Lessons Shared from One Cool Grandpa to Another
Today's post is written by Greg Payne, host of The Cool Grandpa Podcast.
Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. Sooner sounded great until it happened. At Christmas of 2018, I received the news. "We have one more present for you guys," my son said with a bit of a grin on his face. My son handed my wife a card wrapped in holiday paper that I guessed was not a gift certificate for an all-inclusive river cruise through Europe. It was, in fact, a sonogram picture of a little boy. Imagine my excitement, pride, and happiness for my son, daughter-in-law, and especially my wife.
That was the day, Christmas 2018, that I heard the news that I was becoming a grandfather. I was happy for the kids; they had been married for a few years, and kids, I felt, would show up at some point. I knew that my daughter-in-law and son would be, and are, good parents. I had—and still have—some doubts that I could and will nail this grandpa role. Don't get me wrong; I am smart enough not to let the grandkids feed alligators raw chicken out of their little hands. I will most likely not ask them to taste questionable milk out of the fridge. However, I fear that there may be some things that I might miss that could have led to a stronger relationship if done differently.
For me, instead of fretting about what to do and not do with soon arriving grandson and other grandchildren to come, I decided to take some action. I started a podcast. The Cool-Grandpa Podcast was born out of two ideas. First, I feel that the grandfather's role in the family is not being acknowledged to the extent that I think it should be. I had this attitude before I became a grandfather, so it wasn’t a late-arriving attitude. Good grandpas do more than write checks on birthdays and show up, then fall asleep watching the football game on Thanksgiving. Grandpas can have a decades-long influence on grandchildren. I wanted a platform, modest as it is, to celebrate and document the impact of grandfathers on grandchildren and their families. Second, I wanted to learn from grandchildren (adult or otherwise) and grandpas about what makes a Cool Grandpa.
So, I began asking: What did your grandpa do with you when you were ten or eleven years old? The answers often lead to comments about activities or conversations that led these adult grandchildren to receive a greater sense of great worth in their middle school years.
With grandfathers, I will often ask, what is it that you do with your grandchildren so that your time with them is particularly memorable? I want to dig into this mystery and understand how I can make sure my grandchildren know without a doubt that I am their cheerleader, their coach, and their confidant. So, I started the podcast to learn how to become a Cool Grandpa or, in another way, how can I be the best grandpa I can be?
There are four critical lessons that I have learned in over 50 hours of talking to people about being a grandfather:
The role of the grandfather is essential. If it weren't, I wouldn't have 50- and 60-year-olds continually telling me about how their grandfather influenced their work ethic, hobbies, and interests, the direction they took in high school and college, and their relationship expectations.
Instead of quietly going about our business and being awesome, let's be active and intentional about what we do and how we do it. Our grandkids are worth it, so say it loud and say it proud, I'M A COOL GRANDPA!
Greg Payne is the host of The Cool Grandpa Podcast. He enjoys discussing the importance and the role of grandfathers in the lives of their grandchildren and families. Greg and his wife, Karen, can be found whitewater kayaking in North Georgia on the weekends, where Greg tries not to get too banged up having fun.
The value of a new perspective
“I just have to see if I’m good or I’m bad.”
That’s what my 4-year-old grandson told me when I reminded him that he wasn’t supposed to be in our closet. It’s where I keep a stash of activities for those moments when something new and diverting is needed to change the way the day is going. He doesn’t know they are in there, but if he did, he’d soon obsess about the closet. Because, remember, he is four.
Why did he say he had to see if he was good or bad? Well, he wandered into the closet as part of a general, meandering exploration of our bedroom. When I told him to come out, he spotted the mirror on the wall and said the first thing he could think of to explain what he was doing. He does this a lot: he’ll do or say something and then explain it with whatever comes to mind, which is mostly hilarious but often quite profound. It’s one of the reasons I adore this age.
The funny thing is, though, that we actually never stop doing this magical thinking. Even as adults, we find a way to justify a thought or action that, if we were capable of being fully truthful and aware, isn’t honest or rational.
We tell ourselves that it’s okay that we cut in the pickup line at school because we’ve got to get to the meeting on time. We justify buying something we don’t need because it’s on sale. We let the grandkids watch TV past their bedtime and reason that it won’t do any harm.
Consciously or unconsciously, we decide what we want to say or do. If there’s a chance it’s a bad idea, we unconsciously resolve the cognitive dissonance by justifying it. And we never admit that this magical thinking may be causing a problem for ourselves or the people we love.
When I started this blog, my goal was to help you develop a deeper bond with your grandchildren—to be more than grand. The key to this is consciously developing an honest, open relationship with your adult children. This means that in addition to providing ways to connect with your grandchildren, I want to help you find ways to improve your relationship with their parents. It’s important that we first recognize when we are using magical thinking to justify things we shouldn’t be doing.
That's easier for some people than others, and sometimes that means asking for outside help to get a new perspective. We designed New Grandparent Essentials to help provide that perspective. It fosters a dialog that will allow you to examine what you think about some of the most important parts of grandparenting and find out what your grandchild’s parents think about your role. It helps you ask the right questions and listen openly to feedback from your adult children, so that when you look in the mirror, you are seeing yourself more clearly. And when you look in that mirror after completing New Grandparent Essentials, I promise you will like the results.
PS—if you are wondering, after checking in the mirror, my grandson declared he was good. Which was at least 80% true!
Ready to get New Grandparent Essentials? Click here!
Rituals, both big and little, create a lasting legacy.
A few years ago, we made a conscious decision to make the beginning of July the time of year that our family gathers together. Though we also convene for other holidays, weddings or important milestones, this summer celebration comes without added responsibilities—it allows us simply to enjoy each other’s company. We realize that it won’t happen every year, but our hope is that as the years go by, our children and grandchildren will be drawn to us and one another by the rituals we are creating.
Most of the rituals are simple: Saturday trips to the farmer’s market. Donut Friday. Eating dinner outside. Watching the sunset together. Some are more elaborate, like our annual 4th of July party: invitations to everyone’s friends in the area, a giant flag hung from our balcony and fireworks over the lake. But each of them is a way to create our identity as a family. They mark the things we value (yes, donuts can be a family value!) and tie us to one another.
Another power of ritual is this: the people we’ve shared a ritual with in the past will be with us each time we repeat that ritual, even if they aren’t there physically.
When I was young and my grandmother and I walked hand in hand, she had a funny little saying. If we had to drop hands for an obstacle or another pedestrian, when we rejoined our hands she always smiled down at me and said, “Bread and butter.” I was too timid of a child to ask her why she said this, but I’ve since read that the phrase is a sort of superstition: it’s supposed to counteract any bad luck caused by letting something come between you. I didn’t understand it at the time, yet any time I am walking hand in hand with someone and we have to let go of one another, I think of my grandmother. I don’t even need to repeat the ritual for it to have the power to bring her smile to mind.
As you create small rituals and traditions with your grandchildren, you are creating a legacy that will last long after you are gone. Most rituals don’t cost a penny and don’t take any preparations: all you need are intention and repetition. It can be as simple as the way you say hello or goodbye. It can be a song you sing every morning or a hug you give every night. It can be a walk after dinner or the annual planting of a garden. No matter what it is, the more you repeat it, the more meaningful it will become to your grandchildren. And as they repeat that ritual in the future, they’ll think of you and the legacy of love you’ve left them.
Do you have a ritual you share with your grandchildren? Please share it in the comments!
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.