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EXTREME GRANDPARENTINGThe Ride of Your Life
By Tim Kimmel Darcy Kimmel
Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2007 Tim and Darcy Kimmel
All right reserved.
Chapter OnePutting the Grand Back in Granparenting
Most grandparents would agree they have a role to play in their grandchildren's lives, but many aren't sure what that role is. They think they're doing well to send a card on a special occasion, offer a well-thought-through blessing at Thanksgiving, and occasionally take in a ball game together. But too many grandparents fail to realize the huge influence for good they could be in the lives of their grandchildren.
A gentleman in a field-test group for our DVD study that complements this book told us, after finishing just the first session, that even though he knew he had certain responsibilities as a grandparent, he never thought his sphere of influence was as great as it is. By the end of the field test a paradigm shift had occurred for all the participants. They had a uniform desire to "step up their game" as grandparents. They also had a newfound excitement about what this role of grandparent could mean for them personally as they finished out their time here on earth.
It used to be that grandparents were nearby extensions to the greater family. Some even assumed they would finish the last couple of decades of life living in the same home as their grandkids. This was often anticipated and welcomed by everyone in the grouppicture. Some still enjoy this configuration, but as a twenty-first-century game plan, it is the exception rather than the rule.
And that's okay. Often, the configurations of the past were based on economics or convenience rather than some well-planned design. But, even if planned, the current alternatives aren't necessarily an improvement.
A lot of people who wear the mantle of grandparent still have kids of their own at home and are holding down full-time jobs. They have many years before they will either choose to or be invited to join the ranks of retirees. However, when you put the total years the average person is a grandparent in perspective, most of them will be spent in those retirement years. If they aren't careful, these grandparents could find themselves duped into embracing some of the cultural misinformation going around about how we are to view the last part of our lives. Will they misunderstand the term empty nest to mean freedom from any responsibility for their offspring? Will a warped view of what retirement is supposed to look like unwittingly encourage them to squander their greater role as grandparents?
If we could hand you anything that serves as a fitting symbol of your role as a grandparent, we'd hand you a golfer's glove. And it's not because we are suggesting you spend all of your free time on the golf course (though for at least one of the persons writing this book it would be fun to see what that feels like for a month or two!). It's just that golf is one of the great synonyms for life.
On those occasions when people who golf actually get to hit a round, they are often reminded of how much practice they need. Golf is a game that requires incredible skill within an environment of relaxed but focused concentration. Most people aren't born with the natural talent needed to be good at it. When you're a hacker, you have to do your best to develop your skill as you go along. That's what we often feel like when we take on our first major role in life-parenthood. But golf also offers some great parallels when it comes to this subject of grandparenting.
For instance, in professional golf, one of the finest tours in the PGA is the Champions Tour. This is a collection of the best golfers over 50 years of age-the crème de la crème, so to speak, who show a new generation of golfers how they got to be so good. These are the legends of golf who have endured the grueling demands of the PGA Tour and still have an immense love for the game. Grandparenting can be like that. It's a chance for parents who have fought a good fight and charted a good course to mentor a new generation of moms and dads.
But there's another great parallel that golf offers to the subject of grandparenting. Often you hit the golf ball, and it doesn't go where you thought you were aiming it. You shank one into the woods or drop one in the lake. Unfortunately, because of the way the game is scored, those shots end up costing you dearly. But it's nice when the folks you're playing with give you a touch of grace. Someone says, "Hey, man, why don't you play a mulligan?"
For those of you who haven't taken up the game of golf, let us explain what that expression is all about. When someone grants you a mulligan, you get to take the shot over again and not have the original one count against your score. It's a chance to redeem yourself from the trouble you got yourself into. In a way, it describes what it's like to be a grandparent. It's like a second chance to make a profound and positive impression on a child's life-even if you struggled to do so with your own children.
Some people are given a greater amount of natural ability when it comes to golf. It's the same with parenting. Some of you-perhaps thanks to God-given insight or growing up in a certain type of family-have done a terrific job of raising your children. Others of you wish you had known more at the time or been able to dedicate more of your waking hours being the kind of parent your child needed. Here's what's great about grandparenting. It's like God whispers in your ear, Why don't you play a mulligan. How about if I give you another chance to leave a powerful impression on a member of your immediate family? Whether or not we were as effective as we wanted to be as parents, grandparenting offers each of us a chance to once again help groom a generation for greatness.
Welcome to the Best Years of Your Life
Most parents don't think much about their future role as grandparents when they welcome their first newborn into their hearts. They are too preoccupied to look that far ahead. But it is the logical and next step to our role as parents. And just like parents should have a strategy and a vision for their role, grandparents need one too.
Until recent years, most grandparents would say, "What's the big deal about being grandparents? We don't need a book to tell us how to take a kid fishing or show one how to bake cookies or read a grandchild a story in the rocker." But grandparenthood is more than rocking chairs-especially in this culture of fractured families and overloaded schedules. Grandparents can fill in the gaps and bolster the effectiveness of parents.
Rabbits and Storks
Some parents have to wait a long time before their married children bring them home some grandchildren. They drop subtle hints, such as wrapping a birthday present in a disposable diaper, or not-so-subtle hints, like ambushing their kids at Thanksgiving with questions such as, "What's taking you two so long? Haven't you figured out how this whole baby thing works?"
Other parents find themselves caught a bit off guard by the news that they are going to be grandparents. That's what happened to us with our first grandchild. We were just getting used to having a married daughter and a son-in-law. On Christmas Eve, seven months after our daughter's wedding, we were entertaining a houseful of family and friends, including our son-in-law's parents. It was there that our children chose to pull the four of us aside and present us with their Christmas present in private. When our son-in-law's mom and Darcy saw the small rectangular box containing their gift, they assumed it was the completed wedding video we had been anxiously awaiting. We would soon discover that the wedding was in the distant past and new adventures were about eight months away. Our son-in-law's mom opened the box, screamed, immediately shut it, and then threw it to Darcy.
Darcy couldn't imagine the reason for her reaction, so she cautiously removed the cover of the box only to discover two positive home pregnancy tests.
We are extremely grateful they don't do that test with rabbits anymore.
It took about 30 seconds for the news to register with the moms. It took a bit longer for the dads to figure out what all the screaming was about.
But it didn't take long for any of us to decipher what it all meant. For Darcy and me, grandparenting is something we had been thinking about and studying for years. Because of our work with families, we have been keenly aware-sometimes painfully-of the strategic role grandparents play or fail to play in their grandchildren's lives. Our children were offering us a chance to come alongside them and cheer them on as they assisted God in a miracle. They were in the process of creating new life, and we were given the opportunity to help them give that new life great meaning. Grandparenting is a sacred trust, a chance to imprint a child for true greatness. And just like parents have a God-given bond with their children, so grandparents have a natural affinity to their grandchildren. Grandparents and grandchildren represent a marvelous love affair between the generations.
It's true! There's something unique about the natural connection grandparents have with their grandchildren. And vice versa. There are few things that compare to the uninhibited shriek of a grandchild running through the open front door, ignoring everyone else in her path, until she flies into the arms of gramma or grampa. The smothering affection of a grandchild who couldn't care less about how old you are or how you look makes you feel like you live a gilded life. And there's something hauntingly attractive about the calm connection of a teenager to his grandparent, especially when that teenager is going through a period where he's convinced his parents have lost their minds.
Grandkids have an innate desire to love and be loved by their grandparents. In fact, sometimes they actually develop a more peaceful relationship with their grandparents than they have with their own parents. As we mentioned in the introduction, that's what we like to call "Grand Love." This wonderful connection between the hearts of grandchildren and grandparents can sometimes annoy the parents caught between the generations. They wonder why their parents get along better with their children than they do. Someone has suggested the reason grandparents get along so well with their grandchildren is that they both share a common enemy!
A lot of you know exactly what that means. You've been conspiring with your grandkids to even up a few scores! But regardless of whether your relationship with your own children went smoothly or had a lot of bumps, you want to make sure you don't miss this divine opportunity to help your children raise a person who can stand strong and make a significant difference in the world.
A New Type of Grandparent
Let's take a look at how this present generation of grandparents compares to past generations. Presently, there are close to 80 million of us in the United States alone. The National Survey of American Households indicates average age of a first-time grandparent is now 47. They're the best educated, most active, and youngest "older" generation that has ever lived. Almost all of us have graduated from high school, and 7 out of 10 have attended college or technical school. In spite of the pressures on us financially, we still have more discretionary income than our parents or our grandparents could have ever imagined. We continue to work or earn income years longer than our counterparts of the past generation. We're not into rocking chairs and Metamucil as much as our grandparents were. We compute more and crochet less. We buy more and bake less. Our hand-painted Volkswagen van has been replaced by an SUV or a motor home. The more vigorous among us have exchanged tie-dye for t'ai chi. And almost all of us have exchanged love beads for love handles.
The bulk of this generation of grandparents tends to shy away from thinking they are old. They're more street-smart, financially savvy, and sexually active than their predecessors. And when it comes to energy and how much activity we are used to cramming into a typical day, the new challenge is not whether we can keep up with our grandchildren, but whether they can keep up with us! It brings to mind something Peggy Noonan said. Peggy is not only a presidential speechwriter, author, and columnist; she is a careful student of our culture. She is also a member of this current generation of grandparents. She wonders, as so many do, just what kind of impact we will have. Listen to how she framed the issue. Ms. Noonan says, "We are and have been the most significant demographic fact of American life in all of American history. We changed, in our youth, the culture of a great nation, sweeping it with our music, our movies, our art and styles and tastes in entertainment. Our assumptions about sex changed the sexual landscape. We altered our country's political climate when we decided to oppose a war, changing American attitudes about our government in the process."
A question needs to be asked: Based on all that our generation has done, will we proceed to redefine grandparenthood too? Well, in response to this question, not only do we think we will redefine grandparenthood, but we're convinced we already have. But to follow up that question: Is what we're coming up with an improvement, or is it a digression from what God expects of us? Many of the things this generation has going for it-better health, economic flexibility, and affordable mobility-can also work against it when it comes to making a commitment to remain a vital part of the nuclear family. We have so many more options for where we live, where and when we travel, how long we remain in the marketplace, and how we can spend our discretionary time. Unlike our own parents or grandparents, we are not tied down to our hometown or a job that ends at age 65. We have the world before us! We want to challenge you to make sure your children and their children are always a huge part of that world.
You've no doubt heard the running joke among grandparents that goes something like, "If I had known grandchildren were going to be this much fun, I would have had them first." It gets a polite laugh, but we all know why God never meant for it to be that way. God placed a strategic order into a family's timeline. Grandparenting is an earned privilege that fits right into God's perfect plan. There are reasons why He wanted us to be parents first. Obviously, He wanted us to raise the kids to whom we give birth. But He also wanted to use this time to groom us to be loving, effective grandparents once our children started giving birth to the next generation. God wanted us to experience those 20-year-long wake-up calls called children, so when the time came, we would be able to come alongside our own grown children with a more seasoned and tempered view of life as they try to raise their own kids.
The Words of a Seasoned Grandfather
We have some favorite passages of Scripture that encourage us as grandparents, but there is one that really stands out like a theme for our lives as mentors to a new generation. It's Psalm 71:17-18. The Bible doesn't say who the author of this psalm is. But we can take a fairly good guess. We can assume the writer is someone who has lived a long life and has taken careful notes along the way. And because Psalm 71 references six other psalms-some are quoted verbatim-and all six of those psalms were written by David, there is a good chance this psalm was penned by him too, most likely toward the end of his life. That would make it a psalm written by a man who made a lot of mistakes as a father. And yet, as he moved into the twilight of his life, he wanted to use what opportunities he had to imprint a new batch of young people with truths he'd learned along the way. This passage presents words of wisdom from a person who knows how to turn the lessons of life-even the regrettable ones-into practical help for those who follow behind.
Excerpted from EXTREME GRANDPARENTING by Tim Kimmel Darcy Kimmel Copyright © 2007 by Tim and Darcy Kimmel. Excerpted by permission.
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