Jerry Witkovsky: Teaching Values and the Sacred Trust of Grandparenting

Jerry Witkovsky

By Jerry Witkovsky, Author, The Grandest Love: Inspiring the Grandparent-Grandchild Connection

A check in the mail for a birthday. Dinner once a month. Telephone hugs. Skyping. Asking the question “So how is school, my grandchild?” While all once delightful treats, as children grow into middle and high school, a grandparent may begin to expect the usual….a “grunt,” a “fine,” or even a “crummy.” Try a follow-up question, “what did you learn this week?” and you may even elicit two words…“not much.”

All of these inquiries are important for they convey love and caring. But how do they communicate values? And if it’s hard to engage your grandchildren in conversation how do you apply your creativity and passion, deliberately and consciously and use your knowledge and skills to have a transformative effect on your family?

When a grandparent dies, the doors to the library are closed forever. The sharing of knowledge, wisdom, stories, skills, problem solving and expressions of love and passion have ended. I often hear grandparents ask how will I be remembered, and I say don’t die until your dead.

Now is the time to create a living legacy.

Now is the time to teach values, not just give valuables.

Initiating conversations about values can be hard. I will admit that the first time I introduced the topic during a family meeting I did most of the talking. But over time, we all began to realize that values can be expressed in conscientiously choosing activities to do together. Families who value giving back to their community can do volunteer service together. Even if it’s once a year when everyone is together—delivering meals to people who are homebound; a community or park clean-up, donating and organizing toiletries for a homeless shelter. Families committed to environmental concerns can plan outdoor activities together. Even families who value global community or international cultures can try a new restaurant or ethnic grocery store or festival when they are together.

jerry witkovskyimagesThe Four Jars

One way I found to talk about values related to money was through The Four Jars. The “Four Jars” is a concept I don’t claim to have originated, but here’s how it works in my family:

I purchased four mason jars, labeling one for “Helping” (meaning, charity), one for “Spending,” one for “Saving,” and one for “Investing.”  For me, I initiated the four jars for each grandchild on their 13th birthday, giving them each four $5 bills. I then gave them each four $5 bills once a month after that for one year.

It is the concepts the jars teach that is most important. They are:

  1. Helping/Charity – live a life of kindness.
  2. Spending – you are responsible for your own happiness so spend, take risks.
  3. Saving – live life with a sense of vision.
  4. Investment – money that grandparents or other family members have set aside for college, which teaches accepting love and help from others.

As for how much to give, there is no right or wrong amount here; it’s what the grandparents decide. What’s important is the conversation that is enabled with grandchildren around the concepts of the Four Jars that can frame language for children around grandparents’ values and legacy.

Parents or other grandparents are welcome to give as well. However, as far as how your grandchildren divvy up the money, that is only their decision. One said, “Grandpa, I want to put it all in spending but I know that is not right.” “It’s your decision,” I told her.

My grandchildren tell me I have taught them how to manage money and what the value of money really is. One grandson was intrigued by the Investment Jar and wanted to learn more. For him, and with his parent’s blessing, I set up an appointment with my Financial Adviser so that he could learn more.

While I chose to start to honor the “graduation” into the teenage years, even grade-schoolers are old enough to start learning to make smart choices about their money and to take pride in financial “independence.”  Counting coins as a youngster, something for a sibling, something for grandpa’s groceries, something for you, all instill the ideas of sharing—with real people when they are young, and with the world as they get older.

During a recent family outing, I was tickled to see my granddaughter Merete buy herself a carefully chosen souvenir of a delicate ring, taking obvious pride in the fact that she had paid for it out of her “Spending” jar.  Similarly, each week, she is expected to bring a dollar to religious school, to contribute to charity.  Instead of asking her parents for the cash, she always makes sure she has it in hand before she gets into the car – after taking it from her “Helping” jar.

In the words of the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu:  “Give a person a fish and you feed him or her for a day. Teach a person to fish and you feed him or her for a lifetime.”  My hope is that the education of the Four Jars will inculcate habits and ideals that will carry on long after my grandchildren have left those childhood bedrooms.

About the Author, Jerry Witkovsky

Jerry WitkovskyWhat ideas have you implemented in your family? How do you unleash your creativity and unique gifts to transform your family? Please share with me at jwitkovsky@att.net.

Author of The Grandest Love and a long-time social jerry witkovskywork professional, grandparenting activist, and passionate grandpa, author Jerry Witkovsky offers fresh approaches to help grandparents enter their grandchild’s world, to leave values, not just valuables and create a living legacy. www.thegrandestlove.com.

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