The title of one of Wendell Berry’s books famously asks […]
The title of one of Wendell Berry’s books famously asks the question: “What Are People For?” I’d like to narrow the scope of that question and ask: What are grandparents for?
This question is burning on my mind right now because my parents just visited us last week. They live 2,500 miles away, so we don’t get to see each other frequently. This was their first opportunity to meet their new grandson. I watched them interact with their grandchildren, and I realized that I would answer the question “What grandparents are for?” very differently than they would.
Judging by their words and actions, they would say that grandparents are for entertaining grandchildren. Grandparents buy things for grandkids that parents won’t buy. Grandparents feed grandkids things their parents wouldn’t normally feed them. Grandparents try to become buddies with grandkids, and even become allies to fight the ruthless authoritarian rule of parents. At least, that’s what it appears they believe. Does this sound familiar? I think it’s a pretty common view these days.
I’d like to propose a different answer to the question. I think grandparents occupy a unique and incredibly important role in a family. They can serve as wise guides for the future of the family. They spent their lives building up a legacy, and they have now arrived at a station in life where they can pass the baton to the next generation for continuing that legacy. They do this by imparting their wisdom, teaching skills, casting vision, telling stories of family history and coaching their children and grandchildren in what they know. This is serious business, and it is essential for stabilizing and preserving the family legacy for generations to come. Basically, grandparents are the pillars of the family.
If this is what grandparents are for, then why is it so hard to find examples of this happening? Our culture does not look kindly upon age. Old people are often treated as unpleasant nuisances that are to be removed rather than a deep well of wisdom and experience to draw from. Unfortunately, many grandparents have steeped in the sad lie of our culture and accepted the demotion from the role of wise sage to the role of awkward friend.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that grandparents shouldn’t have fun with their grandchildren. Fun and laughter and joy should be hallmarks of the grandparent relationship. But if that’s the sum total of the relationship, then it has fallen far short of what it can and should be.
Our family had a lot of fun with grandma and grandpa this past week. I found myself wishing for something deeper than fun, though. I want connection. I want guidance. I want authenticity. I want partnership in the awesome task of raising our children and preparing them to inherit the legacy we are building in our generation. That’s what grandparents are for.