Many of us grandparents provide informal childcare for the offspring of our working and single-parent children, giving them peace of mind to pursue their careers. Our availability is often a lifeline to our children who are pressurised by long working hours, rising childcare costs and limited income.
We take delight in playing this important role. It is a legacy of love we can leave behind. When recognised and appreciated by our children, we are re-fired even as we are retired—we feel the joy of spring in the autumn of our life.
No longer burdened with the daily grind of work and other pressures, we enjoy interactions with our grandchildren that are different from those we had with our children when they were young. Younger grandchildren benefit from our affection and attention, which their busy parents might not be able to give.
According to psychological studies, positive intergenerational relationships reinforce children’s sense of self-identity and belonging. They help build self-acceptance and self-confidence, and connect the young ones to the extended family’s values and traits.
As preservers of tradition and culture, grandparents have the opportunity to influence the next generation and teach the Christian family values we treasure. By reminiscing about “the good old days”, I help my grandchildren appreciate their family roots and traditions.
Studies have shown that role modelling is most effective in helping children internalise values. They are keen observers and imitators of our conduct, concluding what is right or wrong from our behaviour. For instance, if we are unkind to our domestic helpers, our grandchildren will think it acceptable and do likewise. The importance of “walking the talk” cannot be over-emphasised.
Faith-driven values like the fruit of the Holy Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22–23)—are best transmitted by our walk. Preaching to them is not always effective. It is better for us to show by example the joy of the Lord in the way we pray, read our Bible, and worship and serve the Lord.
That values are best transmitted through sharing real-life experiences and role-modelling was brought home to me when I asked my grandchildren what they had learnt from me. Out of the 26 items they listed, about 70 per cent were “caught” by observation and 30 per cent taught by what I said. “Don’t slouch” is obviously what I told one of them. “Love isn’t easy” is clearly through observation.
There is a place for teaching what we believe and why. We have countless opportunities to engage our grandchildren in moral conversation and reinforce character building taught in school. For instance, our grandchildren learn in school to return trays and crockery after eating. When at home, let them do the same rather than have the domestic helpers do it. If told not to, they will be confused because there are two standards—one for home and another in the public space. Worse, if we spoil them, they will grow to be self-centred “little emperors” who believe only in taking and not in giving.
In sum, the art of inculcating values in our grandchildren calls for MITE:
- Model our Christian values through our words and action
- Inspire our grandchildren by the joy we have in the Lord
- Transmit values through everyday events and conversation
- Explain the what’s and why’s of living a God-fearing and other-centred life
The Rev Dr William Wan, a grandfather of four ranging from ages 23 to one, is a retired United Methodist Minister, formerly Registrar of BOM, Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference. He is the General Secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement and the author of Through the Valley: The Art of Living and Leaving Well.
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