On the Importance of Grandparents: What Lessons Did Yours Teach You?

Posted September 18, 2012 by

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“Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” — Alex Haley

How did your grandparents affect your life — and how are your own parents influencing your child’s life? I am fortunate to have many fond childhood memories of my grandparents.  My paternal grandmother, who passed two years ago, was a wonderful woman who taught me a lot about life.  She raised fifteen children, and many of them on her own after she was widowed at the age of 45 while her youngest was still in diapers.  My “Gramma” taught me about being self-sufficient, and being responsible for myself.  More than that, she taught me about the importance of family, and being willing to help out others who need it.  She was not a wealthy woman, and she showed me that time spent is infinitely more important than money spent.  My Gramma never took me on shopping sprees, or to big theme parks when I went to see her in the summertime.  Still, I treasure the memories of my time with her, whether it was going to the local park to watch people play horseshoes, or sitting in her kitchen late at night drinking tea and eating graham crackers while listening to the commuter trains go by.

My maternal grandparents were also very influential in my upbringing.  Due to events which occurred during my childhood, there were periods of time where my maternal grandparents stepped into more of a parenting role for my siblings and me.  Instead of travelling or engaging in their hobbies, they were there for the daily routines of getting up, packing lunches, doing laundry and getting homework done.  As a result of their actions, from taking care of my siblings and me to going to my great-grandparents’ gravesites every week and watering the geraniums, the significance of family was reinforced.

My Nana is a great shopper, and showed me the thrill of “bargain-hunting.”  She taught me how to make a great pie crust, and how to can and “put up” the various fruits and vegetables of summer to enjoy all year round.  I learned much of my family’s history through her stories after dinner, or during countless card games and puzzles.  My Bubba showed me the value of standing up for what you believe in, regardless of how popular it is.  Both of them emphasized education to all their grandchildren, a lesson I took very much to heart.  They also modeled not taking life too seriously and the value of being willing to laugh at yourself.

Now that I am a parent, I think about the role grandparents will play in my child’s life.  I hope that my child will learn some of the same lessons I did — the importance of hard work, responsibility, education and humor.  I hope that I am able to model the value of family much in the same way that my parents and grandparents did.  I realize the challenges which parenting again presented for my grandparents, and I recognize the sacrifices made by many grandparents today who are parenting the next generation.  I am awed by the amount of energy and resources the task of parenting requires of me every day, and I am touched by the number of grandparents who care for their grandchildren and make it work, regardless of their own health, financial or other concerns.

To those very special grandparents (or great-grandparents) who are stepping into the parenting role once more, even if you never hear it from your own grandchildren, please know that you are appreciated. You may not receive recognition of your actions or statements of gratitude right now, but please believe me when I say that what you’re giving your grandkids is priceless, and will stay with them for a lifetime.


Rebecca Wolfenden is a loving Momma to her son and a dedicated 1-on-1 Coach. She earned her degree in Social Work from West Virginia University and has been with Empowering Parents since 2011. Rebecca has experience working with children and families in home settings and schools, and has extensive practice working with people of all ages who have survived significant emotional and physical trauma.

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  1. Julie Winter (Edit) Report

    My Grandparents were great! I was very fortunate. They were both very strict, but you ALWAYS knew they loved you even when they were not happy with how we may have acted. My Grandma also taught us that you ALWAYS put yourself in other people’s shoes. I wish more people had learned that in life. They also showed by example, how to do what was right in any situation, that anything less than the right thing was unacceptable. They had a good balance of dicipline and love.

  2. Rebecca Wolfenden, Parental Support Advisor (Edit) Report

    To troubled parent: Thank you so much for your comment. It is challenging for many families when it is unclear where the line between “parent” and “grandparent” actually lies! It is sometimes difficult for people who have not lived with a child with ADHD and/or ODD to understand the reasons behind parenting decisions that you make as well. What we find can be helpful in these situations is having a conversation with your parents during a calm time when your children are not around. You may say something like, “I know that my style of parenting is different than yours, and we may disagree about what I am doing from time to time. I ask that if you do disagree with what I am doing, please bring that up with me privately and not in front of the kids. I am working with professionals to address my child’s behavior problems, and it’s really important that my child get consistent messages from the adults in charge.” Take care, and keep in touch!

  3. troubled parent (Edit) Report

    I have fond memories of my grandparents as a child and into early adulthood so I can appreciate the importance of grandparents. My delima is that MY parents are struggling with me to over take a parenting role with MY children. If I say “no” to my child, they say “yes”. They feel I am too strict yet they don’t live daily life with an ADHD and ODD child. I depended on my mother for “motherly advice” when I was younger and my parenting issues were “easier” but now with the complex issues of our oldest child I have moved in another direction and seek advice from “professionals” of which my mother doesn’t like or agree. I really want my children to have a healthy relationship with their grandmother but I find it very hard to encourage a relationship where we are constantly battling over who is the “mother”. Any advice?



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