The Intentional Grandparent
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Larry and Gladine McCallLarry McCall has served as a pastor at Christ’s Covenant Church of Winona Lake, Indiana, since 1981. He has written a number of articles and is the author of Walking Like Jesus Did, Loving Your Wife as Christ Loves the Church, and Grandparenting with Grace. McCall is a graduate of Grace College, Grace Theological Seminary, and has a doctor of ministry degree from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Larry has been married to Gladine since 1975. They have three married chi...more
Grandparents Larry and Gladine McCall talk about the joy of grandparenting with intentionality. They share how they point their grandchildren towards the Lord, and at the same time respect their adult children.
The Intentional Grandparent
Bob: The Bible says there is no greater joy than to know that our children are walking in the truth. Larry McCall says knowing that our grandchildren are walking in the truth, too, is not far behind.
Larry: Ultimately, we can’t give our grandchildren new hearts; only God can do that—only God can grant salvation—only He can change the heart of a child to become a follower of Jesus Christ. But as grandparents, to have that desire: “We want our grandchildren to follow Jesus Christ”; so we pray that way; we want to display the gospel; we want them to be around us and to see Christ.
This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, February 6th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. We’re going to talk today about strategies: ways that we, as grandparents, can be involved in the lives of our grandchildren and can share Christ with them. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. One of the things that I have learned, over the years of being on this program, is that grandparenting, like parenting, needs to be done with intentionality. I would say Mary Ann and I are still trying to figure out what that means.
I think we understood, intuitively, you’ve got to be intentional as a parent. To be intentional, as a grandparent, is not as intuitive; it’s something you have to purpose yourself toward. We don’t know exactly what that means. All of our grandkids live out of state, which makes it a little trickier; but we’re trying to get our arms around this subject so that we can look at the grandparenting years and say, “Let’s do this well.”
Ann: I think we’re feeling the same thing, because we’re rookies. We have four grandchildren, and our oldest is four. We have three of those that are out of state. It’s a different day and age: “How do you have a relationship with them? What is your role?” It’s not easy; is it? I wish there are more books on it.
Dave: I actually didn’t know it would be so exhausting. [Laughter] I mean, it’s great; it’s awesome; and you always hear those stories about everybody says: “This will be just so wonderful. You just spoil them and then give them back to the parents.”
But our son and his wife went on their ten-year anniversary, and we watched all three grandkids.
Bob: For how long?
Dave: For five days?—four days?
Dave: I fell in bed at night exhausted! I don’t remember parenting being this exhausting, but we’re older now.
Larry: More birthday candles on your cake.
Bob: We’ve got some grandparenting experts; can we call you experts?
Larry and Gladine: No!—learners!
Bob: Learners/fellow learners joining us on FamilyLife Today—Larry and Gladine McCall. Welcome to FamilyLife Today, guys.
Gladine: Thank you!
Larry: Thanks for having us.
Ann: And thank you for writing a book on grandparenting.
Dave: We need it.
Bob: Yes; Larry has written a book called Grandparenting with Grace: Living the Gospel with the Next Generation. This idea of intentionality, can you relate to what I am feeling about: “Oh, it was more obvious when you were parenting than it is when you are grandparenting”?
Larry: Yes; I think it’s not intuitive, as grandparents. We live in a culture, where grandparenting is not intentional, so to think that way, as Christians, I think takes some real effort to learn how.
Bob: There are hints in the Bible about what a grandparent’s role is. I mean, we have some specific passages: “Parents train up a child in the way he should go,” “Husbands/wives: interact like this.” What we get with grandparenting is more a picture of what it looked like rather than instruction on how to do it.
Larry: I think there is some instruction, though, Bob. If you go back even to the days of Moses—in the Book of Deuteronomy, for instance, in Chapter 4, Moses told the people—he said: “Don’t forget what you have seen,” and “Make sure you pass this on to your children and your children’s children.” Clear back, from the time of Moses, there was a certain responsibility on the shoulders of grandparents: “Make sure you’re engaged, not just with your kids, but with your grandkids.”
Dave: When you think, like Bob said, intentionality, what does that mean to you, as a grandparent, when you’re thinking: “How do I intentionally”—because, again, Bob said, it’s something that was on the forefront of my mind, as a dad, but not as much as a granddad: “How does that work for you guys?”
Larry: First of all, to remember that God has a calling on our lives, as grandparents. I think most grandparents haven’t even thought about that—that: “God has a calling on my life, as a grandparent? What does He want me to do?”
I think to start with a goal in mind. One of the verses that has become precious to us in the last few years is in Psalm 78. In that Psalm, the psalmist says we want to make sure we don’t forget to tell the coming generations about the glorious deeds of the Lord. And then in verse 7 it says, “…so that they would set their hope in God.”
When we look at our grandkids, that our goal/our desire is that they would set their hope in God. What has to happen for that to happen?
Ann: Gladine, you have several grandchildren. Tell us their ages.
Gladine: We have seven grandchildren: the oldest is eleven; the youngest is four months.
Ann: As a mother-in-law and a grandmother, are you guys checking in with your kids to find out: “How do you feel about this?” and “What is your goal?” Is that something we should do as grandparents?
Gladine: We want to respect our kids and our sons’-in-law in coming alongside them in raising their children. They are the primary disciplers of their children, not us; but we want to be whole-heartedly supportive, and encouraging, and engaged in helping in any way we can.
Larry: Just the week before last, our daughter, who lives in another state, she and her kids were down for a couple days. I sat in the living room with her and I just said: Janelle, how would you like us to be involved in the life of your kids right now? Is there something you would like us to be doing different?”
Ann: Great question.
Larry: We had a wonderful conversation, just sitting in our living room, talking about how we as grandparents can come alongside our daughter and son-in-law, supporting them in this role of discipling their kids for Christ.
Ann: What did she say?
Bob: Did she say to “Turn it up”? Or did she say, “Dial it back a little bit”?
Larry: Actually, she was very encouraging. She showed appreciation for what we are doing and encouraged us to keep it up.
Ann: What are you doing? What kind of things are you doing? What does that look like to be intentional?
Larry: One thing we do, since they live out of state, we’ve set up a weekly video call with her older two. They have four children. Two are a little bit too young to do that with; but for the older two, we have a weekly Bible study with them. We found an interactive Bible study designed for grade school kids. Every Tuesday at 1:30, we call those grandkids; and we do this Bible Study with them.
But we also just look for time to have with them. We’ll go up to Michigan and spend time with them, or we’ll invite them down to be with us. We try to think, ahead of time, what all we’d like to do with them. There’s an intentionality, thought of ahead of time, and how we are going to engage with those grandkids.
Bob: Are you thinking, “We need to do fun things with them”? Are you thinking, “We need to do spiritual things with them”? Are you thinking you should do educational things with them? How do you calibrate all that?
Larry: The answer is: “Yes! [Laughter] We like to do all those things.” Of course, sometimes, your interaction with them is just for a brief period of time; we’re just going to a soccer game together or something.
But sometimes, we get extended time. A tradition we started several years ago is—every summer, we have all the grandkids—except for the baby—we have all the grandkids for five days—we have Grand Camp.
Dave: Grand Camp!
Larry: It’s 24 hours a day for five days. We plan fun things: we go swimming; we go out for ice cream. But we only go out for ice cream once a day.
Dave: —only once. [Laughter]
Larry: We have learning activities; we have devotionals at mealtime and at bedtime. It’s intense, but I don’t think it feels intense; the kids love it. We also have free time; we call it “Cousin time.” They’re allowed to just get away for an hour or two in the yard, or in the play room, and just play with cousins.
Dave, you mentioned about being tired. We are always exhausted! [Laughter]
Bob: Gladine, I’m guessing it takes weeks to prepare for Grand Camp—
Gladine: Oh, we plan year-round. [Laughter]
Bob: —and just mapping it out. Do you have to be retired to be a good grandparent?
Larry: No, we’re not retired; we’re tired, but we’re not retired!! [Laughter]
Bob: You’re squeezing this in around all the other activities you’ve got going on in your life.
Larry: Yes, I usually try to take a week off, but Gladine is a great planner. We sit and engage together and do this planning. This is our third year, so we have something to fall back on/what worked well, and we engage the older grandkids:—
Ann: Oh, that’s fun.
Larry: —“What do you think we ought to do again? What do you think we ought to do differently?”
Our oldest grandson is going to be 12 this fall. We realized he’s at that border age, where this could start to feel like little kid stuff to him; so we talked to him months ago and said: “Jackson, could you help us with this part?, Could you be in charge of the obstacle course this year?”; and he loved that; so looking for ways to engage kids that are age appropriate.
Ann: Give us a picture of what a typical day could look like at Grand Camp.
Larry: What we’ve done—a typical day would—we would have the kids involved in breakfast. Like Katie loves to make eggs. She’s nine, almost ten; so Katie’s in charge of making eggs. The kids get engaged: they’re learning to work; they’re learning to help—they’re not just passive. They are serving their siblings; they are serving their cousins. We’ll have a meal together and a devotional.
We always try to have a theme. One year, we had a theme of the parables; one year we had a theme of Proverbs. This last summer, we did a theme of walking like Jesus. We looked for several character traits of Christ that can be replicated in our lives as followers of Christ, so the devotionals were all laid out that way. I would plan maybe a ten-minute devotional on something along that theme.
Then there would be fun times. You know, we would say: “Today, we’re going to the pool,” or “Today, we’re going to such and such and picking blueberries,” or something like that. We just did a lot of fun activities.
We’d have work projects. One day, the theme was serving like Jesus served. We called the parents ahead of time and we said, “We’re going to need your van all afternoon.” With the older kids—especially the boys—we watched YouTube on how to detail a van. Boy, did they get into that. All afternoon, all six of those grandkids were cleaning their parents’ vans; we were serving the parents. They really talked about that; that was, amazingly, a highlight.
Of course, there are meal times; and like we’d watch maybe a video of a missionary story—something like that—in the evening, just to get them calmed down. We’d have family devotions in the evening and all crash! [Laughter]
Bob: Now, what’s the range of age for the kids?
Larry: The oldest is almost 12 and the youngest that comes to camp is 4.
Bob: That’s a wide range to try to plan activities around. What’s your four-year-old doing while you’re detailing the van?
Larry: The four-year-old—there are two four-year-olds/cousins—they were helping with the van, too. I don’t know how much help they were—[Laughter]
Dave: I was going to say, “You’ve got to be detailing right behind them, wherever they go; but they helped; yes?”
Larry: It took some supervision; but I can still picture in my mind one of the four-year-old granddaughters taking the shop vac—she was cleaning out her own car seat. There were plenty of Cheerios® and crumbs in there. [Laughter] I thought I had to empty the bag afterwards; you know?
Dave: When that week ends, what are the grandkids feeling, and thinking, and saying?
Larry: They can’t wait till next year.
Larry: They are already talking about it: “Can we do this next year?” They don’t get homesick; even the four-year-olds’ do not get homesick.
Ann: I’m sure there is something special about cousins getting together, too,—
Gladine: Oh, yes!
Ann: —that makes it really fun.
Gladine: They love it. They just really enjoy being together, and it’s a sweet time. They love the activities. One of their highlights is the obstacle course we’re done it for three years now. We started doing it from the Proverbs that talk about listening to the voice of wisdom, not the voice of folly.
They make this obstacle course through our backyard. They will take turns being blindfolded; and they have to listen to the voice of wisdom, which is Papa’s voice; and at the same time, all the other children are the voice of folly. As Papa is directing them through this obstacle course: “Go left,” “Go right,” “Go under,” “Go over,”—the other children are saying: “No, no; you don’t need to do this. That’s too hard; go this way. Go that way; turn around.” They have to listen carefully to the voice of wisdom, and that has left a deep memory on them that they just really love.
Bob: That’s great.
All of this intentional thinking about grandparenting is something that got prompted for you guys when your church came and said, “Would you teach us about grandparenting?”—right?
Larry: Yes! [Laughter] About four years ago, we were asked to teach a class/a Sunday school class at our church on gospel-centered grandparenting. When the man in charge of that ministry asked us, my first thought was, “What?!”
Gladine: “We never heard of such a thing.”
Larry: Over the decades, we’ve taught plenty of classes—Gladine and I—on marriage or parenting—but whoever heard of a class on grandparenting? But loving to be grandparents, we said, “Yes.” We had no idea what we were doing. We started digging into the Scripture: “What does the Bible say?” We came up with different Psalms that talked about generational impact.
But then we started looking for books: “What books are out there on grandparenting?” There are a lot of books out there on parenting; there’s a lot of books on marriage, but very few books on grandparenting. Actually, some of the ones that are out there—it’s not that they’re bad—but they’re just stories; they’re just antidotes, and they don’t teach biblical principles.
We were hungry. We found one book that we were really drawn to called Biblical Grandparenting, written by a previous guest, here at FamilyLife®, Josh Mulvihill.
Larry: I would be reading it on my Kindle at night. If Gladine was trying to sleep, she couldn’t; because I’d say: “Listen to this! Listen to this!” [Laughter] I said, “I want to meet this guy.” And in the Lord’s providence, we met Josh; and through him, we met some others involved in the growing Christian grandparenting movement.
When we were teaching that class, several people in the class—there were about 50 or 60 people in that class—and a number of them said, “Larry you need to write on this”; and so we did.
Bob: Do you remember, as you were studying and preparing for the class, were there a couple of big “Ah-ha’s” that came out, where you said: “We never thought about this,” and “This is what we’re supposed to be doing?”
Larry: Yes; I think, in general, one thing that really impacted us was this issue of intentionality—that we needed to grandparent, going somewhere: “What are we aiming at?” and “How are we going to get there?” I think that was crucial for us; it was kind of a direction turner for us.
Dave: Talk about that: “What are you aiming at?” What would you encourage other grandparents to say, “This is the target.”
Larry: Ultimately, we cannot give our grandchildren new hearts; only God can do that—only God can grant salvation—only He can change the heart of a child to become a follower Jesus Christ. But as grandparents, to have that desire: “We want our grandchildren to follow Jesus Christ”; so we pray that way; we want to display the gospel; we want them to be around us and to see to Christ.
Do you remember when Paul talked about the aroma of Christ? I like to ask people: “Do you remember a certain aroma in your grandparent’s house? Maybe it was your grandma’s cooking or her baking; you remember that smell.” I’ve often thought, “When we’re gone and our grandkids are now adults, I would hope they would say, ‘When we’re at Papa and Grandma’s house, [sniffs in] it smelled like Jesus.’”
We want them to see Jesus in us: so displaying Christ; but also to talk about Christ. When they are around us, not in an artificial way, but just in the ebb and flow of life, they know that Papa and Grandma love Jesus and want to talk about Him. It becomes the topic of conversation.
Dave: Now, if your children were not believers or didn’t really model that in their own home—I’m not talking about your kids—but you were the grandparents, and your children weren’t doing that, how would you negotiate that with your grandkids?—the children of parents that don’t, maybe, want that.
Larry: Dave, that’s an excellent question, and a painful question, that a lot of grandparents face. We do not; but in the course of our ministry, we’ve encountered a number of grandparents that ask that question: “What do I do? My kids aren’t following the Lord; how can I impact my grandkids?”
I want to encourage grandparents not to give up too fast. Obviously, we can pray: “Oh, Lord, come. Move the hearts of my son/my daughter-in-law. Come, and move the hearts of my grandkids.” We go to the Heart-changer; we ask Him, “Would You come and change this situation?”
But then to have an open conversation, even with non-believing kids and kids-in-law—saying: “You know our heart for Christ; you know we want to serve Christ. Would we have your permission to talk to your kids about Christ?” I think a lot of kids/adult kids would give grandparents, at least, some elbowroom to do that. But there are some, who say, “Absolutely not.” We have some friends, where their adult kids have said, “You may not talk to my kids about Christ.”
Bob: If the kids say that, do the grandparents honor that?
Larry: I think we have to, but I think we can still pray; we can still model Christ.
Ann: I think, too, we can still point out the things—the godly attributes or the gifts that we see that God has put into them—you know, to call out those things: “I see your courage,” “I see that you have this gift of empathy,” “I see that you’re strong,”—so the leadership gifts. We can point those out; and even if you can’t say, “It’s God [who has put that within you]”; it’s still giving them an image of the gifts that God has put in them.
Ann: I know that I had a conversation with our granddaughter this past year, and we were talking about how God created her.
Dave: She’s four.
Dave: Last year, three.
Ann: Yes, so she was three. We were making breakfast together; it was just the two of us. There’s something about being a grandparent—you have a little more time. I remember, as a mom, I was rushed in, sometimes, putting them to bed; and I’m thinking about the next day and all the things we had to do. But it seems like, sometimes, things slow down a little bit more when we’re with our grandkids.
I said, “Olive, I love how God made you.” I said: “I can imagine, when God started thinking about you, He started putting all these great things together; and He said: ‘I’m going to make her with blonde hair, and I’m going to make her funny. I’m going to make her with this sensitive heart to others. I am going to make it so that she is so helpful to her parents. She’s going to have these blue eyes.’” I said, “I can imagine God holding you up, with the image of who you will be, and He said, ‘This is Olive Wilson’; and all the angels were like: ‘AAAAHHHHH! Wow!’ And they were all clapping and cheering [Laughter] of who He made you to be.”
She was mesmerized; she was mesmerized. I said, “Now, I get to sit and look at you; and I can’t wait to see all the other things that God put in you.” Later that day, we were out with some friends. Someone went up to her and they said, “Olive I love your blonde hair”; and she said, “Oh, God put that on me.”
Larry: Oh great.
Ann: She was so proud of it. I think those are the moments that maybe we can’t talk about God specifically; but we can still point out, “This is what I see in you, and it’s a good thing.”
Bob: I think in moments where, again, you are trying to honor the parents’ request, you could say: “You know, I look at you and I see your blonde hair,” and “I see the courage,” and “I see how funny you are; and I think to myself, ‘Where did that come from?’”
Ann: Oh, that’s good Bob.
Bob: You’re not answering the question—
Larry: You’re stirring the question.
Bob: —but you can sure ask the question—
Bob: — “Have you ever thought about, ‘Where did you come from?’ and ‘How did you get to be the way you are?’ Isn’t that an interesting question to think about?” Just let that one hang in there for a while.
Ann: Or even, “I wonder why you were born.” I used to think that in the second grade. I didn’t know Jesus; but I remember thinking, “Why was I born?”
Larry: Yes, that’s excellent, Ann.
Bob: This is a part of, again, we have to, as grandparents, go, “This part of our lives—God has given us an assignment with the future generations/with our children’s children—that we’ve got to steward that responsibility and not just go: ‘Well, that’s their problem now. We’re going to go and play golf, and travel, and put the bumper sticker on the back of the RV that says, “I’m out spending my kids’ inheritance.”’” [Laughter] You’ve seen that on; right?
Bob: This is something God is calling us to—to make spiritual investments in the lives of our grandkids; isn’t He?
Larry: Yes; sadly, in our American culture, many grandparents are disengaged from the ministry of grandparenting. They see grandparenting as just occasional moments of having fun with the grandkids, making a few memories, and then sending them home; and there is not that intentionality.
I think, for us, as believers, to say: “No, it’s God’s calling on our lives.” We shouldn’t be spending our “Golden years” just on ourselves: “I want to spend my time/my money on me. I’ve paid my dues; I’ve done my day, and now I get to spend the rest of my life on me.” I don’t think that honors God, and it sure doesn’t help our grandkids either.
Bob: I think what you have given us are some very practical ways that we, as grandparents, can engage heart to heart with our grandkids. You’ve done that in your book, Grandparenting with Grace: Living the Gospel with the Next Generation. We’ve got that book in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com to order a copy of the book; or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Again, our website is FamilyLifeToday.com; look for the book, Grandparenting with Grace, by Larry McCall; or call to order at 1-800-358-6329—that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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We hope you can join us back, again, tomorrow. Larry and Gladine McCall will be here again as we continue our conversation about how we can connect with our grandkids. We’ll have some strategies to talk about tomorrow. I hope you can tune in for all of that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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