I stepped through the door of the newborn intensive care unit (NICU) trembling. When I found my daughter’s son, Allen Joseph, I froze. It was the first time I had ever seen him. I’d never expected a moment like this, his premature, tiny body swaddled in a blanket and connected to machines all around him. As I placed my finger on his cheek, tears streamed down my face. Welcome to the world, Allen Joseph.
That’s when it happened. My heart stretched and grew a whole new chamber. From the very first moment I saw him, I loved every single ounce of my first grandson. And I knew I would never be the same.
Today we have four grandsons, and we have dreams for each one: Allen, Sam, Matthew, and Michael. Our deepest desire is that they each will lead great lives. We want them to be happy. We pray each will find life in Jesus and his Church.
God has great dreams for each child. And he calls grandparents to help our grandchildren achieve them. God has given us this new vocation, the life of a grandparent.
Here are five simple ways to play a significant role in shaping your grandchild’s life and faith:
1. Love lavishly
Children value and follow those they trust and love. If you want to help shape your grandchild’s life, they will have to trust you first. To trust you, they will first need to experience your love.
This love is experienced most of all in time spent being fully present with your grandchild. Hug your grandson. Tell your granddaughter you love her every time you talk to or see her. Let your home be a place of refuge and security. Send cards or gifts. Make video calls. Text messages of love. Visit as often as you can. Play together. Listen attentively to everything they say.
Your undivided attention shows children that they matter and are loved, and secure love lays the foundation for faith.
2. Pray passionately
Just imagine what your family would look like if you made it your one goal to pray each day for their faith and their lives. Every family needs a prayer champion. Imagine the confidence your grandson or granddaughter will feel throughout their life by simply knowing that their grandparent prays for them each day by name.
3. Dream deeply
Dreams are powerful, and each of us has them. Kids dream naturally. In those dreams, they find their purpose for life and their passions for living.
How do you help your grandchild to dream? Ask questions. Ask them about what they want to be, what they hope for, or what makes them excited. Creative questions stretch us to explore things we might never otherwise think about or discuss.
When you help a child to dream, you help him or her listen for the voice of God. Kids will dream on their own; when you join them in that journey, you nurture their faith and inspire their future.
4. Model masterfully
Faith is caught more than taught.
Professor Lisa Miller’s research at Columbia University has demonstrated that faith is best passed through practice, and most of all within a family. A child sees a person they love practicing the faith and begins to follow suit. A loving grandparent lives out their spiritual life, takes the child along, and guides them along the path.
Love others. Pray. Be positive rather than negative. Build your grandchildren up. Don’t say negative things about their parents. Try your best not to talk about people or gossip in front of your grandchildren. Walk the walk.
5. Connect creatively
Faith is not an individual journey; it’s a team sport. We need each other. We are on this journey together. A healthy community makes you better.
God has already created that community for you. It’s called the Church.
Children who grow up active in a parish are more likely to be Catholics as adults and to be engaged in the Catholic faith as they mature. The more engaged in the Church you are, the more engaged your grandchild will be. When you go to Mass, take your granddaughter with you. Invite your grandson to adoration with you. When there is a children’s choir concert, attend and applaud as your granddaughter sings. When the parish picnic and cookout begins, place your blanket on the ground and join in the activities alongside your grandson so that he feels enveloped by God’s family.
If distance prevents you from attending Mass regularly with your grandchildren, send them a text each weekend. Share what you heard God saying to you at Mass and then ask them what God said to them that weekend. Keep the regular conversation about parish life going.
In other words, when your grandchild expresses an interest in anything at the parish, let your first answer be yes.
Grandparents today are more important than ever before. Grandchildren are the stars in your crown. It’s time for them to shine now and forever, and we have the great opportunity to help them do just that.