Being a secret-sharing grandparent (one who finds an engaging way to teach the principles that really matter)
BY LINDA AND RICHARD EYRE
All of us grandparents are teachers in our hearts, and we have things we want to share with our grandchildren. But, how do we do it in a way that interests them and grabs their imagination?
When we asked ourselves this question, we knew that the key to success was to come up with something relevant and identifiable and to connect it to some kind of mystery and some kind of reward.
We knew the things we wanted to teach them—the legacies of insight that we wanted to leave in their minds and hearts, but we weren’t sure how to get them interested or keep them interested.
As we often do, we resorted initially to a bit of bribery. We couched it by telling our three oldest grandkids, who were ten or eleven at the time, that there were four secrets that we wished we had known when we were their age. The word “secret” got to them a little more than some “lecture” or “advice” or “principle”, but we still needed more— more intrigue and more motivation.
So, we found some rare South American stones at a rock hound place—small polished rocks that we know we’re different than anything they had seen—and we named them the “Secret Rocks.” Then, at a family reunion, we had s special meeting with those three grandkids and told them that if they could memorize the four secrets we were about to tell them—and if they could give at least one example of how the secrets might play out in a real-life situation—we would give each of them one of the Secret Rocks and that rubbing their soft, polished surfaces during the school year ahead would remind them of the secrets they had memorized.
Those four initial secrets were:
“Joy is the purpose of life and a choice you can make every day
“Most kids are waiting for someone to lead them, but they just don’t know it yet.”
“Blood is thicker than water, and cousins are more important than friends. We will always stay close to each other, set a good example for each other, and be there for each other.”
“Good popularity comes from being nice to everyone, and it lasts. Bad popularity comes from only being nice to certain people, and it doesn’t.”
That first discussion we had together about these first four secrets was priceless. In the open, unguarded words of preadolescents, they talked about followers and leaders and about how hard it is to go against the crowd but how good you feel when you do. They thought of examples among their friends of click-ish, “bad popularity.” They had thoughts about how they could decide to be happy, even when they were having a bad day. They talked about how much they liked each other and how glad they were that their parents were siblings and that they would always be cousins.
When the reunion was over, they proudly took their secret rocks and promised to stay in touch with us and with each other from their respective homes in Boston, Utah, and Arizona. By Christmas, they each had some real-life examples to share about each of the secrets.
Time has passed, and there are now ten secrets—and we’re delighted to say that they are becoming little self-fulfilling prophecies within their lives. They have a permanence about them now–we have put them on large river rocks that decorate our kitchen at the lake house where we hold our annual reunion, and they are being passed on to younger cousins, with the older ones acting as tutors. We added one or two new secrets each summer at our reunion, each time having the same kind of “what does this mean and how could you apply it” discussion. Each grandchild “qualified” the first four secrets when he or she was 10, and additional secrets were added as they reached the age when we thought they could understand and apply them. Other rewards were added—which they qualified for by memorizing the secret and giving life experiences they had had or could imagine having when the secret could be applied.
The secrets are not a panacea, but they have helped on numerous levels, including our own relationship and relevance with each of our grandchildren.
You, as a one-of-a-kind grandparent with one-of-a-kind grandchildren, will develop your own set of the things you most want to teach—your own “secrets.” But for what they are worth as examples, here are a couple more of ours:
UNIQUENESS: “There is only one of you, and you have unique gifts and talents that you need to discover. Be yourself, find your place, and grow into all you can be. Seek a life of Broadening and Contributing.”
DECISIONS: “In the second seventh of life (from age 12 to 24) come many of life’s pivotal decisions, which will largely determine the happiness of the remaining five sevenths. Binary, right-wrong choices should be made in advance, dated, and signed in contract with self. Open-ended, multi-alternative, confirmation-requiring decisions should be made tentatively through analysis, advice, and prayer, but not implemented or acted upon until they are verified by a spiritual process called ‘confirmation.’”
As a grandparent, ask yourself this question: If you had a magic wand and could wave it over your grandchildren and automatically imbue them with certain truths and guidelines for life, what principles would you implant in them? What are the things you have learned and that you wish you had learned earlier? Here is the sequence we suggest:
- Sit down and think about the principles you want
to teach your grandkids. This is some hard, mental work, and you won’t complete your list in one sitting or in just a week or two. Think about it for at least a month, letting your thinking develop and evolve, and when you are ready, make a list of the principles you most want your grandkids to know. Try for between five and ten principles.
- Think about how to state those principles simply and as “secrets.” Take another month, and gradually work each of your principles into a clear, terse sentence or two that a child can memorize and remember.
- Tell your grandchild or grandchildren that you have some secrets for them and that you will tell them just one of the secrets each year. Start the secrets with any grandchild who is eight or older. Make a big deal out of sharing each secret—do it in a special, one-on-one setting with the grandchild (or with two or three if you have some that are roughly the same age).
We don’t want our dear and precious grandchildren to have to rediscover the wheel—or to learn hard lessons only by trial and error or by getting knocked down and beat up because they didn’t know any better. Making a deliberate effort to teach our grandkids the life principles we think are most important is both a responsibility and an honor.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS – RICHARD AND LINDA EYRE
Richard and Linda Eyre’s parenting and life-balance books have reached millions and been translated into a dozen languages. As fellow Baby Boomers, their passion and their writing focus have now shifted to the joy of Grandparenting. Linda’s latest book is Grandmothering, Richard’s is Being a Proactive Grandfather, and their latest co-authored book is Life in Full. All three of these are now on sale on Amazon.