How beautiful is the encouragement an elderly person manages to pass on to a young person who is seeking the meaning of faith and of life! It is truly the mission of grandparents, the vocation of the elderly. The words of grandparents have special value for the young. And the young know it. (Pope Francis)
In a series of General Audiences in 2015, Pope Francis considered the value and importance of grandparents to modern families, challenging the secular notion that the word family refers to a small, isolated unit which excludes extended family members. As the ancient African proverb reminds us, “it takes a community to raise a child.”
While it’s true that children thrive when nurtured by their primary caretakers, attachments to grandparents enhance the process. By offering a helping hand in caring for the children, grandparents provide their adult children with much-needed support. Grandparents can be great role models, encouraging healthy development simply because they have the time and patience to spend playing, reading, and sharing family stories with their grandchildren.
Unfortunately, secular society seems to believe that nuclear families should raise their children independently, even when both parents work full-time and have after-school activities to manage. Conditioned in this way, families in need of help may hesitate to ask for it from anyone.
However, grandparents have a wonderful way of establishing consistency in the lives of their grandchildren. They provide a sense of security, particularly for children whose parents are separated, live in poverty, have mental health issues, or struggle with addictions. I have witnessed families striving to maintain an image of perfection but eventually falling apart behind closed doors under the pressures of modern-day stress. It was grandparents who saw behind the masks and quietly reached out to their adult children and their families.
Grandparents Connect Kids to Their Family History
The Catholic Grandparents Association explains its view of the role of grandparents:
What could be greater or more important than our vital task of handing on to future generations the values, skills, accomplishments of the past, enhanced by the additions and improvements of our own time? When, as believing Christian grandparents, we talk of our special role in the handing on of the faith, it becomes a calling, a calling from God a vocation. It’s the vocation that gives meaning to our later years, when our strength starts to wane and our powers to decline. As well as being great and important, this is a happy vocation, something to be welcomed and celebrated, something which lights up both our own later life and the early lives of our grandchildren. (The Arlington Catholic Herald)
Grandparents offer a sense of cultural heritage and family history, giving their grandchildren a sense of belonging to something bigger than their nuclear family. Of course, grandparents have the time to share their faith with their grandchildren.
A Grandfather’s Prayers
These generational connections are powerful. In fact, a grandparent’s prayers bless grandchildren, even if they never meet each other.
A friend of mine was given up for adoption at birth. However, her birth grandfather, Anthony, was a man of prayer who understood the painful sacrifice his daughter had made and prayed for his granddaughter and great-granddaughter for decades. When my friend’s daughter, Sarah, finally met her grandmother, they connected instantly; it was as if they had known each other all their lives. Sarah looked just like her grandmother, had a similar personality, sense of humour, and even a similar taste in clothes. When Sarah gave birth to a son, she announced, “I am going to call my baby Anthony.”
Sarah did not know it at the time, but Anthony was the name of her great-grandfather, the man who had prayed for her before she was even born.
If you are a young parent, honour your own parents and invite them to connect with your kids’ lives, even if it’s through technology. Grandparents are our kids’ link to the past, just as our kids are their grandparents’ hope for the future. The generations above and below us are irrevocably linked through bloodlines, but more importantly, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are able to remind ambitious young people that a life without love is a barren life. We are able say to young people who are afraid that anxiety about the future can be overcome. We are able to teach the young who are overly self-absorbed that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Grandfathers and grandmothers form the enduring “chorus” of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise sustain the community which toils and struggles in the field of life. (Pope Francis)
Copyright 2019 Melanie Jean Juneau