And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (Luke 12:15)
As I write this column, our 2-year-old grandson, Thomas, is in residence at our North Carolina home. His mom, en route from San Francisco to Raleigh, dropped him off for a two-day visit with us. How wonderful! Grand is most definitely the operative syllable in grandparent. Thomas' visit reminded me of a question recently asked by a fellow in Traverse City, Michigan: Do today's grandparents, generally speaking, give too much to their grandchildren?
If grandparents give mostly time and attention, I told him, then the answer is no, because while parents can give too much time and attention to their children, grandparents cannot. That is one of parenting's more delightful paradoxes. On the other hand, if grandparents give mostly material things, I said, then the answer is definitely yes.
I've been a grand for more than 8 years, now. During that time, our two children have gifted Willie and me with four grand boys and one grand girl. Early on, we made our best grandparenting decision ever, possibly the best we will ever make. We resolved that we would not cause our grandkids to expect material things from us. We would take them to places they'd never been (and might otherwise never go), expose them to new experiences, give them vacations from the rules and routines of their own homes, read to them, play games with them, and take them traveling with us. We would not give them lots of things. And we haven't.
A recent example of our policy in "action": Thomas, his two older brothers, and his parents came to stay with us during the Christmas week, a very special time in the life of our family. Mind you, they came all the way from San Francisco, and we had seen them but once since May. For Christmas, we gave each of the three children a fleece pullover. That was it! Bada-bing! If you sense that I'm bragging, you're right on. Not only am I proud of us for not joining in the general genuflect to the gods of the mall, but I am also reasonably certain that our pullovers are the only Christmas gifts the kids will still be using in March.
Never has one of our grandchildren asked, "What did you bring me?" Oh, joy! When we call, they can't wait to talk to us. When they see us, they break out in big smiles, run to us, and jump into our arms. They ask to spend the night at our house, where we have a bedroom/playroom for them that offers about a dozen toys, none of which are electronic. There will never be electronic toys in our house. And we have not added a toy to said bedroom/playroom in probably two years. They don't care. They want to spend the night with us because it's an adventure.
Make no mistake, we have rules, and the kids are very conscious of them. I honestly think they are on their very best behavior at our house, for the simple reason we do not tolerate misbehavior. As a consequence, the kids don't misbehave; therefore, time spent at our house is always relaxed and enjoyable.
Two years ago, we took our oldest grandchild, Jack, on a cruise. We had a blast. We also helped him polish his manners during that time, because we want to play an important role in our grandchildren's character development. When the other grandkids are old enough, we'll include them on various travel adventures. We'll go to museums, islands, mountains, forests, zoos, national parks and monuments, and yes, we'll probably even suck it up and take them to Wally World. There, we'll give each of them a modest allowance and when it runs out, there'll be no more purchases, just fun and games-the stuff of memory, not the yard sale.
Our experience-as "young" as it is-causes me to feel sorry for grandparents who think their role is to shower their grandchildren with material things. If they never change their worldly ways, their relationships with their grandchildren are never going to be more than superficial, if relationships at all. They probably don't realize it, but their good intentions (and they are!) are helping their grandchildren develop into covetous little materialists-which is to say, their good intentions are not helpful in the least. I pray these folks someday discover that the richest grandparenthood is not at all expensive. In fact, it costs nothing.