I have an almost 16-year-old niece and 21-year-old nephew. While they’ve alternately viewed their parents as unfair, out of touch and just plain boring, they’ve always shown a sort of awe-struck reverence for their grandparents. That respect has translated into not only better behavior around their Granny, Nana, Papa, MeeMee and PawPaw—even during the kids’ most unmanageable years—but also a surprising willingness to listen to their grandparents and soak up their stories, lessons and advice like little sponges. Really!
To all you grandparents out there, this opportunity isn’t something to be taken lightly. Below are some ways you can use your important influence in these kids’ lives to enlighten, educate and even entertain the younger generation:
Give them a history lesson.
While your grandkids may fall asleep reading about World War II or President Kennedy’s assassination in their history books, hearing your stories about blackout drills or Walter Cronkite reporting the President’s death is guaranteed to hold them spellbound. While you’re sharing your personal experiences, work in a little background information about why we were fighting the war or the political climate while Kennedy was in office … and they’ll never even know that they’re learning about history.
Inspire a passion.
My dad, who has always been an avid outdoorsman, taught my nephew to shoot a gun as soon as he was big enough to hold it and appreciate a beautiful sunrise (when he could get the kid out of bed!). When my nephew recently travelled cross-country, he eagerly accepted his grandparents’ advice to take a scenic train trip through Durango, Colorado (and their offer to spring for the ticket!). Even though he had many memorable experiences along the way, including listening to a Cajun band in New Orleans, feeding llamas in Texas and watching the famous hot air balloon festival in New Mexico, my nephew was quick to admit that the train ride was his favorite!
Pass down some family lore.
Make the kids put away their phones for an hour as you dust off the old family photo albums and regale them with stories of those black-and-white faces and places from long, long ago. You might even be able to show them a fuzzy photo of their favorite beach and how different it looked when you were a kid or a great-great aunt or uncle who bears an uncanny resemblance to them.
Provide a shoulder and an ear.
When a kid is going through a difficult time, they often won’t share it with their parents because they don’t want to worry or disappoint them. However, their grandparents, who aren’t as close to the situation (and aren’t apt to judge anyway), could be a completely different story. When my niece lost a close friend in a car accident—and initially told her family and friends to “please don’t talk about it”—she was more than willing to listen to her grandmother’s story of losing a friend in high school and even open up about some of her own feelings.
Share what your grandkids have learned from you.