Why writing your stories is an important part of your legacy.
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The story goes something like this:
A young girl was at school when a storm was approaching, and all the children were sent home. Before she could get safely to her house, a tornado hit. It lifted her off the ground and she ended up hanging by the sash of her dress from a utility pole.
As she hung there waiting to be rescued, she was mostly worried her mother would be mad that she’d ruined her new dress.
It’s such a dramatic story that it’s hard to believe! And it makes me want more details—how old was the girl? Was her mother upset? How far did she have to walk? Who rescued her?
The details are gone—because the girl in the story, my grandmother, is gone. It’s a story I’ve only heard secondhand.
I wish she’d written it down somewhere! I’ve heard other wonderful stories about my grandparents, like the time my grandfather and a friend drove a Model-T across the United States. They are stories I’d love to tell my grandchildren, but the details have faded and the stories are so weak without them!
Recording our memories is the best way to ensure they will last. Luckily for grandparents, there are lots of ways to achieve this! Today we’re going to share five creative ways to leave a written legacy.
Lessons from The Repair Shop
In the spring of 2020, when the world seemed to be falling apart and I craved an escape, one of my daughters told me to watch The Repair Shop, a BBC show which documents the restoration of family heirlooms.
Have you ever seen it? It’s filmed in an idyllic workshop at the Weald and Downland Living Museum in the English countryside. People bring in all sorts of objects: lamps and paintings, butter churns and jewelry, driving gloves and toy monkeys. They tell the story of whatever it is that’s fallen into disrepair, and a team of skilled artisans brings it back to life. It’s soothing—and satisfying—to watch worn and dilapidated old objects be lovingly mended and preserved by experts.
As I watched episode after episode, over and over I heard a variation of the same words.
“It was my granny’s.”
“My granddad had it in his study.”
“It was always sitting in my grandmother’s front room.”
“I loved playing with it when I was at my grandparents.”
This revelation was always followed by,
“It brings back such memories.”
No matter what item the show guests brought in, it wasn't the object that they wanted preserved, it was the memories.
Family heirlooms are powerful ways to connect to memories, but it’s the memories that hold the value. When the customers of The Repair Shop entrust the show with their precious hand-me-downs, it’s in the hope that by restoring the object, the memories will be strengthened and extended. They want the stories about the lucky purse or the riding crop to endure. They want the bonds that are symbolized by the antique clock to be extended to the next generation. They want to honor their family by preserving the legacy of that special heirloom.
When my maternal grandparents had both passed away, my mother asked if there was anything of theirs that I wanted. I had only one request: their green leather card table. Not because it was beautiful (it was) and not because it was my favorite color (it was), but because it was a symbol of who they were to me. Playing cards was something we did together when I was a child, and though I never sat at that green table with them, I knew they played cards at it every evening at home. I knew that I would think of them every time I saw it, and that I’d tell my children and grandchildren about them and why the table was important to me.
And I have.
Make sure you are sharing the stories about the things in your home that are important to you. They are the memories that will be attached to those things, and there’s no better way to build on your family legacy.
What memories are you preserving through family heirlooms? How will you pass them on to your grandchildren? Please share in the comments!
What will you pass on to your grandchildren?
What legacy did your grandparents leave you? You might be thinking of specific things: did they leave you a financial bequest, a special piece of jewelry, a set of dishes you use for holidays? Maybe a passion for cooking, or a love of show tunes? But think some more—are there values you learned from your grandparents? Did they pass on wisdom or habits that have served you well? Or maybe there is something you saw in them that you knew you didn’t want to repeat, like prejudice or patterns of abuse?
A grandparent’s legacy can be either positive or negative—in fact, it can be both. From one of my grandmothers, I learned generosity and to appreciate life’s beautiful things. I also learned that those things were no substitute for the people in my life, something I’m not sure she ever knew. Even as a child, I understood that she wasn’t the best role model for me when it came to how to value the people you love. Truly cherishing family was a part of her legacy to me, because I saw her sometimes fail to do it. That didn’t change how I felt about her—children are especially good at forgiving faults in the grown-ups in their lives.
Today’s grandparents will have longer to form a legacy for their grandchild than our own grandparents did. We are living longer, and modern technology makes it easy for even long-distance grandparents to be part of a child’s everyday life. This gives us the opportunity to have a lasting impact on our grandchildren’s values, and makes it even more important for us to consider what that legacy will be.
Our grandchildren are learning more from us than we think. Yes, they are learning how much you love and value them when you shower them with love and affection. But they are also noticing that you say mean things about the neighbors who always park their car in front of your house and the people who voted differently than you did. They see it if you don’t respect their parents—the way you sigh about their silly rules, or roll your eyes behind your daughter-in-law’s back. Is this part of the legacy you want to leave?
As you think about what your legacy will be, think about more than your dishes and love of cooking. Take the time to consider if you are truly passing along the values and beliefs you want your grandchildren to remember you for.
Want to really ensure your legacy? Your Grand Vision, part of New Grandparent Essentials, guides you through a step-by-step process for considering and implementing your legacy. Find out more!
Are you one of the many grandparents who hopes their grandchildren will grow up with a generous spirit? One way we can foster that is by creating rituals of giving. Here are three ideas from grandparents (including me!):
THE POWER OF LOOSE CHANGE
I’ve shared this story in the past, but here it is again: When our children were small, we saved our spare change all year long in a special jar. Every December, we’d count and roll the coins, then take the kids to the toy store. There, they’d each get to figure out what to buy with their share of the money we’d collected. The final step was putting those toys in the box for Toys for Tots. It was such a tangible way to show them how pennies and dimes could add up, and to let them in on the excitement of giving to a good cause. Now we look forward to doing the same with our grandchildren.
GIVE THEM A VOICE
From the time they were too young to read, we read to the four grands on holidays about causes that needed help. They had to decide which one they wanted to share any money they were gifted. As they got older, we gave them printouts telling them about certain charities and sent them into a room together to vote on which one to support that year. They learned about what percentage of their good “fortune” to share and to evaluate the different causes. Now grown, when told that part of their “gift” went to a certain charity, we get rave responses. Teaching caring needs to start early. “Storylady”
ONE FOR ME, ONE FOR YOU
Every once in a while, we take our granddaughter to choose a new book or toy. We always let her choose two: one to keep, and one to add to the giving box. When the holidays roll around, we take her along when we deliver the giving box to a local gift drive. This way, we aren’t just thinking about giving at the holidays, but all year long. “Grandpa Gene”
How do you teach your grandchildren about sharing and giving? Please share in the comments!
If you are interested, a piggy bank like the one in the photo is available here.
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Modeling generosity is a powerful lesson.
Every year on their birthdays, Grandma Bertha sent each of her grandchildren a birthday card with a single dollar bill in it. When I married one of her grandsons, I started getting a dollar on my birthday, too.
Every year on my birthday, my grandmother sent me a generous check.
I valued that dollar bill far more than my grandmother’s check. Grandma Bertha lived on a fixed income in a trailer in Texas. She didn’t have extra dollars, yet she still gave one every year to every one of her descendants, always accompanied by a note that showed she cared. It was gesture made out of love and true generosity.
Let me be clear, my grandmother’s check was also a gesture of love and generosity, and it was very much appreciated by a family on a tight budget! But my grandmother was not struggling to make ends meet. The lesson I learned from Grandma Bertha was that no matter how little you have, you can always share something.
That’s a lesson I’ve tried to teach my children, and one I hope my grandchildren will also learn. The best way to teach it is to do what Grandma Bertha did: model generosity.
When should grandparents speak up if they are worried about their grandchild’s health or safety?
It’s normal to sometimes worry about our grandchildren. That’s what we do when there is someone we love!
But what do you do if you are truly worried about their health or safety, and you can’t decide whether to speak up? Being an interfering grandparent can carry a high price, and it may not be one you want to pay. Before you start a conversation with your grandchild’s parents, here are some things to consider.
First, take your relationship out of the equation. If this were an acquaintance’s child, would you tell them they need to make their child wear a helmet when they are on their bike? If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t say anything.
If it is yes, then you have to consider if this is an issue worth making waves about. No matter how solid your relationship with your adult children is, your criticism will be hard for them to take. While you may view speaking up as concern, telling your son you don’t think it’s safe for the kids to play in the front yard unsupervised is a criticism of his parenting choices.
This post was originally published in August 2020. We’ve updated it and wanted to share it again while we are focusing on safety.
You try to do everything you can to keep your grandchildren safe.
You pay attention to the way they sleep, make sure the car seat is installed correctly, and don’t let them ride off on their bike without their helmet. But there are dangers in the world that go beyond the physical—and one is a danger that didn’t exist when your own children were young.
If you are one of the 75% of grandparents who uses social media, you may be endangering your grandchildren in a way you never considered.
Facebook and Instagram have replaced the pictures of their grandchildren that grandmothers used to carry. Now instead of pulling out their wallet to show off the latest, grandparents share those photos with their friends on social media. And even if they are very careful with their privacy settings, they are also sharing them with the world. Any photo posted publicly can be used by anyone for anything. Moreover, photos posted privately can still end up being shared more widely than the poster intended.
But it’s not just the photos that are shared—it’s the information that goes with them.
A million children in the US were victims of identity theft in 2017. Too many grandparents post photos on social media with information that exposes their children and grandchildren to identity theft and hackers. Personally identifiable information should be treated like gold, and yet every day I see public posts announcing the birth of a baby with full name and birthdate mentioned. Many of these posts make it easy to figure out birthplace and mother’s maiden name, too. That proud and unsuspecting grandparent has just handed a potential identity thief four of the most useful pieces of information they could want. Even with your privacy settings set as securely as possible, nothing that is posted on the internet is truly secure.
Our grandchildren are the first generation of children to grow up with social media since birth. Unlike most aspects of being a parent or grandparent, there is no collective wisdom guiding us on how to navigate the ability to share every moment of these children's lives. It's up to each of us to educate ourselves and safeguard our grandchildren.
To help grandparents use social media safely, More Than Grand offers a handy tip sheet for protecting your grandchild’s privacy online. You can download it here.
PS: I highly recommend getting a copy of Growing Up Shared by Stacey Steinburg to learn more about how social media may be impacting our grandchildren.
As an Amazon affiliate, I may receive a commission for purchases made through links at no additional cost to you. Thank you for helping to keep this site ad-free.
What if you had to save your grandchild in an emergency?
Last spring, on a quiet weekend afternoon, my son and daughter-in-law heard a frantic knocking on their front door. When my daughter-in-law opened the door, it wasn’t a neighborhood child wanting to play, the way she expected. It was a distraught neighbor.
“There’s a baby! She’s not breathing!”
A young mother had come to the neighborhood to buy something she’d seen on Craig’s list. Her infant was in a car seat in the back of the car, and had apparently spit up and aspirated some of it. When she discovered the baby wasn’t breathing, she panicked. The neighbor, knowing my son had medical training, raced to his house. While my daughter-in-law called 911, my son rushed across the street. He was able to clear her airway and she quickly started breathing normally. He says he spent more time helping the mother calm down from the full state of panic she’d entered than he did helping the baby. By the time the paramedics arrived, everyone was okay. (They did take the baby to the hospital to make sure she didn’t need further care.)
How lucky for that baby that the neighbor knew there was someone nearby who could help! And that my son happened to be home! Emergencies don’t always turn out so well. How much better it would have been if her mother had known the steps to take to help her child.
As grandparents, keeping our grandchildren safe should be one of our highest priorities. Are we really prepared for emergencies? Because if we aren’t prepared, we have to rely on luck to ensure a happy ending. And luck is notoriously unreliable.
Will you join me in pledging to get prepared?
Last week, Gail Gould, the CPR and Safety Lady, shared some important tips on keeping our grandchildren safe. Let’s re-read them and create a plan to follow them.
Instead of buying the baby another outfit, let’s spend the time and money on an infant/child CPR class.
Instead of researching fun activities to entertain our grandchildren, let’s learn the proper way to install the car seats in our vehicles.
Instead of assuming our house is safe, let’s educate ourselves on the dangers it may hold and eliminate them.
Let’s teach them to swim, watch them like hawks, and learn the difference between choking and gagging.
On Thursday, July 15 at 3pm Central Time, Gail will be joining me on Instagram Live to do a short demo on infant/child CPR and choking relief. Will you pledge to join us? It’s 15 minutes that could save your grandchild’s life.
If you can’t make it while we are live, it will be saved on my Instagram account under the little TV icon, so you can come watch it later!
We've just updated the Baby Care and Safety section of our comprehensive resource, New Grandparents Essentials, where you can get all the latest information to keep your grandbaby safe--and a whole lot more!