Interview with

Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

Audio Transcript

We close the week with an email from podcast listener Ashley who writes in: “Dear Pastor John, as parents of two young children, my husband and I find ourselves regularly battling the popular idea that the job of grandparents is to ‘spoil’ their grandchildren. We are seeking to raise our kids in the fear and admonition of the Lord but it is hard when our ideas are subverted by the way our parents believe they are ‘loving’ their grandchildren. Any advice on how to approach this with them respectfully? Thank you so much for your podcast and ministry. They have been instrumental in our walk with Christ!”

One of the built-in problems in America, at least, is that many grandparents have more money, usually, than they have geographic presence or energy to spend with their grandchildren. Therefore, they tend to make up for the guilt feelings of not being near or having energy by giving them more stuff and more expensive stuff.

A Word to Grandparents

So the first thing I would say to the grandparents listening. I know the feeling — I have got 12 grandchildren — I know the feeling of having the resources and wanting to give good things to your grandchildren. But if you are a Christian, keep in mind that having things and giving things as opposed to having relationships and giving yourself are not always the best way to love. This takes some serious thought and creative research to discover the kinds of gifts that might really bless the whole family in significant spiritual or educational or recreational ways.

Under God the most important people to interact with when thinking these things through is the parents of your grandchildren. They are called your kids. We grandparents should put out of our mind once and for all the thought that going around our children to get to our grandchildren is right. It is not right. We have no right to do that. Those children are told by God to be responsive, to be obedient to their parents. Their obedience and responsiveness is to us secondarily and derivatively. And what that means for us grandparents is that we defer to the parents of our grandchildren, which means we defer to our children.

That may sound contrary to what we ordinarily have thought about our children and how to relate to them and they to us. But it is built-in. I am arguing it is built-in to the biblical pattern of children obeying their parents. Once there is a new unit formed of parents and children, the parents of those parents assume a secondary role in the authority and leadership toward those children, which means that we should consult those parents. And we should be willing to listen to them if they say that the gifts we are giving are proving to be unhelpful in the way they are trying to parent their kids. And I know this may be painful relationally. But the older we are, the more humble we should be and the thicker our skin should be. We have been knocked about by life more times and we should have some calluses on our skin so that we don’t mope and act immature and self-pitying because our kids have to tell us that our gifts aren’t helping.

A Word to Parents

Now back to the question she asked. She wants to know what she should do towards grandparents. And I am talking to grandparents and she didn’t even ask me to talk to grandparents, but I felt like I needed to.

So, how do the parents of the grandchildren approach the grandparents if those grandparents are doing things or giving things that the parents find unhelpful? And here is the first thing I would say — and it is kind of a general principle, I would say, about lots of relationships: marriage, friendships. Don’t try to give corrective advice to others, in this case to your parents in the very moment of disagreement. So, for example, if it is Christmas or a birthday and the kids just opened the gift from grandma and you find that gift really inappropriate, that is not the time to deal with it. Don’t deal with it then.

The principle is: Find a neutral time at some distance from the moment of disagreement, perhaps over lunch, and gently ask if we can talk about something important. And then be as affirming as you can to the motives and to the love that they are trying to express so that that doesn’t feel minimized or discounted. And then explain to them, to the best of your ability why you think things should be different than they are. And it would be helpful if you had thought through — I am saying this as a granddad — it would be helpful if you had thought through some alternative suggestions for your parents, because we grandparents aren’t always as wise and creative as we need to be in this regard. And if you can think of things that would bless your children from your parents we would, I hope, be willing to hear.

Another Word to Grandparents

But I can’t end, Tony, without another word to grandparents, because of that phrase: Spoil your grandkids. It is emphatically not our job to spoil our grandchildren. That is not funny. It is not our place to be lenient where the parents are strict. It is emphatically our role to reinforce with happy unity the parenting that our kids are trying to give their kids, our grandkids, assuming, of course, that it is safe and wholesome.

There should be a united front. This would be beautiful. There should be a united front of biblical principle that the kids discern in parents and grandparents. They should see it as a tradition. There is a legacy here. These standards are coming down from generation to generation. I am going to embrace them and use them someday.

So let’s be done with the notion that grandparents should spoil their grandkids. We shouldn’t. We should bless them in every possible spiritual way that we can and shouldn’t let material gifts get in the way of that goal.


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