Best Advice: The Stuff that Sticks

GP asks new grandparents what advice they still remember.

By Amy Speach Shires

“My paternal Grandma wasn’t afraid of anything,” recalls Gloria Card, now herself a grandmother to 2-year-old Aiden with a second grandson expected in September. “I saw that grandmother kill snakes with a hoe."

She describes her paternal grandfather as “the original McDreamy.” He held down four jobs at once, including one at a local gas station. “I could always count on Grampa to let me pick out a candy bar or a cold soda at the station. He would treat me, but I was never to tell my mother.”

Gloria, a piano teacher, grew up in a small town where both sets of grandparents lived nearby. From them, she got clear-cut advice: Live simply. Make the world a happier place. Occasionally, she’d pick up a few lessons less traditionally linked to grandparents: Drink your beer warm. Don’t fight with your sister.

Now the starring role of grandparent is yours. It’s your turn to dish out the trusted counsel. What’s the best advice you can give? Well, there’s no universal script. But, whatever sage words you choose to offer grandkids, be sure of two things. They will listen; and, they will remember. Turns out kids often follow advice from their grandparents more than that of their parents, siblings, and teachers. Here, GP asks new grandparents what they recall.

Art Loomis, granddad to Alanson, Ella, Anna, and Ben, fondly remembers his maternal grandparents. What was their message? Youthfulness has no age limits. “While my friends’ grandparents seemed to spend their time in rocking chairs, mine were joining the great American parade of motorists exploring the country from shore to shore,” says Art, a retired automotive salesman in his sixties. “Their interest in new things and their adventurous spirit is something I hope to pass on to my own grandchildren.”

Inez Alfors, a retired college professor who’s grandma to two small grandsons, Johnny and PJ, enjoyed an especially close relationship with her paternal grandparents. At the age of 4, she moved in with them. “From my grandmother, I observed a lovely patience and positive attention. She was little, but very strong, and passionate about housework, gardening, and farming.”

Inez’s grandpa, a gentleman farmer and school teacher who helped instill in her a love of reading. “The influence from my grandparents was gentle and daily, like breathing,” says Inez. “They were so respectful and kind. When I’m with our grandsons, I guess I naturally want to be rather quiet, kind, attentive, and interested.”

Advice from Christine Doran’s seamstress grandmother was practical: Don’t panic and pull away if the sewing machine needle goes through your finger. Stay calm and use the machine to lift the needle away. “She taught me this when I was 8, although I didn’t need to know it until I was 12 — and I was so grateful I didn’t yank that finger out. Yikes!” recalls Christine, who has three grandsons, 8-year-old Kelan, 5-year-old Braden, and newborn Henry.

“One Mother’s Day, my grandmother and I had matching outfits: blue seersucker three-piece suits. I made hers and she made mine,” Christine recalls with a laugh. Most of all, she remembers her grandmother’s support. “In teaching me to sew, she tore out all my mistakes… so I wouldn’t get frustrated and give up. She wanted me to succeed.”

Kathleen Miles was only 7 when her last grandparent died. Still, she remembers her grandmom’s crocheting lessons. “She made me perfect each stitch, and that has stayed with me all these years,” says Kathleen, a graphic designer and grandmother to 4-year old Sara, 3-year-old Chloe, and 2-year-old Jacob. “She was stern and loving at the same time,” she says.

Kathleen remembers pretending to be asleep after family dinners, listening to adult conversations around the table. “I learned more about the interactions of the older generations than my siblings, who would take off to play. Of course, my grandmother would catch on and say, ‘Hush, she’s not really asleep.’”

As a psychologist, Dr. Donna Rasin-Waters encourages grandparents to share their stories and perspectives with younger generations. “The advantage of the grandparent-grandchild relationship is that it is often devoid of the thornier dynamics that often occur between older adults and their adult children,” says the Public Policy Committee co-chair for the American Psychological Association’s Society of Clinical Geropsychology.

In her work, she has witnessed countless cross-generational exchanges that bring people closer and teach valuable lessons. “Grandparents often experience a two-way satisfaction from sharing and supporting major values with their grandchildren, encouraging them and taking an interest in their interests, education, and work goals,” she says.

As grandparents, we will be confidants, mentors… trusted pals. Whether making up songs with toddlers squirming in car seats, teaching pre-teens how to slam dunk a basketball, or reminding them to look people in the eye — we’ll give the same lasting gifts we once received from our grandparents. So, speak up! Your grandkids are listening.

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