How to Be a Good Grandparent: Mark Gregston & Larry Fowler
Wondering how to be a good grandparent—and rev up your impact? Authors Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler help you toss the stereotypes in favor of five ways your influence can go the distance.
About the Guest
- Check out Mark Gregson at parentingtodaysteens.org
- Learn more about the Legacy Coalition Grandparenting Summit at legacycoalition.com/summit/
- Purchase Mark's book on FamilyLife's shop: Grandparenting Teens: Leaving a Legacy of Hope
- More from Larry Fowler on FamilyLife Today
- More from Mark Gregston on FamilyLife Today
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- See resources from our past podcasts.
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Authors Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler help you toss the stereotypes in favor of five ways your influence as a grandparent can go the distance.
How to Be a Good Grandparent: Mark Gregston & Larry Fowler
How to Be a Good Grandparent: Mark Gregston & Larry Fowler
Dave: Here's what I was just thinking: if somebody was standing over there looking in this room right now, what would they think?
Ann: “It's an old people's convention?”
Dave: That's what I thought. [Laughter] They're going to look in here and think, “Wow, there are a bunch of old people sitting around the table.” But they wouldn't think what they should be thinking.
Ann: What should—
Dave: —There's a lot of wisdom—
Ann: —There it is!
Dave: —sitting around this table.
Mark: I'm glad you said that. I mean, rather than just a bunch of old people sitting around.
Ann: Were you offended at first?
Mark: I was thinking, “Oh, wait a minute!”
Ann: Me, too; right?
Shelby: Welcome to FamilyLife Today where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I'm Shelby Abbott, and your hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson. You can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on the FamilyLife® app.
This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: Dennis Rainey said to me five years ago, when I turned 60; he said, “Best decade of your life is starting.”
Dave: I sort of snickered, “Yes.” He looked at me, really, with eyes like, “Don't underestimate this. You are stepping into a great decade.”
Dave: And he’s right! So, we have two men in their—I'm not going to guess what decade. [Laughter] But I'm guessing it's somewhere—
Ann: But wise!
Dave: —around there.
Ann: Very wise.
Dave: Yes. Sitting here, we’ve got Mark Gregston back and Larry Fowler. We've been talking about Grandparenting Teens, Mark's latest book. Larry is the Legacy Coalition guy with the Grandparenting Legacy Conference Summit.
Dave: Got it wrong.
Larry: Legacy Grandparenting Summit, yes.
Dave: And it's coming up—
Larry: Just around the corner, yes. The weekend of October 19th, 20th, 21st; that weekend; various dates. It's live on a Thursday and Friday in Dallas, but then streamed to sites all across the US and Canada over the weekend.
Dave: You’ve got Mark talking. Do you know what you're going to—
Larry: We do! [Laughter]
Dave: —talk about?
Mark: No; you know, not yet. I mean—[Laughter] I’ll figure it out by the time I get there. [Laughter] When I walk up, I know what I'm talking about, but I always like to kind of see the crowd first.
Mark: And [I] get an idea of who they are, and what age they are, because I think most people think grandparents are just a bunch of old people.
Mark: I became a grandparent when I was 45. It started early for me, but everybody thinks of grandparents in their late 60s or 150 years old and smell like dirty socks or something. [Laughter] I'm saying, “That's not the grandparenting model that that I've always had.” So, I like to look at the crowd and kind of say, “How do we touch this group and really give some very practical tools to engage with their kids to help them get to a better place?”
Ann: Larry, is there a pretty good attendance at these?
Larry: Yes, we're anticipating well over 10,000 people will be attending this at all the sites across the country. So, we're praying for that anyway.
Ann: Because we need this. There's not a whole lot out there on grandparents.
Larry: There's very, very little on grandparents.
Larry: And yet, there's so much to learn. I know I've learned a whole lot from the previous Summits that we've had and all the speakers; everything we’ve—iron sharpens iron, and we can sharpen each other.
Dave: We're going to have sort of a mini-Summit today.
Larry: Okay. [Laughter]
Dave: Because it's our Friday Fives—
Ann: These are always fun!
Dave: —which means we have guests in, and whatever area is sort of their expertise, we say, “Hey, can you give us 5 practical tips?” So, we ask you guys to think about the five most important steps every grandparent can take with your kids and your grandkids. Give us a practical piece of wisdom that we, as grandparents, can do to help our kids or our grandkids.
Larry: Alright, my first one is this: we have got to watch our own walk. You know, Deuteronomy 4:9, that is the core verse for our ministry, starts out with Moses telling the elders of the children of Israel, “Watch yourselves.” We often have grandparents that come to us and say, “What do I do? I'm not allowed to talk with my grandkids about God anymore.” That is such a common theme.
Dave: Is it really? The parents are telling them—
Larry: The parents are telling their grandkids, “Don't talk about God.” One thing that we can still do is, we can still live it, right? Even if we're not allowed to talk it, we can still live it. In fact, our living is always more important, for any grandparent. Mark, I became a grandparent at 43—
Mark: Way to go!
Larry: —so I beat you just a tiny bit there.
Mark: What did you do, get married in junior high or something? [Laughter]
Larry: Yes, yes.
Larry: At a very mature 20. [Laughter]
Dave: Back when you had hair?
Larry: Back when I had hair—
Dave: We had hair in our twenties.
Larry: Yes, a lot of hair.
Larry: But you know what? This ought to be the time in our life we're the most godly we've ever been. Now, none of us are perfect. Most of us are still pretty messed up. But we ought to be better than we used to be, right? We ought to be. We watch our walk. That's number one responsibility of a grandparent, a Christian grandparent. If our grandkids look at us and say, “You know what? This thing of being a Christian isn't worth living. I watch my Grandpa and Grandma, and I don't want to have anything to do with that.” Then we've lost everything else. So, it starts with: we have got to watch our walk.
Ann: Live it.
Dave: You know, a couple of years ago, Ann and I wrote a parenting book. I'm sure you guys read it. Yes, right! [Laughter] You don't even know it's out there, but we had a chapter on teenagers. So, this is to parents, not grandparents.
Dave: But we were talking about how your teenagers pull away. A lot of parents freak out like, “What's going on?” Well, they're supposed to. They're becoming adults! That's natural. But as a parent, you often think at that point, “Well, we're sort of done. They don't want me around. They want me to drop them off five blocks from the school. I'm sort of exiting their life.”
Our advice in that chapter was three thoughts: pursue, pursue, pursue. They want a relationship. They're saying they don't, but they want [it]. Listen, listen, listen. Start asking questions and stop telling them stuff.
The third one was what you just said, Larry: Model it.
Ann: Live it!
Dave: Model. They're watching your life. You don't have to preach it anymore. Live it, and they're going to be drawn to that rather than what you say. You're saying the same thing is really true for grandparents.
Dave: That's number one.
Larry: That's number one.
Dave: Mark, you got number two?
Mark: Yes, you know, I'm hardly perfect, but I have learned what's important. I have learned to laugh a little bit more. I've learned to let go of some things. I've learned which hill to die on and which hill not to die on. I've learned that it's my job to create an atmosphere of change. That's probably been my number one goal. The life that I live, it's not—spirituality is not something that you do. It's something that you are. It encompasses everything about you; how you engage with people and everything else.
I want to create (and this would be mine) a home of rest. I want my grandkids to know that you can rest when you're at our home. Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy laden, and you'll find rest for your soul.” So, there are no rules at our house. You can park anywhere you want. (We live on a piece of land. You can park anywhere you want.) You do whatever you want. You trash every—it doesn't really matter anymore.
I don't make comments about what they're wearing, whether I like it or don't like it. I don't make comments about blue hair or green hair. I don't care. I want the relationship to be there. The stupid comments that they make; I leave it alone, unless they ask me something different. I don't feel like I have to hold them to rules. I don't feel like I have to share my opinion.
I feel like I am there to give them a sense of encouragement and to let them know that they're loved beyond any other kind of love that they'll ever find from any other grandparent or person. I want them to know that I'm there to be a part of their life. If you want that, then that's what I want, and I'll make that happen in some way. I spoil them rotten, and I give them things. [Laughter] We watch the movies they want to watch, not mine. It's not, “Well, let's have a special time where Mark shares.” I don't do that. This is about them. It's not about me.
When they come to our home, it's, “Let's eat what you want to eat. Let's go do what you want to do. Let's spend time doing what you want. Let's have fun! Let's enjoy the time together.” I want to make sure that that happens. So, I do anything I can to make that happen. I mean, this is the time that I don't play golf. I don't, because it takes too much time, and I would rather pour my time into my grandkids. You know, money; I'd rather spend money on them, because that's going to be the legacy that's left; to create experiences; to do anything that I need to do to engage with them.
But when they're with me, we're going to have fun. It's going to be a place of rest, not a whole lot of, “Well, let's go get them, and let's do this, and let's do that.” They live in a world that is demanding so much of them, that I don't want to be a part. Of that, I want them to learn to relax.
Dave: I would love to have one of your grandkids on right now—
Ann: I know. Wouldn't that be fun?
Dave: — I'd love to hear what they say about that, because it's got to be a haven.
Mark: There's not a day that goes by that they're not sending me, “Hey, this is where I am. This is what I'm doing.” My granddaughter just wrote me and said, “Here's a picture of me with my boyfriend on the beach. No engagement yet,” kind of thing. And I'm saying, “Tell him to get off his rear end and start getting this thing moving.” So, I mean—it's the constancy of relationship that I want.
People complain about texting. Well, then text them! I get messages from my grandkids, even the young ones [who are] 10 or 11 years old. I get messages from them all the time, because I let them to know, “I'm interested in who you are, and what you're doing.”
Ann: Mark, mine goes right alongside yours, and it has been that as a parent as well, of creating a haven in our homes. I think, especially in our culture, there's so much chaos and confusion, and I want my kids to come home. When I—and this fits my personality. I think it should fit who we are—I want to create fun and joy.
Ann: Even with our kids, we would do the weirdest, craziest things that was a little—sometimes as teenagers, it was a little risky, too. I'm seeing that as a grandparent, too. I want them to come in the door, and I want them to know, “Man, I love you! You're amazing! I love how God has created you. I love that—” And I'll be specific: “I love that you're funny. I love that you're smart. I love that you take a while to think through some of the things you're going through.” But then I also like to take it—we will golf. Dave will golf with our son because he needs a break. They're at the stage of little kids.
Mark: Yes, yes.
Dave: But the grandsons [are] with us on almost everything—
Ann: I'll go along.
Dave: —hits his little ball.
Mark: Oh, how cool!
Ann: Yes, I'll go along, and I'll kind of play with him. We're in the golf cart, and we see this tunnel that you go through with your golf cart underneath this road, and right beside it, there's another pipe that's full of water coming out. And I say, “The next time we come, we're going to bring our boots, and we're going to walk through that tunnel.” You guys, he’s four. He says, “What?” I say, “Yes! We're going to—we're going to walk through that whole tunnel.”
Dave: And I'm thinking, “We're in a Country Club. [Laughter] You're not allowed to do that.” [You’re] like, “We're doing it! I don’t care what happens.”
Ann: Which is even better! It's even better that we're going to do it. It'll be a little scary, but those are the things they remember.
Mark: You are a rebellious little thing, aren't you?
Dave: She is. [Laughter] Oh, yes.
Ann: It’s not against the law. So, I think, “This will be so fun, and they'll never forget it!” They're little. They're all eight and under.
Ann: I want that to be the bridge of, “When we go to their house, we don't know what to expect, but we know that we'll be loved, we'll be seen, and we're going to laugh.”
But I do think, when our kids and our grandkids come into our homes, I mean—the culture is just shouting and trying to pull them in with empty promises.
Ann: But if they can feel the security and love and identity of, “This is who I am,” and “My grandparents love me, and they see me. (And my parents)—" I think this is true for parenting, too. You're in the phase of still disciplining and training your kids, but man, you need to bring joy into that home, because that's a magnet.
Mark: Yes, I wasn't used to the grandparenting thing.
Ann: What do you mean?
Mark: My grandparents were as old as dirt—
Ann: Yes! What is that?
Mark: I mean, you turn 65, and you're dead by 66.
Mark: And they were just duds.
Ann: And they’re boring.
Mark: I don't remember my grandmother, who was part of the Oklahoma Land Rush, ever saying a word to me. She’d just smile and give you a piece of cake. That's all I remember! So, when we became grandparents—you at age 22, and me at age 46, [Laughter], Larry, you just say, “How do you do this?”
Mark: It's not based upon what I know, but you start looking and you say, “What do they need?” That's what I want to do.
Ann: Do you think part of it is, too, how we failed as parents? We're thinking, “I'm going to make up for that. I'm going to be better as grandparents.”
Larry: Oh, yes. Well, this gives us a chance to do that. [Laughter]
Ann: Right! You're right!
Larry: Yes, when we're grandparents.
Dave: Yes, you know, that's mine. It isn't really the Mulligan with the grandkids, although that's awesome. It's apologizing to my kids, the parents of my grandkids, about the ways I failed them; to try to do whatever I can on my side as a grandparent, but also as a dad, to have a great relationship with my son[s]. I have three sons.
Dave: Two of my sons took me to a golf outing years ago, and we had lunch. It was interesting because they looked at each other and I thought, “Uh-oh, they've talked.”
Mark: Yes, yes.
Dave: You get one of those feelings, you know? [Laughter] They said, “Yes, Dad, we feel like we need to say something.” I said, “OK, what's that?” And they said, “We feel like you gave your soul to the congregation and not to us.” I mean, something like that.
Mark: Yes, yes.
Dave: It was just like, “You cared more about the congregation than you did us.” I was a pastor, and the church got big. So, I'm preaching, and they're sitting there. Anyway, here's all I know, guys: the second it came out of their mouth, I knew they were right. There was not a thing in me that was going to get defensive. I’m thinking, “I don't know exactly what they mean yet. I'm going to find out, but that statement is true.” So, I said, “Tell me more. What do you mean?” Which we always say to parents, “That's three words you should memorize: tell me more.”
I think [for] grandparents, same thing. “Tell me more,” when your grandson or daughter's over. “Tell me more. What do you feel in that?” I asked them to tell me more, and the bottom line was, they just felt like, “You were so vulnerable sometimes in your sermons, and you’d share this vulnerable, authentic mistake or sin you committed to thousands of people.” And they said, “We turned [to] each other and said, ‘Have you ever heard Dad…? He's never said that to us’.”
Dave: “But he's saying it to all these people that are strangers, basically.” So, I had to own it and say, “I am so sorry. You're right.” I think it's one of those kinds of things where now, as a grandparent, if we have something broken or a barrier in our relationship with our son or daughter who are raising our grandkids, do whatever you can. You can't guarantee you're going to restore that—
Ann: I wouldn't wait—
Dave: —but to be able to go, “Let's go,” and say, “I need to sit down, and I need to own up something. I think I hurt you in this way, or I said something.” Do whatever you can to restore that relationship.
Ann: I don't think we wait until our kids have kids, Dave—
Ann: —like grandparents, because—
Ann: —every one of our kids could come and complain. They totally did that to both of us, where I feel like, almost all of us in our 20s, we see the brokenness in our own lives, and we can point out, “Oh, that's because of something that happened with my family, growing up, or my parents.”
Ann: I remember our son was in seminary, and I called him for some advice on something—
Dave: Yes, this was a good night. [Laughter] I remember that one.
Ann: —and I said, “Hey, so I'm going to do this talk to moms. What would you say—“ He says, “Mom, I don't want to talk about this.” I said, “Oh, okay. What's going on?” He says, “I'm just struggling, Mom, about my own home situation right now. I’m taking classes, these counseling classes, about why I'm so broken.”
And all of a sudden, [I’m] said, “Wait, wait, wait. What?! What happened?” He said, “You were so fearful about our behavior and what we weren't doing, or what we were doing. I feel like you didn't want to know my heart. I wanted to come home and tell you [that] I'm so afraid, or I'm giving in to this peer pressure, and I don't think you could have handled it.” Ugh!
Mark: I remember my son telling me a few years ago—you know, here I am, speaking everywhere, doing everything—
Mark: He said, “Dad, you were never there.”
Ann: There it is.
Mark: I just kind of looked at him, and I thought, “You know, you're absolutely right.”
Mark: “I wasn't.”
Mark: I think that pushes you to admit those mistakes; and the sooner that you do that, then something can begin to change.
Mark: My daughter comes to me, and she said, “Dad, it's almost like— (about her kids) It’s like you like our kids a lot more than us.” [Laughter] And I said, “Well, I do.” [Laughter] They say, “No, really, I'm serious.” And I say, “Me, too; me, too.” [Laughter]
But there is something—what Tim Kimmel says, that Mulligan. You get a second chance in life.
Mark: I get to improve what I messed up on. So, if that's true, just because I didn't have a great relationship with my parents doesn't mean that my kids can't have a great relationship with them.
Mark: So, here they are. They're gone now. I didn't allow that to happen. I regret that my kids really didn't have grandparents involved in their life. What I find is, I'm having to almost re-parent my kids. “Let's go do things. Let's spend some time. Let's have a special time together.”
Ann: And you've had those apologies with your kids as well—
Mark: Oh, golly!
Ann: —and I think that's good to do that.
Mark: No, I apologize. It seems like every day is a new one. [Laughter]
Mark: They're confronting me on something else that I messed up on.
Ann: I think there has to become a point—I had to do this with my dad, especially—where he's not going to become the man that I always hoped that he would be. You know whose job that is? Jesus.
Mark: Yes, absolutely.
Ann: He's the Fulfiller. He's my Heavenly Father. I think sometimes, as adult children, we need to—we can tell our parents, but at some point, we need to—give them grace.
Dave: And they need to give us grace.
Dave: Let it go.
Ann: That’s what I mean.
Dave: I mean, they're going to be better parents if they let it go.
Ann: That’s what I mean.
Dave: It's not on us to say, “You have got to let it go,” because it's us saying it. But if they can get to that place—I had to do that with my dad.
Dave: I had to get to that place. “I'm going to forgive him and love him.”
Dave: Even though he really broke a lot of things in my life, I'm going to let it go and become the man—
Dave: —and dad, and now grandfather, God wants me to become.
Ann: We have one more.
Larry: You know, I was trying to figure out some way to get in a couple more on those. So, I'm going to settle on: “We need to establish a family identity.” As grandparents, I think that's one of our primary roles: to establish an identity. A joyful family; a family that does things together; a family that feels safe with each other. As much as possible, we need to have the image in our mind that parents and grandparents are a team together, impacting the youngest generations.
We're going to work together, and we do that through creating positive experiences, through talking about family history, whether that's good or bad. The bad stuff is often the best learning experience.
Larry: But we say, “We're a family that's together and working to accomplish these things.”
We have—one of our other speakers at the conference that's just coming up, is going to be speaking about how grandparents respond to gender identity. What’s the last word there?
Larry: “Identity.” She will say that the greatest thing that a grandparent can do to counteract the cultural challenges of all of that, is to create an identity in the family. That is the significant, significant thing. The more that they feel comfortable: “I belong. I belong to this family,” the less temptation there is to go find identity somewhere else. That's always been true. I mean, it was true with flower children back in the 70s all the way up to—
Dave: See, we're old enough to remember those flower children. [Laughter]
Larry: I am! You guys are too young for that, but I've—of course, you know, grandparent at 22— [Laughter]
Larry: But that's an important thing. Then, for the grandparents, I have one other word of caution in regard to that: you're not in the driver’s seat of the of the children, the grandchildren. You're in the back seat. Don't be a backseat driver. Let the parents lead.
And parents that are listening: you need to lead. If you have your parents, the grandparents, that are taking the lead, then you need to get back into that rightful position of you leading in the spiritual impact on your children and your family's life.
Ann: I'll just close with, I think, something we all agree on and that is: Pray!
Ann: Pray for your kids. Pray for your grandkids, by name, specifically, because God hears every single one of those prayers.
Dave: Yes, all I’ve got to say, guys, is, “Thanks!”
Mark: You bet.
Dave: Talk about old guys sitting around the table. This is a lot of great wisdom, and we're not old.
Mark: Old guys? Come on! What are you talking—
Ann: Yes, stop saying that! It's depressing.
Dave: We are not old. We're not old. We should go on tour together. I mean, everybody else—
Shelby: Love it. I love it. Really, this is such great wisdom today, and I'm grateful for this conversation, even though we did start to tune them out there at the end. [Laughter]
I'm Shelby Abbott, and you've been listening to Dave and Ann Wilson with Mark Gregston and Larry Fowler on FamilyLife Today. Mark Gregston has written a book called Grandparenting Today's Teens. This is an excellent resource that really talks about what it's like to be a grandparent in today's culture. You can pick up a copy of that book at FamilyLifeToday.com.
If you are a grandparent, and you'd like some additional wisdom on how to pursue leaving a lasting legacy, really influencing generations of your family for Christ, you can attend The Grandparenting Summit. You could go live, if you happen to be around Dallas, Texas, or you can get it in simulcast. You can head over to FamilyLifeToday.com in the show notes to find out more about The Grandparenting Summit.
Earlier this week, Brant Hansen was our guest. He's a radio host and author and speaker. He's written a book called Blessed Are the Misfits. It’s a book that's great news for believers who are introverts, who are spiritual strugglers, or just feel like they're missing something. We love this book so much that it is our gift to you when you partner with us financially. You can go online to FamilyLifeToday.com or give us a call with your donation at 800-358-6329. Again, that number is 800, “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word “TODAY.” When you donate, we're going to send you a copy of Brant Hansen's book.
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Coming up next week, Dave and Ann Wilson are joined by Nancy Pearcey to talk about real manhood and godly masculinity in our modern society. That's next week. On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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