We can always find at least six reasons to smile; Jack, Sara, Betsy, Michael, Lilly and Mary. They are our grandchildren. From ages 7 years to 3 months, they have blessed our lives and drawn out a deep and powerful love. Their little fingers grab our hands, and we feel it in our hearts. Their bright eyes look into our faces, and we are charmed by their innocence. Their sweet voices call us "Pop-Pop and Ah-tah," and we are lovingly reminded of the serious responsibilities that accompany these simple joys – especially in today's society. It's something to remember not just on Grandparents Day, but every day.
Families in America have never been more fragmented and transient. And as a result, grandparents have increasingly become the bedrock of many homes. Grandmothers and grandfathers, the fastest growing population segment in the United States, are giving primary parenting care to more than one million children.
Those who don't provide full-time care should still nurture their grandchildren by providing spiritual roots, a sense of history, and family stability. Many people think that good grandparenting comes naturally, and much of it does. But like with any new role, there are things to learn. For us, grandparenting is a conscious decision, and the letters of the word "CHILD" serve as our guide.
"C" is for children.
That's right, children, not grandchildren. As adorable as our grandchildren are, we want our son and daughters to know how much we cherish them too. When we give our grandchildren a big hug we also have one to share with their parents, because if it weren't for them, we would have no Jack, Sara, Betsy, Michael, Lilly or Mary to love.
"H" is for help.
One of the biggest grandparenting challenges is knowing when to give it and when to withhold it. Too often well-intentioned help is in reality meddling; meddling that undermines our children's authority in their homes. Our rule on advice – we only offer it if solicited.
Some kinds of help are almost always appreciated. Baby-sitting is more than a chance to spend time with our grandchildren; it also allows our children to spend time with their spouses. That enables them to strengthen their marriages, and in turn, build healthy homes for our grandkids.
"I" is for in-laws.
In this area, we try to practice what we preach to our grandchildren – sharing. As much as we'd like to have our little ones' full attention, we want to be considerate to their other sets of grandparents. And that approach is really in the best interests of our grandchildren, because the more loving adults they have in their lives, the better.
"L" is for legacy, the heart of grandparenting.
Since each of us will leave one, we should decide what we want it to be. As a couple, we want to give our grandchildren a legacy of love – a treasure which can only be obtained with time. Time builds memories. We pray that Jack will remember playing hockey with his Grandpa; that Sara will chuckle when she remembers why Pop-Pop called her "Chicken Fingers;" and that Lilly, Michael, Betsy, and Mary will fondly recall sitting on Ah-tah's knee as she held them close and read them stories.
But that will never happen if we only give gifts or make an occasional phone call. Our actions, not our words or even our good intentions, influence children. It is only through a relationship that our grandchildren will learn of our love for each other, for them, and of God's benevolent love for us, all of which have sustained us over the years. Relationships reinforce the importance and value of family.
Finally, "D" is for do.
Do love your grandchildren unconditionally. Do love them equally, instead of showing favoritism. Do more listening instead of lecturing. Do your best. Then, chances are that the little children whose eyes light up each time they see you will one day put that adoration into words, "I love you Pop-Pop. I love you Ah-tah." And with that, you'll have one more reason to smile.
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