving Bible stories for bedtime sleep inducers, pull them out into the daylight. Set aside the children’s Bible and tell your own version in all its glory. Kids are fascinated by superheroes and superpowers, and the Bible has the world’s greatest collection of giant-slaying, earth-moving, evil-conquering heroes.
My grands love it when I act them out, using different voices and impromptu costumes. Sometimes I assign a part to each child and let them share in the telling.
After I dramatize the story, I invite them to retell it. I’m always surprised at which details stick and which go awry. I’ll never forget telling the story of David going to war against Goliath and the Philistines. When my granddaughter retold the story, she described with great enthusiasm how “little David killed a big tall man from the Philippines.”
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4. Share Activities You Enjoy
My grandmother was a terrible cook, but she knew how to make Portuguese malassadas. On spend-the-night weekends, she’d mix up the yeasty dough, plop it into an enamel bowl, and cover it with a tea towel to rise overnight. In the morning, I’d awaken to the smell of frying dough.
When I was little, she let me sprinkle the hot dough rounds with sugar. As I got older, she showed me how to stretch the dough into circles and drop them into the hot oil. Eventually, I learned to make the recipe from start to finish.
You may not like to cook, but I bet you could share another hobby you love. My son-in-law’s father is a fishing fanatic. He bought each child a fishing pole and taught them how to cast, wait patiently for a tug on the line, and reel in a fish. His wife (the kids’ Nonnie) enjoys gardening.
On a recent visit, she supplied them with seeds, gardening tools, and plants to start their own garden. She showed them how to soften the soil and plant the seeds. When the kids harvested their first green beans, they took a picture and sent it to her so she could see the fruit of her labor.
My husband learned to shuck oysters and shell peanuts at his Papa’s knee. My granny taught me to crochet (I’m still terrible at it), sew on buttons, and make Wedding Veil soup. I learned to bake biscuits and grow cotton with my southern granny.
My mom passed on her love of coffee with my girls. Sharing activities we love knits our hearts together, helps build precious memories, and imparts useful life skills.
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5. Look for Ways to Serve Together
Serving together in God’s kingdom is one of the greatest ways to share meaningful times with our grandchildren. Faith and action go hand in hand. When they see you living out your faith by serving others, it makes an impression. When they serve alongside you, it impacts their lives forever.
When they’re young, service can be as simple as baking muffins for a sick neighbor or picking up sticks in a disabled friend’s yard. As they get older, they can help you cook and deliver meals, work in a food pantry, or collect clothes for a women’s shelter.
One afternoon we made cards for patients at a local hospital and delivered old towels to a pet rescue organization. Seeing you extend compassion and service toward “the least of these” will make a profound impact on them. Your actions will shape the way they interact with the needy in years to come.
I remember accompanying my grandmother to the local nursing home to visit elderly relatives and friends. While I didn’t always enjoy the visits, I learned by her example how to honor and respect our loved ones. Years later, when she suffered from dementia and lived in a nursing home, I loaded up my girls and made a 90-mile round trip to visit her every week.
Each time I climbed in the van, I heard her tender words in my ears. “She may not remember you, but you remember her.” I hope to teach my grandchildren the same lesson.
When my grandmother bought me books, taught me to cook, and shared stories of the Old Country, I doubt she knew how she was impacting my life. Decades later, her stories, example, and no-nonsense wisdom continue to bear fruit in me. I’ve passed along her skills and stories to my daughters. Now I’m sharing them with my grandchildren.
When we seize every precious moment God gives us with our grandchildren and interact with them in meaningful ways, we honor God and change lives. I don’t think the apostle Paul had grandchildren, but he summed up the goal of grandparenting in 1 Thessalonians 2:8:
“Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.”
Lori Hatcher is a pastor’s wife who lives delightfully close to her four grandchildren in Lexington, South Carolina. To fight spiritual boredom and provide a fresh resource for quiet times, she wrote Refresh Your Faith – Uncommon Devotions from Every Book of the Bible (Our Daily Bread Publishing). Her first book, Hungry for God … Starving for Time, Five-Minute Devotions for Busy Women , received the 2016 Christian Small Publisher Book of the Year award. Lori’s also a blogger, writing instructor, and inspirational speaker. You’ll find her pondering the marvelous and the mundane on her blog, Hungry for God. . . Starving for Time . Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter (@LoriHatcher2), or Pinterest (Hungry for God).
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