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Wanted: Good Grandparents
May 4, 1975

St. Paul's United Methodist Church

2 TIMOTHY 1:3-7

A small boy while visiting with his saintly Grandmother was sent to wash his hands again before dinner, and was heard to mutter, “That’s all I ever hear around here—germs and Jesus, germs and Jesus.” On the other hand, Bishop Raines is reported to have said, “We just can’t wait until those little angels come over—and we just can’t wait until the little devils go home again.” 

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is very special and unique, a relationship to be developed, nurtured and treasured. In this sermon series on FAMILIES CAN MAKE IT, I’ve been con­sidering these difficult days for families. We have looked at respect as one of the basic ingredients of a healthy family. Respect begins with marriage where the partners have self-respect and because of their security in Christ, they can have mutual respect. 

Today we look at another very important and significant ingredient of a successful family—the inclusion of grandparents in the family. If families are to make it these days, I believe they need the active, energetic participation of grandparents, and if the natural grandparents are not available, grandparents ought to be adopted.

The famous anthropologist Margaret Mead has written, “One of the reasons we have a generation gap today as we do is because grand­parents have copped out.” Grandparents have abdicated. Too many grandparents are afraid of imposing, of being a burden. Too many feel their role in life is to stay out of their children’s and grandchildren’s hair. There are too many in nursing homes or senior residences who feel that their major role in life is to look cheerful when the chil­dren and grandchildren come to visit. Families suffer from the lack of participation by grandparents. 

Didn’t grandparents contribute significantly to your life? I had all four of mine around me, living in the house together at times, living right next door on the same farm, and at the maximum five miles away. The family gathered together—30 to 40—almost every Sunday.

In our New Testament lesson today, Paul writes to young Timothy, encouraging him in his ministry. Paul writes about how important young Timothy is to him, how he prays for him, how he misses him. And then Paul reminds Timothy of the rich heritage he received from his mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. His grandmother had made such an important contribution to his life that Paul mentions it in his letter which is now a part of our Bible. 

Every family needs grandparents, grandparents who have not abdicated and feel like a fifth wheel, but grandparents who take their responsi­bilities seriously and who realize that their help is really needed if families are to make it today. The grandparent role does not need to be played solely by natural grandparents; in fact the more grand­parents a child has, the more fortunate he is. Every person here today who is 40 and older should act like a grandparent to the children around you. Whatever else the church should be in this day, it certainly should be a large family. We should be parents to each others’ chil­dren and when we are past 40, we should be grandparents to all the children and youth. There are many beautiful cases of how this is happening in our church; let’s develop and nurture. Let’s adopt all the children and youth. Learn their names, participate in the Family Recreation program Tuesday evening; a beautiful experience where people of all ages play together, make things together, act together, worship together. Bring your skills, bring your concerns, bring your love and share through the Sunday School, Red Balloon, Interlude, Coffee hour, etc. Reach out. Let’s adopt each other and give all our children a multitude of grandparents. 

What is a good grandparent? What kind of role does a good grandparent play in a family, in our church family? Three aspects: Remem­bering, bridging and spoiling! 

A grandparent is for remembering. A grandparent helps a child retain a perspective on history and reality. Both my grandfathers were great storytellers. How I loved to listen to those stories! A highlight was to be able to stay overnight with Grandpa Norris. I’d get to sleep in the other twin bed and we’d talk into the wee hours of the morning. How I loved those anecdotes of his youth, where he lived, what he did, what happened in the Depression, and what he remembered about my coming into the world. Children love those stories, and how rich the stories of grandparents can make a child’s life. 

A year ago, my father-in-law died following a !hospitalization of several months. He knew he was dying and talked about it freely with his family. Ellie took our cassette tape recorder to the hospital and asked him questions about his life. Now we have hours of tapes on her family’s history. What a beautiful way to leave this earth. Take the opportunity to share the stories, those grand stories of who we are and where we have come from. How does a youth know who he is and where he is going if he doesn’t know where he came from? The role of a grandparent is to remember. 

How do you account for the fact that the Christian faith remains remarkably alive in Russia in spite of the state’s official effortsat suppression and re-education for four generations? Someone answered, “Grandmothers, Russian grandmothers.” For years now it had been reported that in Russian churches you only saw old women—grand­mothers. But for over 50 years, they cannot be the same grandmothers. These later grandmothers were grandchildren during the revolution. Good grandparents are for remembering. 

Secondly, good grandparents are for bridging. The task of grandparents is to bridge the generation gap. A grandparent has a relation­ship with a grandchild that is different from that of the parents.The relationship has the possibilities of achieving an intimacy, an honesty and openness that is rare and beautiful. There is a far smaller gap between children and grandparents than there is between parent and child. A good grandparent encourages communication that bridges gaps. A good grandparent listens and encourages sharing. 

One grandson testified about the sex education he received, not from his parents, but from his grandmother. She was not shocked by any­thing he asked. In an unembarrassed and direct manner she answered his questions about sex. Being one generation removed was an advan­tage. Youth are searching for adults with whom they can be open, honest and intimate. Grandparents and adopted grandparents can be such adults. 

A class of third graders was asked to write a definition. One of them chose the subject, What is a Grandmother? He wrote, “A grandmother is a lady who has no children of her own. She likes other people’s children. A grandfather is a man grandmother. Grandmothers don’t have to do anything except be there. They’re old so they shouldn’t play hard or run. Everybody should have one, especially if they don’t have television, because grandmas are the only grownups who’ve got time. They don’t have to be smart, only answer questions like why dogs hate cats, and how come God isn’t married?” 

A grandparent is for remembering, bridging the generation gap, and thirdly, a grandparent is for spoiling. Everyone needs someone to spoil them, someone to treat them with esteem and as if they could do no wrong. It is not easy growing up in our society; everyone is out to lay trips on children and youth. A boy is expected by his parents to live up to their behavior, to obey their rules, clean his room, get good grades. A parent has to come down hard occasionally. His teacher criticizes, tries to get him to grow, expand. His coach always wants him to try harder, hit the ball level, get his glove down on the ground, etc. When he dates, when he marries, he has a woman telling him what to do, always someone pushing him. Everyone needs someone in his life who thinks he is perfect just the way he is, and that is a grandparent—one who will fight on his behalf, one who is convinced he can do no wrong, and if he does, “boys will be boys.” Everyone needs a grandparent to spoil him, to believe in him, to al­ways be there with a hug, and proud of him. Everyone needs some­one to feed his ego, shower attention, esteem and pride, That is a role of the grandparent. 

I’ll never forget my Grandpa Irwin and his belief and pride in me. Fifteen years ago he died, and as he sat in his chair, aching with cancer, I had to leave him to go back to seminary. We both knew it was goodbye, and I had the high rich blessing of being able to say goodbye. He told me how proud he was of me, and that he knew I would do good in this world. He told me of the high expectations he had of me. There have been many times when discouraged, the thought of my Grandfather’s belief in me and his pride of me kept me going. 

Grandparents and adopted grandparents have a tremendously important role to play in the lives of the children and youths around them. Grandparents are for remembering, bridging and encouraging.   

© 1975 Douglas I. Norris