I’m 32-years-old. My kids are eight, seven, and five. I figure I’m at least 15 years away from having grandchildren, but I’m already preparing for them.
About three years ago, someone wiser than me told me what someone wiser than he was told him: “Don’t think of your children as your children. Think of them as your grandchildren’s parents.” That blew my mind, and ever since I’ve been trying to live out that epiphany.
The obvious first step in my training was to pay more attention to the behavior I model for my children. It’s sobering to imagine your children treating their children the way they are treated, mainly because it turns the focus on yourself. My children are four-foot-tall mirrors, and in them I saw myself acting more like Ralph Kramden than Andy Taylor. It was embarrassing.
In her wisdom, my wife Amanda suggested I try to remember what it was like to be my children’s age. Thanks to her, I learned compassion.
Instead of getting angry when our oldest drew on furniture, I remembered how I used a souvenir pocket knife to carve up the door frame and cabinets in my bathroom when I was her age. Rather than feeling irritated when the kids insisted they couldn’t leave their grandparents’ without a drink and snack for the trip home (a grueling 15-minute trek), I reminded myself that I still hit the fridge and cabinets every time we visited my parents and in-laws. And when I started to feel put out when our youngest said he got nervous going to the bathroom alone, I thought back on all the times I made my mother and grandmother accompany me when I was little.
Compassion then led me to patience. It became more difficult to overreact to my kids’ impulsiveness when I considered my own.
Along with trying to model grace, I also started looking for ways to instill habits I wanted my grandchildren’s’ parents to have. So they can learn to be providers, my kids work for their money instead of being given an allowance. So they can learn to have strong marriages, my wife and I emphasize that our relationship is the most important one in the house. So they can learn to enjoy their own children, I’m learning to embrace the messiness of life and say “yes” more often.
As I started to appreciate what it meant to be in training for my grandchildren, I realized there was more to it than just raising my kids to be good parents. Beyond training my children emotionally and mentally, I needed to train myself physically.
Several years ago, while Amanda and I were leading the youth group at church, I was racing an athletic 15-year-old boy named Isaac. The race wasn’t even close, and I quickly calculated that I’d be 39 when my oldest son turned 15. If I couldn’t keep up when I was even 25, what condition would I be in at 39? Since then, I’ve been trying to keep up a regular exercise routine.
But I realized exercise was only part of the picture. Sure I was lifting weights and running, but my nutrition was terrible. I finished everybody’s leftovers at supper. I would hit the CiCi’s Pizza buffet like I was Pac-Man. I saw a holiday dessert table as a personal endurance challenge. The more I researched nutrition and the effects of excess starchy carbs and stored body fat, the more I evaluated my eating habits.
For as long as I can remember, there are only two health conditions I’ve ever worried about, both present in my family tree: diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Among other things, I began learning how excess body fat and too many starchy carbs can lead to insulin resistance, which is a hallmark of diabetes and can increase Alzheimer’s risk because it deprives the brain of fuel. Thankfully, I also found a natural way to combat insulin resistance by getting enough sleep, eating more vegetables and lean protein, and exercising.
I’ve made these big changes to my diet and exercise regimen because when my grandchildren come over to play, I don’t want to be a spectator. I want to be able to do everything with them I did with their parents and then some. More than that, though, I can remember growing up watching relatives suffer with fluctuating blood sugar, and I’ve had grandparents forget who I was. I want better for my grandchildren. So I train.
Beyond any emotional or physical foundation I’m trying to lay for my grandchildren, the most important element is a solid spiritual foundation. Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children.” I believe the most powerful legacy a father can leave is one of strong faith in Jesus Christ. To that end, every night my wife and I pray with our children, and almost every night we read the Bible with them. I try to stay open for opportunities to discuss my flaws and how I’m overcoming them through the transformative power of prayer. When necessary, I ask their forgiveness. They know I couldn’t make this journey alone. And when they are adults dealing with their own shortcomings as people and parents, they will be equipped with the most effective tool in the universe to help them become the parents my grandchildren deserve.
Three years into this odyssey of sorts, I believe I’ve made genuine progress. The motto, “In training for my grandchildren,” helps me stay focused. Sometimes it smiles approvingly, and sometimes it hangs its head. Still, it’s always there. When I’m tired, stressed, or discouraged, it keeps me going. After all, my grandkids are counting on me.