Jun 25 2012

Grandfathers and Grandchildren

Connecting at a Certain Stage of Life

“Nobody can do for children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of grandchildren”—paraphrasing a quote from Alex Haley, author of Roots

From the Florida Keys to Seattle, Washington, I have heard the same thing:  There is tremendous value in building connections with your grandchildren, or if you don’t have children of your own, then with your nieces/nephews or even great  nieces/nephews.  Interestingly, in both the interviews I conducted in the Florida Keys and in a briefer conversation in Seattle, I discovered two very interesting patterns for creating connection with grandchildren or nieces/nephews that both involve starting at age 13.

There isn’t magic around age 13.  It could be any age.  But as I listened to the reasons why these couples had chosen to start their connection practices at age 13 it was clear that is a very good time, for a variety of reasons, to put your connection plan into action.

Let me share an interesting example from one family I deeply admire.  I was privileged to interview several of the grandchildren in this family who are in college, graduate school or the world of commerce.  The common theme I ran into each of these interviews was the incredible love and admiration each grandchild voiced for their grandparents.  I probed to discover what it was this particular set of grandparents had done to create this generative influence.  What I learned was that starting with their first grandchild, they had established a tradition of allowing each grandchild to select a destination to visit the summer after he/she attains age thirteen.

One grandchild I interviewed had chosen a cruise around Italy.  When I asked what this experience had meant to him, he quickly responded: “I learned how important I was to my grandparents, how much they loved me, and how much fun it was to spend time with them.”  The key to this, of course, isn’t just the gift of a travel experience.  It was the fact the grandparents intentionally wanted the experience to include lots of time to listen to their grandchild and to share stories, experiences, and wisdom with him in appropriate dosages–the dosage their grandchild could tolerate and appreciate.

When I later spoke to the grandparents I was surprised to learn they didn’t know how strong the positive memories were each adult grandchild had of their trip with Grandpa and Grandma.  We ran an assessment tool with this family that was created by my Collaborator and friend, Dean Fowler.  That tool measures 12 critical areas for families as they seek to transition their wealth to future generations of the family.  It wasn’t surprising to me when the assessment showed that this family’s relationship strengths placed them in the top 1% of families.  While the grandparents might not have been aware of how much benefit their practice of the trip with their 13 year old grandchildren was creating, it was part of the incredible culture they had built within their family.

Grandparents may never live long enough to see how their consistent efforts to build relationships with their grandchildren will have a sustaining and powerful influence on their descendants.  But they should know that no effort to invest in their family’s relational wealth through consistent expressions of love and meaningful interactions with their grandchildren will ever produce a negative rate of return.

“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”—Rudolph Guiliani

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