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Child running toward her mother

The Role of Grandparents

Johann Christoph Arnold

Available languages: Deutsch, español, 한국어, العربية

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Grandchildren are the crown of the aged. – Proverbs 17:6

Grandparents are the most wonderful thing in the world – at least many children think so. But many of us are ambivalent about their role in family life. Some families are blinded by the notion that in-laws cannot get along together, and by accepting this stereotype as fact, they harm what could otherwise be a meaningful relationship. But doesn’t God want us all to live in peace? After all, he meant husband and wife to be one, and naturally each of them has parents.

Unfortunately, many grandparents today languish in nursing homes or retirement communities while their children and grandchildren live far away. This may be a reflection of the economic and social realities of our time, but it is still not a good thing. In previous centuries, it was unthinkable for children to abandon their parents and grandparents. The word “family” meant “extended family” without exception. And this extended family can be a tremendous blessing.

Those of us lucky enough to live close to our grandchildren need not be convinced of this truth. Our children’s care for us reflects their gratitude for the years we spent caring for them. In turn, we share our joy in them and their children by playing cards, hunting and fishing, and even teaching them to drive. Hopefully we also serve as role models for them. My wife and I thank God that we are grandparents, and we look forward to becoming great-grandparents within the next few years. Yet it is clear to us that no matter how much we love our grandchildren, we must let our children find their own way in bringing them up. This can be hard, especially when their ideas about education differ from ours. But we cannot take away the primary responsibility they have for their own children, which will remain with them long after we are gone.

All the same, young couples should be encouraged to turn to their parents for advice. Why shouldn’t grandparents pass on their wisdom, even if much of it was gained through mistakes? And those who live far away should not use distance as an excuse. They can remain actively involved in their children’s and grandchildren’s lives by writing letters and calling on the phone – if not exploiting the marvels of modern technology to a good purpose.  More often than not, their help and care will be welcomed and not resented.

Grandparents should feel free to advise, but should never interfere. Obviously there are exceptions. In matters of safety or negligence, a grandparent has no choice other than to intervene. But the best help may be to support parents in practical ways: when a grandchild is sick, for example, or when parents have been taxed to their limits for any other reason.

Every grandchild delights in special attention – a story, a cookie, extra help with homework, or a walk outdoors. Of course, grandparents who live far away from their grandchildren will have to find other ways to show love: a postcard or gift, a phone call, or a special visit. But they can always pray for their grandchildren, especially as they reach the difficult teenage years.

Regardless of a child’s age, the times spent with a grandparent will always be enriching. Such moments will be experienced as oases of comfort and quiet for the child, and the grandparent will see them as opportunities for love. In the end, both will be blessed.

From Why Children Matter by Johann Christoph Arnold.

child holding paper dolls of a family
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Contributed By Johann Christoph Arnold Johann Christoph Arnold

A noted speaker and writer on marriage, parenting, education, and end-of-life issues, Arnold is a senior pastor of the Bruderhof, a movement of Christian communities.

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