November 20, 2023
By Chris Kiefer
When my mom passed away earlier this year, she left a hole in all her family’s hearts – her children, her sons and daughters in-law, her grandchildren and great grandchildren, her siblings, and everyone in her life. But she also left a seed of love in each of those hearts that will continue to blossom in each life for generations to come.
Because of the variety of experiences each person in the world has, I venture to say that grandparents everywhere have the potential and power to plant diverse types of beautiful seeds in the hearts and minds of their posterity, each grandparent with their own imprint and variety of beauty.
I will use my mom’s example to illustrate the powerful influence for good that grandparents everywhere can have on their family while they are alive and even after they have passed.
What Seeds Can Grandparents Plant in the Hearts of their Posterity?
According to Dr. Marshall Duke, a professor of psychology at Emory University, by learning about their family history, children can develop more resiliency when faced with challenges. This is because their sense of self becomes something called “inter-generational self,” where their identity includes the strength of their family members in the past. What a legacy to bequeath! For all the Star Wars nerds out there, it’s sort of like when Rey found the strength to defeat Darth Sidious when she said, “I am all the Jedi!” referring to all her Jedi family predecessors.
How Can Grandparents Plant and Nourish Those Seeds in Their Families? What Should They Do?
I will answer this question by sharing what my mom did to plant and nourish this in her grandkids. Every grandparent can apply these principles in their efforts in some way.
- She Was Present in Their Lives
What made my mom so influential towards her family? If I had to sum it up, she was present in their lives as often as possible. That’s it.
Being present is the best present a grandparent can give their grandchildren.
It is the same thing children want from their mom and dad. They love it when they can spend time with grandma and grampa. Grandchildren do not require much more than that to benefit. The rest almost always comes naturally for grandparents. I am reminded of the quote, “In family relationships love is really spelled t-i-m-e, time” (Dieter F. Uchtdorf).
Not all grandparents live near all their grandchildren or can travel to visit them. But there are many ways they can still proactively be present in their lives. Social media is a powerful way to stay connected. Texting loving messages to grandchildren can be more meaningful than grandparents realize. Phone calls can lead to wonderful conversations. My mom would speak on the phone to some of her far away grandchildren at times. Emails and even written letters can add a personal touch. Messages and connections during graduations, birthdays, holidays, or other life events can be a wonderful way to celebrate together and create memories.
- She Made Every Person Feel Special
It was not until we celebrated her life and announced her passing away that I realized how she made every person feel special! She paid direct attention to each grandchild when they approached her, she looked at them in the eyes, and listened and conversed about what was important to them.
- She Played and Joked a Lot
When grandma joked, or danced in her own silly way, all the kids thought it was the most hilarious thing ever! Grandma dancing?! It seems when you get older, your jokes and playful attitude somehow just become funnier in the eyes of your grandchildren. That was the case with my mom.
- She Shared Personal Inspirational Stories
Grandparents are great at telling stories! My mom often shared her life story of overcoming challenges and how God helped her heal from trauma. I have seen the effects of family stories with my own children when I have shared my stories. What I have learned is that when grandparents tell their stories and experiences that helped them in their life, their children and grandchildren tend to do three things:
- They internalize those stories.
- They identify themselves by those stories.
- They seek to emulate the lessons in those stories in their own lives.
I mentioned at the start that these stories lead to inter-generational self and resiliency. Other benefits include higher self-control, less behavioral problems, lower levels of anxiety, and a stronger sense of self identity and self-esteem.
So, share your stories of faith, accomplishments, overcoming, redemption, rebirth, adventures, and laughter.
- She Loved Unconditionally
No child or grandchild is without fault or stumbling, that is because regardless of age they are often young, inexperienced, and still maturing and growing in life. But although my mom had her convictions of right and wrong, she still loved unconditionally.
As far as I know, not one grandchild felt less when they were with her because of their life decisions.
- She Gave Timely, Gentle, Loving Advice
That is not to say that she did not occasionally encourage someone to do the right thing, or to change their ways, but she tried to do it when she felt it was the right moment, with gentleness and sincere love in her eyes. And then just as quickly she would move on and continue just enjoying their company and time together.
She was not perfect at doing these things by any means, but she tried and that is why she had such an impact on her family.
Parents and Grandparents
If you are a parent and your parents have already passed, then pass the gift of stories to your children. Do not be discouraged that some of your children never met their grandparents. Share your own stories and your favorite memories of your parents. Repeat the stories that they shared with you and why those experiences were so important and defining in their lives. Do it often. Place photos of them and their ancestors in your home.
If you are a grandparent, no matter who you are, no matter your past, if you are willing to give selflessly of your time, presence, and attention to them, it will not only be most welcome by your children and grandchildren, but it will fill their soul with joy and light – a light that will be virtually impossible for any power in this world to put out, and that will continue to burn in them for the rest of their life, whether they are aware of it or not.
So be of good courage. Be present in their life the way you can. Converse with them. Play with them. Share your life stories and what you learned.
Your presence in life will remain ever present with them after death.