The Role of a Grandparent
Studies show that grandparents are the second most important influence in a child's life, according to Pastor Josh Mulvihill and his wife, Jen. Not only can they be a great support to weary parents, but their goal, according to Psalm 78, is to see their faith passed on to successive generations. Grandparents can be a beautiful model of God's love and compassion, even to prodigal grandchildren, but this requires they intentionally nurture the relationship between themselves and the grandchildren.
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Studies show that grandparents are the second most important influence in a child’s life, according to Josh Mulvihill and his wife, Jen. Not only can they be a great support to weary parents, but their goal is to see their faith passed on to successive generations.
The Role of a Grandparent
Bob: If someone asked you, “What does the Bible say about grandparenting?” what passage would come to mind? Josh Mulvihill says there's a familiar passage that a lot of grandparents overlook.
Josh: Most have heard of Deuteronomy 6—probably the most common passage that we think of with discipleship—most of us start with verse 4; it actually starts in verses 1 and 2. It says that these commands are for you, your son, and your son's son.
Deuteronomy 6—often thought of as only a parenting passage—it is a grand-parenting passage as well.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, November 5th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. What is our responsibility, as grandparents, to help mold, shape, influence future generations? We'll talk more about that today. Stay with us.
Welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I don't know if this is your favorite subject, but it's pretty close to one of your favorite subjects.
Ann: It's a pretty great subject.
Bob: Yes; when is your new grandbaby being born?
Ann: That will be number six.
Bob: And you've been on the journey—your oldest is six years old?
Ann: Six years old.
Bob: We've got nine grandkids and our oldest—
Dave: Quit bragging; you just one-upped us. [Laughter]
Ann: I know; he wanted to talk about his grandkids.
Bob: Just demonstrating that I'm older than you are. [Laughter] And that's why we're a little ahead of you on the race on this.
Grandparenting is something that, I think, takes some of us by surprise. Parenting—you have nine months to get ready for—you read the books. Grandparenting—you hear from your kids that they're having a baby and then the baby arrives—and it never really dawns on you: “Oh, we have a job to do here”; right? [Laughter]
Ann: And it's a fun job. It's interesting—I don't know if Dave loves that I do this—but when our kids call and say, “Hey, could you watch…”, I drop everything; and the answer is, “Of course.”
Dave: The answer is never “No.”
Bob: One of our sons called us about three weeks ago and said, “Hey, can we come over on this weekend and stay with you guys?” And we said, “Sure; we're looking forward to it.” The next day, Mary Ann was coming to me and saying, “Here's what I'm thinking we'll eat while they're here...” She's starting to map out the menu; right? And then about two weeks later, they called and said, “Oh, we forgot we've got this going on; and we're not going to be able to come.” There was mild depression at my home with that news. [Laughter]
Ann: You know what we just did? We made a grandkids’ room.
Bob: —in your house?
Dave: Well, we took the—
Ann: We took our boys' bedroom—
Dave: All three boys used to be in one room, and we just transformed it.
Dave: It's got a little tent in there and Christmas lights hanging. [Laughter]
Ann: —bunk beds. It's pretty amazing. Every time I've been talking to my grandkids recently, they say, “Show us the grandkids’ room.” They want to see it.
Bob: I don't know how many of our listeners are even aware of this; but back about five years ago, there was a movement that began—a national grandparenting movement—the first National Grandparenting Conference happened in 2016. That has continued to happen over the years.
One of the people responsible for making that happen joined us on FamilyLife Today a few years ago, and he's back with us again today. Josh Mulvihill is here; Josh, welcome.
Josh: Great to be here.
Bob: This time Josh brought the secret weapon.
Ann: Woo hoo! [Laughter]
Josh: You know it.
Ann: Jen is with him!
Jen: Thanks for having us.
Dave: I think it's Jen Pen.
Jen: Jenny Penny. [Laughter]
Ann: Jenny Penny! [Laughter]
Bob: Josh helps give leadership to the Christian Grandparent Network, and he's written on this subject. In fact, his newest book is called Discipling Your Grandchildren.
You guys aren’t grandparents; you're too young to be grandparents.
Josh: Not grandparents.
Jen: Not yet.
Bob: In God's grace, you will be grandparents one day. But, this passion for you came out of studying the Scriptures; right?
Josh: Yes, yes. Family discipleship: as a pastor for about 20 years, I saw the impact of the family—or the lack of impact of family discipleship—and went back to become a better pastor to help train parents in my understanding. God expanded that vision to include grandparents. Here we are, many years later, and God has opened doors and helped understand the immense value that grandparents have and the significant need that is out there.
There's literally, probably somewhere around 30 million Christian grandparents in America. When we started this many years ago, there were very, very few resources. We saw a need and figured, “God spoke through a donkey, so He could speak through us.” [Laughter] So yes, we just try to be the messenger and help individuals understand what God's Word says about their role.
Bob: Was there an “Aha” moment for you in your study of Scripture, where you went, “Oh, grand-parenting's a big deal”?
Ann: It's not something we all think about. You know, all those verses on grandparenting—[Laughter]
Ann: —you know, most people couldn't even think of one.
Josh: Well, Ann, that's right; because the word, “grandparent,” really isn't used often as a word in Scripture—just a couple of times. But when we start looking at all the other uses of the word, “grandparent,” in Scripture—such as children's children, and son's son, and father's father—when we know the terms and we start to look for them, we go, “Wow; it is all over God's Word.” It's there.
The big—you asked: “What's one of the big passages for me?”—my favorite is
Psalm 78. It talks about the goal that we're trying to see—our faith passed on to the next generation—it really gets at then, some of the key ways to do that/some of the “how tos.” God's not silent on either the “what” or the “how to.” I think we'll hit on both of those here.
Bob: Jen, you were in the midst of raising toddlers when your husband was starting to focus on grandparenting. Did you feel a little disoriented with what he was discovering? Were you able to engage with what he was writing about and speaking about?
Jen: Oh, absolutely. As soon as he started talking about the topic of grandparenting, I was very excited about it, having seen our own parents be engaged with our children and what that has looked like.
Ann, you just mentioned, “I have a room for my grandkids at my house.” You know, my mom did that from the minute she found out we were expecting our first: hands on/excited to disciple the children.
Yes, I was very excited just to see what doors God would open and see how it would impact families, our own family included.
Dave: Yes; you mentioned Psalm 78; and you know, I pulled it right up. I'm thinking, “There's something that jumped off the page for you”; so talk to us about Psalm 78.
Josh: Yes, verse 4 says: “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation.” That's one of the “how tos”—the telling is pretty important; it gets out our testimony as parents and grandparents. And notice—we're not the point—we're the pointer, pointing to something beyond ourselves.
You'll hear a lot in grandparent literature about telling your story and your history—and that's a good thing; nothing wrong with that—but that's not the end goal. “So what's the end goal?” It goes here further: “Tell the glorious deeds of the Lord and His might and the wonders He's done.” What this really gets at here—our children/our grandchildren—they're going to worship a god; and it's going to be a small “g” god: a replacement/an idol—if the true God is not embraced by them/if they see some other god as more great, and grand, and glorious than the true God. One of the things that God has given us is to tell our testimony, pointing to who He is, His nature, and His character to help them grasp who He is. Then He continues: “He's established a testimony in Jacob.” He's done so in every grandparent [who is a believer]. There's a “how to,” grandparent. If you haven't told your testimony, God wants to use that.
“He's appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers,”—and this is where one of the little antennae goes up for grandfathers and grandparents; that word, “fathers,” means forefathers. But there's your second “how to”—that we are to teach their children that the next generation might know them/the children yet unborn. If we keep reading, it goes into four generations: “And arise and tell them to their children; so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” We've got literally four generations there—that's what?—I don't know: is it a hundred-and-sixty year vision/a hundred-and-twenty year vision? It's not just about grandkids; it's about great-grandkids.
We see here the “so that” tells us why we do all the how-to stuff: “hope in God”; that's salvation language and obedience of God. This is where the discipleship comes out of this. We see this idea that—I think of the Great Commission when I see this phrase—“that they should not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” I make a beeline right to the New Testamentthere—“teach them to obey all I have commanded”—and that's where we get discipleship, here, as parents and grandparents.
Bob: You keep reading in this Psalm, and it gets to the forgetfulness of the generations. The reason for all of this is because we are prone to wander/prone to forget. If grandparents don't do their job, the future generations can become disconnected from the spiritual heritage that has been a part of a family or a part of the grandparent's life.
If you're first generation, as a Christian, you may not be able to talk about your lineage of faith; but you can talk about the foundation of your family's faith in the stake you put in the ground and said, “We're going in a different direction.”
Ann: But Bob, this can get kind of tricky; because as a grandparent, maybe your faith is super strong and you're excited about it; but your kids aren't on the same page, spiritually. How do we navigate that? Do we need to ask permission if we can talk to our grandkids about God?
Josh: I like to talk about grandparenting with our generation. We're in our 40s. If you're not a grandparent, and you're listening in, you have a significant role; and part of that is as a gatekeeper. Since God's given grandparents a role, it's not pleasing to the Lord not to allow grandparents to engage in the way that God has designed them. That's where the gatekeeping comes in. Adult children: “We need to open the gate to grandparents.”
Obviously, there's a lot of dynamics at play in relationships, so that's a generalization there. But as far as whether it's the grandparents or adult children—whether you get one that's walking with the Lord and one that's not—I think the challenge there is simply one that you've got two unequally-yoked groups. Obviously, you're going to be on different planes. In that case, a lot of it comes down to maintaining and building relationship.
I think the best thing—and it sounds so simplistic, but it is God's answer—is simply in prayer and in changing hearts. You can't walk in lock step with somebody who's seeing the world completely different. If we get into the prodigal realm—which this starts moving into—God had a lot of prodigals Himself, so it's nothing new to Him. The Bible's not silent about that. Maybe some of our listeners were that themselves, and came back home, provides some significant hope.
But in that instance, I look at the gospel. It is both our map and our mirror when there's a prodigal in our life. We do with our children and our family as God did with the own prodigals He had. Jesus ate with sinners; we can too. Jesus continued to reach out in compassion and love, even when that wasn't reciprocated. There's so many principles we could tease out of Scripture and how the gospel impacts relationships like that.
When that's a hard scenario. I think probably about 50 percent of most audiences that listen to us, when we ask, “How many of you have a prodigal child?—a prodigal grandchild?” At least—I've never actually had an audience, where less than 50 percent hasn't raised their hand—ever. I've been doing this for about ten years, and so it's common. I think prayer is the answer. We can go to the Lord, and He changes hearts. We do that to the throne as long as we need to and invite others to join us in that.
Dave: I find it interesting, as you go back to Psalm 78—I mean, much of it—it's a long Psalm; you know it ends in 72 verses—much of after what you read is about the rebellion of Israel. And then, at the very end, it talks about David. You can apply this to a grandparent/granddad or [grand]mom—it says, “With upright heart, he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.” As I read it now, with you two sitting here, talking about this topic, I'm like, “That's my call, as a grandpa,”—they call me “Poppy”—that is my call: “I'm, with upright heart…”
I mean, so it's sort of talking about a prodigal here as well. But whether prodigal or not, it's easy for a grandparent to step back and think, “Well, it's not my job anymore; it's the parents’.” And yet, He's saying, “No, no, no; with upright heart, skillfully guide.” And like Bob said, you know, the forgetfulness—we are the connection, through the generations, to say: “Let's remember. Never forget what God did.”
We're first-generation Christians, and so we had a mission: “Change the Wilson name/change the Wilson legacy from adultery and alcohol to a different thing.” It's now going through our grandkids; and it's like: “That's my job/that's our job. It's our call!”
Bob: I think it's so important what you said: “Grandparents, who have a burden for their grandkids to know Christ,”—we can become so focused on that, that we think, “Every time I talk to them, I've got to be reading Bible verses or I've got to be doing that.” [Laughter] To build a relationship with your grandkids—and build a strong solid relationship—that's going to be the bridge that is going to enable those conversations.
They're going to be initiating those conversations with you. They get into their teen years, they're going to be saying: “So tell me about when you went to college,” “Tell me about when you were a little girl.” Those are the conversations, where you can comfortably/naturally share your testimony and talk about God's work in your life, as long as the relationship is solid there.
I'm starting to think about some of the relationship markers that we need to be anticipating. I remember talking to a grandfather, who said: “We have a Bar-Mitzvah event for our grandkids. When a grandchild turns 13, they get to go on a trip for 7 days with grandpa, anywhere in the world they want to go,”—
Bob: —okay?—“So they [child] pick the city, and we'll take them.” I mean, that's a big deal; right?
Bob: It costs a lot of money; but this grandfather says: “If I'm going to invest, that's what I want to invest in. So at age ten, we say, ‘Start thinking about where you're going to want to go when you turn thirteen,’”—start building some anticipation for that. Of course, the grandfather is thinking—not just about the rides at Disney World®, or the Eiffel Tower, or wherever you may be going—he's thinking about seven days of relationship, and spiritual deposits, and conversations/what he's going to get to have with his grandkids.
Ann: I'm going to do that. [Laughter]
Bob: But Ann is going to go to her grandkids and say, “Venice; you should check out Venice.” [Laughter]
Ann: I've already told Olive—that's our oldest grandchild/our oldest granddaughter—I said, “Olive, let's travel the world together someday.” She sits and dreams with me—like, “Where should we go?” I've already prepped her.
Ann: I just need to get the money onboard with that. [Laughter] I don't think it has to be around the world—it could be somewhere simple—but somewhere that they would love.
Bob: If your budget is a restrictive budget, then you say, “Let's plan a week together, and you pick the state park we want to go to.”
Ann: Exactly; right.
Bob: The kids aren't as focused—
Ann: It doesn't matter as much to them.
Bob: —that's right; that's right.
Josh, walk us through/you map out for us in the book: “What are the responsibilities/what are the characteristics of a grandparent, who wants to make disciples of his grandkids?” Kind of give us that road map; can you do that?
Josh: Yes; most have heard of Deuteronomy 6—probably the most common passage that we think of with discipleship—most of us start with verse 4; it actually starts in verses 1 and 2. It says that these commands are for you, your son, and your son's son. Deuteronomy 6—often thought of as only a parenting passage—it is a grand-parenting passage as well.
When we think about some of the characteristics, I'm just going to read you a couple that really jumped out to me in my study of Scripture. Psalm 128:6 says: “May you see your children's children.” That's just one example of how the Bible talks about the blessing of grandchildren, which is significant, simply because our world often sees children, in general, just not as blessings today but as burdens—not only the cost factor/you've probably seen the financial expense of a child—but also the time factor. With grandparents, it's often a lifestyle impact as well.
What we have found is that, often, grandparents see, specifically—grandparents in general—or a specific grandchild as a burden. One of the conversations we often have with grandparents is regarding the idea of: “Not only are you a blessing to your grandchildren, but your grandchildren are a huge blessing to you,”—so that's one.
A second characteristic of a disciple-making grandparent is simply understanding the purpose which God has created grandparents for. There's been some studies that have found that grandparents are the second greatest influence in the life of children. Many think/most know parents are number one, but we’ll often jump to something else as number two, whether that's peers, or—
Bob: —the teacher, the coach, pastor.
Josh: —pastor; yes—you know, whatever it is/whatever the study is.
Dave: —social media.
Dave: I mean, that's got to be tough.
Josh: Lots of things.
Jen: So many influences.
Ann: So you're saying there's a purpose for a grandparent.
Josh: Absolutely a purpose; yes. God designed it for a purpose. We see now, more than ever, the great need that children have to have godly influences in their life—not just parents but also other ones, whether that's—God's built in grandparents for that; He's built in the church for that.
We have five kids, and we want as many godly influences in our kids' lives as possible. For Jen and me, our mothers both died. Jen's mom died of brain cancer; mine, ALS. They really didn't have a huge relationship with their grandmothers; most didn't even know them. Of course, that changes your family dynamics when mom steps out. We've, in a sense, had this little taste of what it's like not to have the godly influence to the same degree that God designed it, due to death. It's a loss for us; you feel the weight of parenting in a greater capacity, because grandparents aren't there. In part, you know, grandparents, I think in God's design, are there to support, and help, and share the weight, and another voice, and another influence.
You know, that's in the perfect world; right?—where there's a two-parent family/mom and dad, where there's grandparents that love the Lord. There are those; we find that's about 25 percent of families. If you're in that 25—if you're listening, and you're in the
25 percent category—consider yourself blessed. And if you're not, grandparents come in, oftentimes, as the last line of defense—or the support figures—that then end up bringing in/supplementing what is lost from mom and dad and part of God's design for that.
Dave: You know, it's interesting when you say that—I mean, I hadn't thought about this in a long time—but I thought of my grandparents. You know, mom and dad were divorced when I was seven—never really/I think I met them one time—my dad's parents—because he was pretty much out of my life.
But as I think about my mom's parents/my grandparents—they were safety for me—as I look back. I mean, I was looking at the purpose in my life for them was, when I went to Leland and Hallie's house, I felt like it was safe. And you know, thinking back, because there’s trauma I was going through—
Ann: —and you had a brother die.
Dave: —yes, a brother died the same year—so that. I can remember walking in there; and it felt like, “Aaah!”; I don't think I felt like that anywhere in my life. And yet, Grandma and Grandpa—I wanted to be there all the time. Now I know why.
Jen: Yes; there's a word for that.
Dave: That was sort of God's purpose for them in my life—to give me a stability that would be a foundation—that my mom really wasn't able to give me, but my grandparents gave me.
Jen: Yes; and I'm sure your mom appreciated that relationship.
Jen: I'm sure she appreciated that support, and that extra voice that was speaking into you, and that “exhale” for her—
Jen: —in your grandparent's home. Praise the Lord for that.
Ann: She actually ended up moving back to her parents, so that they could help her—
Ann: —with the kids.
Dave: Great purpose. I—you know, you think/sit here, thinking—you know, obviously, generations later: “Did my grandma know that?”—yes; I guarantee you. She lived on purpose for this little boy. I mean, what a call, grandparents, you have.
Jen: Yes; yes.
Bob: This is where we have to recognize, again, it kind of took us by surprise. We'd always thought of grandparenting as that nice chapter that's going to be full of sweet memories. You know, I've seen the bumper stickers that say, “We're spending our grandkids' inheritance” on the back of the RV. [Laughter] Or you see grandparents, who will say, “If I had known grandparenting was this great, I'd have had grandkids first”; right?—all of those kind of fun sweet moments. But we have to be intentional, and not just sentimental, about grandparenting; because the Bible calls us to real intentionality. That's your heartbeat in all of this.
Josh: Yes; absolutely.
Bob: And it's the heartbeat of the book, Discipling Your Grandchildren, which is a book that we've got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. You can go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to get Josh's book, Discipling Your Grandchildren: Great Ideas to Help Them Know, Love, and Serve God. Order, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call us if you'd like to order by phone: 1-800-FL-TODAY is the number—1-800-358-6329—that's 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
Let me just say a word to parents about our responsibilities, as parents, to disciple our kids. We talked this week with Adam Griffin, who has written a book called Family Discipleship. We think what Adam has outlined is so helpful/so practical for moms and dads to know how to engage with their kids to talk about spiritual issues/to help create spiritual formation in the lives of your kids.
We're making Adam's book available this week to anyone who can support the ministry of FamilyLife with a donation. Adam co-wrote this book with Pastor Matt Chandler. Again, the title of the book is Family Discipleship. It's our thank-you gift when you go online at FamilyLifeToday.com to make a donation or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Your donations to FamilyLife are the lifeblood of this ministry. We are able to reach more people, more often, thanks to your ongoing support for this ministry. We're so grateful. Again, go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY, and be sure to ask for your copy of the book, Family Discipleship, as our thank-you gift. We look forward to getting a copy out to you.
We hope you can join us, again, tomorrow, especially if you're a grandparent. We're going to continue our conversation about discipling grandchildren with Josh and Jen Mulvihill. I hope you can be back with us then as well.
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'll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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