Whenever we are loving other people’s children, there are two temptations that Satan often seems to hurl our way. They are very subtle temptations, almost unperceivable to our own hearts, but, in fact, are seen by God and are felt by both the child and his parents.
The first temptation is crafted to entice us to love the child for our own sake, not the child’s sake. The second is to pirate the child’s first love away from his own parents onto ourselves, because we somehow think that we love the child just a smidgeon better, with more skill, or acumen, than the parents do, given their youth and inexperience relative to ours. This could be viewed as engaging in a kind of quiet ongoing emotional adultery. It will be felt by the parents, even if it is never mentioned.
Let’s look at some examples of the manifestations of both temptations for grandparents.
One: the temptation of loving the child for our own sake, not the child’s sake
Because grandparents have a natural built-in fan club—a captive audience—with their own grandchildren, they can be tempted to share stories about themselves that are, in fact, not uplifting for the child. A grandparent will often tell a story, with a twinkle in his eye, about something naughty that he did in his own childhood and got away with it. These stories could be about some way that he tricked others, or how he cleverly didn’t tell the whole truth, or gained some advantage off a poor unsuspecting other child or adult relative or teacher, or did some wild adventure against his parent’s wishes that they never knew of, or duped someone, stole something little, won without fairness, or was worldly popular or the best one in the crowd, etc. These stories, told with a hero’s confidence, give the child a double message. They tear down the child’s desire to build his own character in holy directions, and they undermine what godly parents are trying to inculcate in their children. But because the grandparent knows that he does not have to carry responsibility for how the child will ultimately turn out, he now feels free to “toy” with the child’s emotions, for his own ego-gain. By telling these types of stories the grandparent walks away with a spring in his step, having gained more of “self” when the child says, “wow” or when the child’s eyes grow big, or when the child cheers. But, sadly, the child walks away with a sanctioned desire to toy with mincing corruption in his own case. His eyes dart in every corner to now make his own stories, so he can be like his grandparent someday, receiving the same adulation in the telling of his ill behavior.
So, what is the way out of this temptation? When telling stories from our own lives, we should seek to always re-craft them to drive home some holy character trait. We can reinforce this message by saying things like: “That didn’t work out so well for me”, “I learned my lesson”, “My joys were only temporary”, “I was unkind”, “I wish I could do that over again and love the other person more than I loved myself”, etc. We can drive home the idea that all ideas and actions have consequences, even if not felt immediately—they do have eventual fall-out. Therefore we must strive to fashion all our interchanges with the child to grow a holy child, working with the parent in that endeavor, not against them, however small the foray into such talks may be.
Here’s another case: when holding a child, be mindful of when the child prefers to get down, do we keep the child past his own wishes simply because we are bigger and gaining satisfaction from the physical touch? We can ask ourselves: do we hold the child for his sake, or for our own? And further, do we playfully trick the child (having physical superiority over him) for our own laughter, or do we genuinely care about the child’s trust in us to do only good to him? Do we dote on his cuteness for our sake, allowing the child self-indulgence for our own temporary pleasure, or do we keep a keen, holy, judicious eye upon the child for his own long-term ability to self-manage, self-deny and self-sacrifice? Do we see ourselves hovering over the child for the formation of his own holy character, as God’s faithful steward over the child, even for just an afternoon, or do we view the child solely, for the moment, as our own possession? A child is continually being formed, by the hour, in one direction or another. Which prod are we?
Second case of examples: the temptation of pirating the child’s emotions for our own
The best way to ensure against falling into this temptation is to do endless good to the child while not drawing attention to ourselves. Give him things for his sake; shower our gifts and attentions and focus upon him in a self-forgetting manner. Keep the focus upon the child’s interests, ambitions, applause for his accomplishments, and aiding his goals while minimizing what it is that we just did for him. Seek to draw no thought to ourselves. Focus the child’s praise upon the Lord, not upon ourselves. As the old hymn writer penned so well, “And may they forget the channel, seeing only Him.” Be a benefactor/benefactress to the child in hidden ways as often as possible, making advantageous connections for him behind the scenes or giving money or widened opportunity for him without the child or parent’s knowing, as if it came from someone else. Constantly wean the child off from us and onto the Lord in our speech with him.
The most important cultivation of our own holiness in this regard is to build up the child’s parents in front of the child in our own speech, whenever he is with us. Remind him of how wonderful his parents are and all that they do for him. Teach him to thank his parents; help him write the thank you notes; help him shape the grateful verbal phrases that he will use for when he walks back in the door of his parent’s home; teach him to be grateful for little things they do; help cultivate his awareness of his parents’ fatigue; and show him how to bless his parents with obedience and how to attack his work or project that he does with us with excellence, in order to show his parents later. If we teach him to love his parents well, the self-serving temptation we often feel for the child will scamper away with its tail between its legs. Let our lives be brimming with love for others—and their connectedness. Let ours be the hidden life of self-sacrifice in regard to grandchildren and their parents, and then shall our sleep be “oh, so sweet” as we share in the secrets of his Christ-likeness—knowing what the effects of those secrets feel like in our own bosoms, in our own prayer closets.
For further reading on godly grandparenting, read the eBook on How to Be Very Nearly Perfect Grandparents.