Grandparents have lasting impact in lives of grandchildren

Several years ago, Richard Trekell of the Shoal Creek Ward, Liberty Missouri Stake, was out in his backyard, sitting with his 5-year-old grandson, Brandon. The boy, with his parents, was visiting from Denver, Colo., and was enjoying a rare moment alone with his grandfather.

Brother Trekell recalls how Brandon suddenly looked up at him and asked, "Grandpa, do you have scriptures?""Yes," the grandfather replied.

"Where do you keep them?"

"By my bed."

"Do you read them?"


Later, Brother Trekell told his wife, Linda, "That's the first time I've ever had a priesthood interview by a 5-year-old."

This kind of relationship between a grandparent and grandchild can have lasting mutual impact - spiritually, emotionally and mentally, said James M. Harper, chairman of the Family Sciences Department at BYU.

He added that with today's societal pressures, the positive influence of grandparents in the lives of grandchildren is becoming even more critical - and potentially more widespread with increased life expectancy.

Some 50 million Americans are grandparents today, and according to the U.S. Census Bureau more than 2 million children live in a house headed by a grandparent.

"In society, more and more grandparents are having to assume care of grandchildren," Brother Harper said during a Church News interview. "There are a lot of reasons for that. Families, unfortunately, are under dissolution.

"In the Church, the role of grandparents has increased, but not so much in assuming care of grandchildren. Grandparents feel a need to teach values."

And it is mainly through families - immediate and extended - that Church doctrines and values are passed from adult to child, Brother Harper added. He spoke of the Proclamation on the Family and its admonition to parents. "Grandparents, of course, are part of that and can support parents in their role."

In fact, Brother Harper explained, there are times in a young person's life that the influence of a grandparent may be even greater than that of a parent. "We make jokes about going to Grandma's house and having cookies and milk, but grandparents give children a sense of belonging."

They also provide stability in an unstable world, he added, emphasizing that a grandparent/grandchild relationship must be established when the child is young. With that, he explained, young people will be better able to withstand peer pressure, drugs and gang involvement, and better able to survive family crisis - such as divorce.

Brother Harper urged parents and grandparents to not use children as weapons of revenge and to not speak negatively of former spouses and in-laws. "Put the needs of the child over the need for revenge."

He also spoke of the challenges of grandchildren growing up far away from grandparents. Even two generations ago, children were raised and later reared their own families in the same town as parents and grandparents. Today, many thousands of miles may separate families. He suggested several ways grandparents can play a positive role in the lives of grandchildren, whether living close or far:

Involve children in family history. "I think it's valuable for parents to tell children stories about grandparents. My wife has told my children stories about their grandfather, about his participation in World War II and how he met their grandmother. That builds familiarity even though they live several states apart."

Brother Harper related how his daughter once tape-recorded some of his mother's memories and how she still listens to those tapes.

Take advantage of the information age. "In the old days, you could walk down the block and see Grandma. Now perhaps grandparents can talk with grandchildren over the computer."

Have special activities. Brother Harper related how some of his neighbors send their children to their grandparents for an annual "cousins camp." All the cousins stay a week at their grandparents' home and have special activities. "That's allowed them to get to know their grandparents."

Write letters to grandchildren. "My own mother has had a lot of influence over my children by the things she's written to them."

Brother Harper also emphasized the positive influence grandchildren have in the lives of grandparents. Just ask Richard and Linda Trekell, who now have six grandchildren. Sister Trekell laughed when hearing about a T-shirt with the words: "If I'd known grandchildren would be this fun, I would have had them first."

She also spoke of the challenges young people face today, and how vital it is that they see unwavering testimonies in their grandparents.

"Grandparents are vitally important," she continued. "There are too many outside influences. The closer you can stay to your grandchildren, the greater the influence in their lives. We just love them to pieces."

Sister Trekell didn't have a very close relationship with her maternal grandparents before they died because they lived so far away. She grew up in North Dakota; they lived in Washington. In fact, she only saw her maternal grandfather once, when she was about 11 years old. Because of this, she and her husband strive to travel to Denver at least four times a year to see children and grandchildren who live there. (Other family members live down the street from the Trekells.)

Grandparents can have a lasting influence during the "parents-don't-know-so-much" stage of youth, Sister Trekell explained. "Children may be more apt to listen to grandparents, than parents."

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