Grandparents as Mentors

Gary and Kay Aitchison

We have been grandparents for 18 years, and during that time we have observed a tremendous accumulation of stresses in the families of our children and our friends’ children. As we all know, society has placed nearly super-human demands on today’s families. Many parents are struggling to succeed in the multi-arena of family, jobs, church, and community while also dealing with the effects of a diminished economy. Obviously, today’s families could use more support than most of them are getting. Yet, many have a resource, not fully utilized – their children’s grandparents. Parents, even if they have unlimited time, can’t be everything to their children. Grandparents are perfect candidates to fill the gaps in the fabric of family life. They expand a child’s horizons because they bring a different vision, a perspective, and dimension.

A grandparent’s place in the life of a grandchild is unique and never should be underestimated. By their position and lived experience, grandparents have earned the right to be recognized as the wisdom generation. They bring a host of talents to their many roles as nurturers, models, mentors, memory makers, family historians, and keepers of the family legacy. Grandparents are a strong and formidable link between a family’s past and its future. They can be the anchors that keep a family grounded. Most of all, faith filled and wise grandparents are carriers of faith, tradition, morals, and values. They can be a tremendous witness to their grandchildren. Not all grandchildren are being brought up in the faith of their grandparents and this may be challenging. Still, the subtle example of grandparents living their faith can be a powerful influence.

Grandparents teach faith by all that they do including praying for their grandchildren, telling bible stories, sharing about the lives of holy people, doing good works, creating Christian traditions in the home, teaching prayers, praying at mealtime, and by taking their grandchildren to church when their parents cannot or do not.

Grandparents have an important role in handing down the family faith traditions even though some of the seeds they sow may not bear fruit until after they are gone. In recent years, our own ministry to families has expanded to include grandparents. It is obvious that grandparents have a great deal to offer to today’s stressed out families. Most grandparents care deeply about their grandchildren and have a strong bond with them.  These grandparents, whether they live in the same community or are long-distance grandparents, want to play a significant role in the lives of their grandchildren and are searching for the best ways to do it.

This ministry to grandparents is designed to help them recognize their special vocation as guides and companions to their grandchildren. We introduce the concept with a presentation on the blessings of grand parenting. This presentation raises awareness and affirms, empowers, and guides grandparents to discern just where God is calling them to use their gifts and talents. Since many grandparents have expressed an interest in sharing with others, we have also created a six-meeting small group   study/discussion program for parish grandparent groups. This program brings grandparents together to share ideas and give support. We have discovered that grandparents are eager, and often more available than their children, to participate in parish programs.

Grandparents have been described as “wisdom with wrinkles.” Their life experience and insights make them the sages of the family. The grandparent grandchild relationship connects the younger and older stages of life and gives meaning and understanding to both. Pope Benedict XVI reminds us that, “Grandparents are a precious resource for families, the church, and society.”

Kay and Gary Aitchison are former National Leaders of the Christian Family Movement-USA, and a Diaconate Couple.  They live in Ames, Iowa and have 13 grandchildren.