Often, when talking to senior generation members within a family, we discuss how to transfer one’s values to the next generations.Â Sometimes we are talking with parents in their 30’s, 40’s and early 50’s who are still raising their children and teenagers at home.Â Other times we are talking to 50-60 year olds with young adult children out of the home.Â And many times we are talking to older adults, from mid-60’s to 80’s who have the opportunity to impact their grandchildren’s lives.
Many times the term “mentoring” is used — the process of teaching and modeling various life principles in relationship to a younger family member.Â Typically, I find that, although grandparents and parents of adult children want to mentor the next generations, most of the time that don’t really know what that looks like practically.Â [In fact, part of the coaching I do with families is to help the senior generation explore this issue, develop a specific plan for mentoring their grandchildren, and help bring resources and structure to the process.]
As a parent of four older “children” (17 to 25 years old), I have had plenty of opportunities to make mistakes in the parenting process (my children would be glad to give some examples!)Â And, as I look back over my life, I can see ways that I tried to teach or train various skills and character qualities that didn’t work so well (and I see other parents repeating my mistakes).
One basic mistake is to primarily drag them along with what I am doing and try to teach during this experience.Â I say “primarily” because I do think there are times when children / grandchildren can (and should) “tag along”, and they can learn during this process.Â This can include running errands, going shopping, working in the yard, doing projects around the house, helping someone else out, going with their parents to meetings or events of interest to the parent.Â However, if this is the primary modality of teaching, I think the young person will lose interest, resent coming along, and eventually “shut down” relationally.
Generally speaking, I think it is far better to find ways to “enter into” your child’s or grandchild’s life — come along side and find a way to participate in what they enjoy and are interested in.
I see this even with really young children – two to five year olds.Â Many times parents [read: dad’s] and grandparents want to “play with” the young child — but the adult wants to structure the activity in a way they think is best, or try to get the child to do something the adult thinks is a “good” educational activity (or something that will be “good for them”) rather than just getting on the floor and playing what the child wants to in the way the child wants to.Â And then everyone gets frustrated when the child won’t do it the way the adult wants, or loses interest.
This occurs in school-aged children, and clearly with teens.Â One way many dads try to “enter in” is by coaching the student’s sports team.Â And that can be a really great way to experience life together — but it can also be a disaster if the parent becomes more focused on success / winning / achievement than on being together in the experience.
One approach we have had to parenting is to try to do fun things with our kids and invite their friends to come along — that way we get to know their friends, we get to observe how our kids interact and treat their friends, and we can have more input on what’s happening.Â We had the opportunity to take kids waterskiing, have them to our place for bonfires or playing “Capture the Flag”.Â And I happen to be known in our school circles as the dad who takes his teens out to “T.P.” or “fork” their friends (or teacher’s) homes.
The past few weeks I had the unique opportunity to participate in a high school musical production with my daughter, Lizz, who had a lead role.Â Being in musicals is one of her favorite activities (and I had done some in high school and colllege), and when the director mentioned they needed an adult male for a cameo part, I thought it could be a neat way to “enter into” that part of her life for a while.Â And it was.Â I got to know a number of her friends better.Â She and I had a shared life experience — including the anxieties of learning our lines, the joys and laughter during rehearsals, the spontaneous things that happen — and that you can only experience by “being there”, and the satisfaction of a performance well done.
Doing activities with your children and grandchildren is extremely rewarding — but is also costly — it takes time and you have to give up other activities or priorities in your life (remember, you can’t do everything).Â But I think most parents and grandparents who make the investment, believe it was well worth it — we’ll have to wait to ask the kids and grandkids to see how it impacted them.
So, next time you are thinking about character development and training for the next generations in your family, I would encourage you to ask yourself:
How can I enter into what they are doing or interested in and have an impact by coming along side them?