On Being Intentional Grandparents

Our Non-Relating Grandparents
Jo was only six years old when her family moved across two provinces, leaving all their extended family behind. She does not even remember her grandparents. I fared only a little better growing up in the Netherlands. My mother’s family lived in Friesland, a far-away province that we visited only once. I remember only one brief conversation with my Frisian grandfather.

My father’s family lived in the same city, and we were often together at my Opa and Oma’s house. I was twelve years old when our family left for Canada, and even though I was their first grandchild, I cannot remember either one of my grandparents ever speaking to me. During our first year in Canada, my mother urged me to write a letter to my Oma. I wrote a long letter describing the old farmhouse we lived in and the Canadian wildlife I had seen—gophers, coyotes, and hawks. Weeks passed without a response, then I read a postscript in a letter to my parents, “I see Jack’s handwriting is as bad as ever.”

That day, as a twelve-year-old, I pledged to myself, “If I ever become a grandparent, I will be the exact opposite of my Oma and Opa.”

Our Decision to Make the Time Count
Jo and I were relaxing one evening in our mud-walled, thatch-roofed Canela village house, missing our three daughters terribly and wondering how they were doing. We would have no direct contact with them for the next three months as they stayed in a residential mission school 600 kilometres away. We were grateful for our ten-minute early morning radio contact with Belem that we depended on if there was an emergency. And once a week, we had a one-on-one radio schedule with Rita, one of the boarding school’s parents, who passed on news about the girls and messages from them.

“You know,” I said, “this will be the pattern, on and off, for the rest of their school lives.”

“Yeah,” Jo said, “They’ll be with us in the village for a couple of months in the summer, and we’ll be with them in Belem for Christmas break and a month or so of translation workshops, but for at least half of the year we won’t be part of their day-to-day lives.”

“They’ll be with us during a couple of furloughs between now and the time they graduate from high school,” I said, “but then they’ll leave Brazil for good.”

It scared us to see we had minimal time to be parents to our daughters. We immediately made plans to be far more intentional as parents than we had been. We read books on improving Christian family living and made a “Family Life To-Do” list to follow when we were together in Belem. Being an intentional Daddy to our three daughters would be excellent preparation for acting deliberately as a grandpa to who knows how many grandkids.

Sunday was already family day. We had backyard barbecues, ate out at a nearby restaurant, went sightseeing in Belem or exploring in the countryside. Friday night became Popjes Family Night, as the other twenty families on the centre soon discovered by the laughter and happy shouts emanating from our house through our glassless screen windows. We played games we made up like Sea Monster, which involved a lot of running and screaming. And hide and seek with all the lights off, plus all kinds of table games. I read the entire Lord of the Rings series of books aloud while the family puzzled or did Doodle art. After their twelfth birthday, I took our daughters out on individual weekly dates. We went for walks, sightseeing trips, a movie, or dinner, whatever each one wanted. Excellent preparation for becoming the intentional Grandpa I had vowed to be!

The First Grandkids
When I held our first grandkids, twin grandsons, one in each hand, just days after they were born, I mentally renewed the Grandpa vow I had made when I was twelve years old. I took them for baby carriage rides to give their Mom and Grandma a break, and as I pushed that baby carriage, I prayed for them, and I told them, “I love you. Ryan, I love you, Tyler. I will make sure you know that you matter to me.”

And that is what Jo and I did for each of our eight grandchildren. We spent time with them, listened to them, and loved them, each in their, and our own way. Jo excelled in crafting with the kids and making unique dishes and goodies when they came to visit. We played games, visited parks, and went camping with them at every opportunity. I told them bedtime stories and took them for walks. At least five of our grandkids spent many hours practicing their driving skills with me before they got their license.

When I was away on mission trips, I wrote them “Sunday Afternoon Letters from Grandpa.” I told them true stories of my childhood. I also wrote them made-up stories about a grandpa and eight grandkids with names much like theirs who had every kind of adventure. Jo, for her part, spent hundreds of hours crocheting or knitting afghans for each of our grandkids in designs, colours and patterns they picked out. She also sewed stuffed animals and doll clothes.

I wrote Jo and my memoirs in response to Scripture like, “Good people leave an inheritance to their grandchildren.” Proverbs 13:22. “One generation shall declare your works to another.” Psalm 145:4.

The Joy Being Intentional Grandparenting Brings
Our vow to purposefully and deliberately be Intentional Grandparents continues to bring Jo and me much joy, not just to our grandkids but also to ourselves. And I believe God is pleased too. “They will still bear fruit in old age; they will stay fresh and green” (Psalm 92:14).

We Christian parents and grandparents need to make absolutely sure that our kids and grandkids know we love them and that they matter to us. They need the love and attention only intentional parents and grandparents can deliver.