Lessons From My Grandpa – Breaking the Cycle

Lessons from my Grandpa - Breaking the Cycle - Parenting Like Hannah
Grandpa and his twin sister
Grandpa is ninety years old now. His dementia has reached the point where he acts more like a two year old than the grandpa I know and love. Even though he has changed, I cherish the lessons I received from him. Some were lessons he taught me and others were those I learned from observing him. I realized the choices he made during his life changed the way my life might have been.

You see my grandfather was abandoned at eighteen months old. From what we can piece together, his mother left to go to work for some period of time and left my grandpa and his twin sister with their dad. We think their dad may have been called to work, but whatever the circumstances, the children were left alone in the apartment. Evidently several days went by and they were crying so loudly the neighbors called the authorities. Grandpa and his sister lived briefly with their grandparents and then were left at a local orphanage.

The years that followed were filled with foster homes, attempted but failed adoptions and the deaths of the couple who came closest to parenting them. Although all of the foster parents were loving and caring, the odds should have been against Grandpa. Statistically, he should have repeated the patterns of his birth parents. The odds of him marrying for life and being a present father were probably very low.

Yet Grandpa was able to break the cycle of broken relationships and abandoned children. (After Grandpa retired, he discovered several other half siblings who had also all been abandoned.) Although we never really discussed it, I started thinking about how he was able to break the cycle. It is a very difficult thing to do, but somehow he managed to stay happily married to my grandmother for seventy years and parented three daughters. He was even an involved grandfather and great-grandfather.

I am not sure how thoroughly he analyzed his past, but I do know Grandpa was painfully aware of the mistakes his parents had made. He knew the pain they caused and did not want that for his family. Often the first step in breaking a negative family cycle is admitting it is there and becoming determined to try and do something different in a purposeful way. Even if you had wonderful parents, there is probably something you can improve upon. I have found if I am not making an effort to improve, I tend to get lazy and eventually get worse in that area of my life.

Talk to successful parents, read Christian parenting books, take parenting classes. You may want to talk with your spouse about the things each of you thought your parents did well and what you wish they had done differently. Work with your spouse on a parenting plan for your own children. Parenting is much easier when both parents are parenting from the same play book. Having a parenting plan you and your spouse have agreed upon also helps cut down on parenting arguments. You are now parenting from the same place and will only have occasional discussions about where to tweak your plan.

Grandpa surrounded himself with loving people. When the couple who had tried to adopt him died, he went back to his former foster parents. When he aged out of the system, he found a kind older woman who tried to mentor him. He chose to marry my grandmother who was probably one of the most nurturing people I have ever known. He was always involved with his neighbors and the people in his church.

When you are surrounded by love, it is easier to start to heal your emotional wounds. It also means you are surrounded by good examples to follow. Loving people also tend to be very supportive of your efforts to change and improve. It is important to realize there is a difference between truly loving, supportive people (like a church family) and “party” friends. Loving people are there to back you up in good times and bad. “Party” friends are usually only there when the times are fun or when they can get something from you. They have no interest in helping you become a better Christian or working through your problems. If you want to change the negative patterns from your past or just improve your parenting skills, you need to find the loving godly people who will help you get there.

Probably the most important thing Grandpa did for our family was that he became a strong Christian. He now had a group of loving supportive people he was with several times a week. He had the Bible, the best guidebook ever written about how to have healthy relationships and be a good spouse and parent. My earliest memories of my grandpa are of him reading his Bible first thing in the morning. By this time, he was an elder in the church and would often serve us a devotional with our breakfast. Grandpa loved the Bible so much that one of the very last things he lost in his dementia was the ability to find and read scriptures and hymns.

Use the Bible as your guide. Study the stories of successful parents who raised godly children and the failures of those who didn’t.  What did the parents who raised godly children do differently? What scriptures can you find about how to treat people? Are you following those commands in your family life? Prayer and faithful church attendance will also support your efforts to parent well.

Since I am a grandchild, I really don’t how Grandpa parented. As a grandpa though, he made special efforts to develop relationships with us. We lived out of state and only saw him a few times a year, but I still remember the letters Grandpa sent me. He would blow up a balloon, write a letter and then deflate it and mail it to me. Or his letter would be all sorts of pictograms we had to decipher. I knew he was putting time and effort into having a relationship with me.

Often people use default parenting. There is nothing intentional about it. They make decisions about how to parent as situations arise. They spend time bonding with their children only if there is nothing else on the schedule. Grandpa may have operated that way earlier, but by the time we came along, he was definitely making an intentional effort to bond with us. Are you parenting with a plan or just flying by the seat of your pants? Are you intentional about bonding with your children or do you just assume they know you love them?

One of my favorite things about his letters was the way he signed them. He always put the scripture Numbers 6:24-26. After I few letters, I finally pulled out my Bible to see exactly which verses these were. They were a blessing. Grandpa was doing the best thing for us he knew how to do. He was asking God to bless us and letting us know that he was asking God to bless us.

Have you ever wondered why the father blessing the son was such a big deal in the Old Testament? Sure there were material things and future prophecies tied up in many of them. I really think though that part of the value was totally emotional. The children knew how their father felt about them as he was blessing them. They knew their value to him and to the family. Grandpa blessing us in every letter was also his way of showing us we were loved and valued by him.

In today’s busy world, it seems we have less time to just be with each other. In “olden” days, families played together in their home. There was time to snuggle together and read books. There were plenty of hugs and kisses and long heartfelt talks. Often today, our families don’t even eat one meal together as a family. Examine your family schedule and carve out the time to bless your children with your love, acceptance and time. Remember, for most children time and attention mean love just as much as hugs and kisses and even more than presents.

You may have been discouraged as you have read previous entries in this blog. Perhaps you believed that with your background, there is no way you could truly dedicate your children to God. You are just hoping to provide something better than what you experienced. Maybe your parents were wonderful and you have stopped parenting intentionally because you assume you are doing everything they did and the results will be the same.

I want to encourage you to try to learn the same lessons I did from my grandpa. Become an intentional parent with a plan to help your children grow up to become strong Christians doing the Lord’s work. Try some of the things mentioned in this article. My grandpa is proof that you can break any negative cycles or add to positive ones. It may just change the future for your children and grandchildren.

Thanks to my grandpa’s efforts and with God’s help, I was raised in a loving Christian home. I never had to experience the complete abandonment my grandpa did as a child. I was exposed to God from the beginning of my life and have been so blessed because of that. I pray that you are able to give the same gifts to your children and grandchildren.

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Thereasa Winnett

Thereasa Winnett is the founder of Teach One Reach One and blogger at Parenting Like Hannah. She holds a BA in education from the College of William and Mary. She has served in all areas of ministry to children and teens for more than thirty years and regularly leads workshops for ministries and churches. She has conducted numerous workshops, including sessions at Points of Light’s National Conference on Volunteering and Service, the National Urban Ministry Conference, Pepperdine Bible Lectures, and Lipscomb’s Summer Celebration. Thereasa lives in Atlanta, GA with her husband Greg, where she enjoys reading, knitting, traveling and cooking.

One thought on “Lessons From My Grandpa – Breaking the Cycle”

  1. As his daughter, I experienced the same loving care and attention that he gave his grand children. He always made time for me and thought of things that we could do together. We had little money, but never knew it because we were always enjoying each other. We flew kites, went for long walks and he even taught me a love of gardening as we worked together in our flower and veggie gardens. When I see him now, although very seldom, I always whisper in his ear before leaving “Never forget, I will always love you and you were a great father”.

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