September 2009 – It sneaked up on many of us boomers – late middlescence, that is. Okay, old age, but don’t rub it in. After all, 60 is the new 40, right?
We still feel young … sorta. Many of us still work out, listen to classic rock on our iPods, and even have Facebook accounts.
So the idea of being called Poppy or Nana or, heaven forbid, something like GrandBubba – well, that’s for another generation. We’re not going to be silly grandparents who are forever foisting on our friends the newest photos of our perfect progeny.
Enter grandbaby number one. You know, the gifted one. Every semblance of dignity flies out the window. She wants to call us Ga-Ga and Poopie? Isn’t that cute?
“It’s a God thing, a grand love,” explains Dr. Tim Kimmel, who along with his wife, Darcy, co-authored Extreme Grandparenting, published by Tyndale House.
The Kimmels are parents of four children and grandparents of two little girls. In addition, two of their children are recent newlyweds, so the Kimmels are looking forward to another wave of grandchildren in the next two or three years. Tim is the founder of Family Matters, an Arizona-based Christian ministry working to strengthen families particularly through an approach he calls “grace-based parenting.”
Family Matters (www.familymatters.net) is one of the few Christian ministries that offer resources specifically aimed at helping Christian grandparents respond to their new and sometimes complex roles. These can include sharing their grandchildren with several sets of grandparents, learning to love a daughter- or son-in-law who entered the family under less than ideal circumstances, dealing with the impact of a morally devolving culture, and even raising their own grandchildren.
In fact, in 2000, the U. S. Census Bureau reported that 3.6% (5.8 million) of adults 30 years or older were living with a grandchild younger than 18. Of those, 42% had primary responsibility for grandchildren living with them.
Relax or redeem?
Kimmel says that these all-too-common modern family structures and dynamics present Christian grandparents with new opportunities to expand their circle of love. “I’m not saying people who don’t know Christ don’t love their kids,” he says. “But because our love is tempered with God’s grace and led by God’s truth, it should be of greater value and cause us to be more intentional grandparents.”
As Christian grandparents begin to understand the huge influence for Christ that they can have in the lives of their children and grandchildren, Kimmel says they begin to fine tune their role and discover a new excitement for this second time around.
“Grandparenting is like a ‘mulligan’ in golf,” he likes to say. Kimmel explains that in golf a mulligan is a do-over that doesn’t count against your score. Likewise, for Christians, grandparenting can be a second opportunity to exercise greater love, patience, wisdom and grace and even redeem parenting mistakes of earlier years.
But in order to do that, some grandparents must overcome the temptation to self-indulge in their older years.
“Grandparenting means I can’t afford to just coast,” he says. “I have a chance to touch lives in ways that are extraordinary, but I can’t do that if I’m just living in my own little world. That doesn’t mean I can’t have my hobbies and interests, but I must keep them in perspective.”
That perspective begins with rejecting the notion that in older age we deserve not to be bothered by our children and grandchildren. “For Christians, life is never supposed to be on our terms, but on God’s terms all the time,” Kimmel says.
He draws a current illustration from his own life. Kimmel’s son-in-law, the father of their two granddaughters, is self-employed. Recently he has been unable to work because of a three-week stay in the hospital for an infection. The Kimmels gladly came to their children’s financial rescue.
“Those sacrifices are hard to do if you have an attitude that says, ‘I didn’t sign up for that,’ or ‘These are my twilight years, and I’m supposed to relax now,’” he says.
On the other hand, those who grasp the sacred trust of grandparenthood and who offer their lives to their children and grandchildren in response to God’s grace in their own lives, can expect a reward of immeasurable value and eternal significance, Kimmel says.
Roles and responsibilities
In Extreme Grandparenting, the Kimmels distill the duties of Godly grandparenthood into four roles: 1) giving a blessing, 2) leaving a legacy, 3) bearing a torch and 4) setting a standard. Step one in fulfilling these roles is becoming the person the roles require.
For some, that will necessitate a change that Kimmel says is uncommon. “I have found that if people have lived for themselves in their productive years, they will likely be very selfish people in their old age. If they have been others oriented and God oriented in their productive years, they will likely be even more so as they grow older.”
However, for others, grandchildren can be the heart tenderizer that God uses to bring about a spiritual self-examination and closer walk with Christ.
The first role, giving a blessing, is a practice that Kimmel and others trace back to the Old Testament patriarchs. The essence of the blessing involves intentionally instilling – through words and deeds – a high sense of significance in Christ and hope for their future.
Second, Kimmel says that everyone leaves a legacy. The challenge for Christian grandparents is leaving our children and grandchildren a spiritual inheritance that points them to Christ. Sometimes that requires late-in-life repentance and mending family relationships that have been broken.
Christian grandparents also have the privilege and duty of torch bearing, Kimmel says. He explains that our children and grandchildren must see their grandparents among those who hold high the light of the Gospel. In that way, grandparents demonstrate how to live Godly and gracious lives in the midst of a dark world.
Finally, grandparents must set a clear standard of integrity and Christ-like character. It’s a standard that cannot be forced upon their children and grandchildren, but demonstrated in a way that is both contagious and faithful.
“Because grandparenting is an honor and a source of great joy, we play out our roles in the light of the Gospel,” Kimmel says. “When we understand that we ourselves are truly saved by grace – despite our own folly and stupidity – then we become living, breathing, smiling, giving emissaries of Christ to our kids.”
It’s getting better all the time …
“Are you a better grandparent than you were a parent?” That’s the first question of an informal survey of friends and AFA co-workers who are grandparents.
The majority said they thought of themselves as better grandparents than parents. When asked why, this answer was typical: “I know now not to take myself so seriously. Life is too short. Those things that frustrated me in my children are just plain normal for children to do – they didn’t mean it personally!”
One grandmother said, “Now I actually take the time to dance with my grandchildren when they want to dance; to listen to them when they want to talk; to play with them when they want to play.”
When asked, “What are the most important characteristics of a good grandparent?” these responses appeared frequently: spending time with grandchildren, showing them unconditional love, praying for them and their parents and setting a Godly example.
A granddad from Texas said, “I want my grandchildren to know that I think they have great parents.”
Finally, the survey asked, “What’s the biggest mistake you made as a parent that you don’t want to repeat as a grandparent?” The most common responses lamented being impatient and being too busy to give each child the time and attention he needed.
Another promised, “I won’t tell them that I’m disappointed in them.”
Help! Resources for becoming a better grandparent
• Extreme Grandparenting by Tim and Darcy Kimmel –
Discover how to reach and relate to grandchildren, not only as a mentor and loving family member but also as a spiritual rock during the hard times. Available here or 1-800-467-4596. Price: $11.19
• Extreme Grandparenting: the Ride of Your Life – an eight-part interactive DVD series taught by Tim and Darcy Kimmel.