Suppose your daughter meets Mr. Right, a bright, friendly, grounded young man who clearly loves her more than anything. They marry, enjoy successful careers and eventually buy a starter home.
One afternoon, you get the call: “Mom, Dad … we’re pregnant!”
If this were a screenplay, your lives would be depicted in a lightning-fast cinematic montage that showed the passage of, say, five years. Then you’d cut to a new scene: Your daughter and son-in-law are now the proud parents of a healthy, joyful girl about to start kindergarten.
Little Julie never had a christening, but that’s nothing to worry about. For although you and your spouse have always been committed Catholics who live in a strong faith community, life was really hectic for the kids back then, what with a young child and stressful jobs and a challenging fixer-upper and…
… and seemingly out of the blue (cue the foreboding violins) you learn that the young parents no longer consider themselves Catholics. The additional news – and it’s a real stunner: They don’t follow any religion.
What can you, the grandparents, say to them that won’t blow up like gas on a pilot light? What can you do that won’t undermine your relationship with them and, by extension, your grandchild?
If this conundrum seems to apply only to grandparents, understand that the majority of us will one day be doting on (and bragging about) our children’s children. The scenario noted here, though extreme, is far from rare in a society that seems to be growing more secular with each passing year.
Becoming a grandparent isn’t just another chapter in your life story. It’s a divine calling. As parents are blessed with a God-given bond with their kids, grandparents have a natural affinity for their grandchildren.
Your relationship with your own children may have played out like a “Father Knows Best” script, or it may have had more than it’s share of painful rewrites along the story arc. Either way, don’t miss this opportunity to help them raise a child who can live a life of faith and joy.
Attitudes about parenting evolve from one generation to the next, and you may believe that your kids should be doing things differently as they care for their own. Nevertheless, always remember to uphold the wishes of the young parents. (Very serious issues, such as safety, are exceptions.) Communicate openly and often, and make sure you’re all sending a consistent message.
“The parents are the primary educators of their children, and the goal must always be to remain respectful of them,” says Shirl Giacomi, chancellor of the Diocese of Orange, the highest office that a layperson can hold, and a grandmother of six. “That’s easier said than done.”
Follow the parents’ standards and rules, even if you disagree. They are steering the car; don’t be that annoying backseat driver. Giving unsolicited advice can be viewed as interfering in the parents’ God-ordained bond. So allow your kids to be themselves and become wiser from their mistakes.
Bless your grandchildren by joining with their parents in helping to meet three key needs: a secure love, by letting them know that you accept them unconditionally and by giving plenty of affection; a significant purpose, by regularly affirming them, applauding their successes and encouraging hard work to overcome challenges; and a strong sense of hope, by helping them to understand their natural abilities and to recognize that ultimate hope can be found in a relationship with God.
The best way to do this: show, don’t tell.
“With all six of my grandkids, I try to show my interest in all that they do: their studies, friends, sports and music,” Giacomi says. “Grandkids are really God’s gifts. You can love them unconditionally without worrying about every little thing.”
You can help your children by giving your grandkids your undivided attention, assisting with parental duties, offering constructive feedback when asked and aiding them financially when needed. Base your relationship with your children and grandchildren on God’s relationship with you. This applies to all matters of faith.
“It is much easier to build on [the young parents’] message of faith if there is one,” Giacomi says.
But what if that’s lacking? What can you do if your kids aren’t guiding your grandchildren down the right spiritual path – or, worst-case scenario, any such path?
“Always lead by example,” says Giacomi. “When your grandchildren are staying at your home, pray before meals. Say bedtime prayers. Display your Advent wreath and explain what Advent is. Read them religious stories at their age level. Learning about our faith should be fun and not grim.”
If you learn that your grandkids will be living in a home completely devoid of God, Giacomi emphasizes that we should trust in Him.
“If your children have decided to reject what you hold dear, love them right where they are, as difficult as that might be. Nothing you say will [change] them. And if you argue, they might just dig their heels in deeper. But your loving acceptance and actions will be a glimpse of the love that God has for them.
“Pray for them,” Giacomi says. “And remember, we are not God. Do what you can, in love, and leave the rest to God.”