This last November, my son’s school hosted a special program to honor grandparents. In the days leading up to the event, my five-year-old son, Hayden, giggled as he said, “We have a funny song we’re going sing. But it’s a surprise.” Then in a softer, more serious voice, he said, “I wish Papa could be there. He’d laugh at the song.”
My heart ached as I also wished his grandpa could be there. Two months earlier, my dad — Hayden’s grandpa, who he affectionately calls “Papa Jack” — passed away after a short and intense battle with cancer. Hayden loved Papa Jack, and during the five years they had together, they shared many moments my son won’t soon forget.
In the months since my dad’s passing, I’ve gained a deeper perspective on the love and adoration my son has for his grandpa. Hayden talks often about Papa Jack, recalling silly moments they shared together (and there were many) and expressing how much he misses Papa. He asks me to tell him stories about Papa, and he especially finds some of the stories from my childhood amusing. We laugh and cry together as we remember Papa, and something about these moments brings healing to us and a closer bond to each other.
In all of this, I’ve learned grandparents can truly touch the lives of their grandchildren. Bill Cosby once said, “What is it about grandparents that is so lovely? I’d like to say that grandparents are God’s gifts to children. And if they can but see, hear and feel what these people have to give, they can mature at a fast rate.”
Since my son’s birth, one of my desires has been for him to know his grandparents and build close relationships with them. Over the years, I’ve encouraged him to spend time interacting with his grandparents. I’ve found such joy in watching him connect with each of his grandparents in his own special way.
I’ve also discovered that these relationships, like any, take time to nurture and grow. And they don’t always take shape in the ways I’d expected. At times, I’ve been discouraged when a relationship wasn’t deepening as fast I thought it should or didn’t look like I envisioned. But I’m learning that as long as the relationships and influences are healthy, it’s often not my place to set the pace or the direction of those relationships. That’s between my son and his grandparents.
What I can offer as a parent are opportunities for my son and his grandparents to build close relationships with one another. This can be as simple as inviting grandparents that live nearby to dinner each week, so my son can spend time with them. Or, scheduling one night a week when he can stay the night at a grandparent’s house. For grandparents that live at a distance, I can encourage him to talk with them on the phone each week, to make cards for them, and as a family, we can take trips to visit them.
The splendor of these relationships, if tended to and allowed to grow, can richly bless our children and their grandparents. We don’t know how long our children will have their grandparents here in this life. Since my son’s birth, he has lost his two grandfathers and two of his great grandparents. I had assumed my son would always have his grandpa, Papa Jack, with him AND that the two of them would share many more life experiences together AND that my dad would be there to pass on his wisdom to my son as he grew into a teenager and a man. Sadly, that won’t happen. But my son has received one of the greatest gifts from God: beautiful memories about Papa he can treasure for a lifetime.