The Both Way Benefits of Grandparenting

When my sister was a little girl she had the good fortune of living next door to one of our grandmothers. In fact, the families lived in a duplex with a connecting door. Whenever Linda got in trouble with my parents she would go sit by Grandma’s door, knock on it, and cry in a plaintive voice, “Gamma, I come live with you?”

I too had the great benefit of an engaged grandparent. My great grandmother, Maggie O’Keefe, lived near us and I would stop by her house once a week, on my way home from piano lessons. She would stuff me with warm bread and regale me with stories of “the old country”. I learned much about her life, and about life in general, from these visits.

Now that I have entered the ranks of grandparents I am a voracious consumer of information about how to be the best. So when my eyes fell on an article about the scientifically backed benefits of grandparents I eagerly dug in.

We all have this generalized, gauzy impression that grandparents are (mostly) good for grandchildren. They feed them cookies, take them to the park, clap wildly at their performances. But I was unaware research supports the engaged grandparent glow. Bona fide scientific studies establish children learn a variety of important life lessons from grandparents.
• They learn aging is a natural part of life.
• They have higher rates of compassion.
• They learn about supporting others (children experience support and they also lend it).
• By listening, they learn family history.
• And as a bonus, studies show you’re less likely to be depressed, both in your teen years and in later life, if you have an engaged grandparent.

And get this: being an engaged grandparent makes you live longer! According to one study, “Grandparents who babysit their grandkids live longer than same age adults without child rearing responsibilities.” Regular babysitters have a 37% lower mortality rate than those who don’t sit. The writer of the article observed, “The fountain of youth is a sippy cup.”

The bottom line is, don’t just “be” a grandparent, engage as one. The benefits are better than a retirement plan.

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An Unguarded Strength is a Double Weakness

A number of years, on a dare, a seventeen year old from East Germany landed an ultra lite glider in one of the most highly guarded air spaces in the world–Red Square, downtown Moscow, in the Soviet Union. In the heart of the Soviet’s strength, the East German had found a weakness.

A middle aged man named Gordon watched that news story and commented remorsefully to his wife, “I feel like that’s what happened to me. I allowed myself to be attacked and conquered in what should have been my area of greatest strength–my personal integrity.“ His wife nodded in sympathetic agreement. Gordon’s air space had been invaded because he had not guarded his strength.

Gordon’s was a prominent Christian leader, speaker and author. Widely respected. A role model for many. But at the height of his career, Gordon fell off the fidelity wagon and had an illicit relationship with his secretary. When he finally came to his senses and ended the affair, Gordon took steps to correct the situation as much as possible. Day by day, inch by inch, Gordon worked to save his marriage, which he did. Now he speaks candidly about his fall and how it might have been prevented.

“An unguarded strength is a double weakness”, says Gordon, quoting G. K. Chesterton. Gordon thought he would not–could not–fall in the area of his personal integrity. In fact he told a friend, prior to his affair, “It could never happen, I’m too strong in that area.”

You are probably acutely aware of your weaknesses, and are constantly on guard in those areas of your life. But what about areas where you think you’re strong? Are you guarding those as well? Identify your “strengths” and resolve to not leave them unguarded. You don’t want to end up like the red faced soldiers guarding Red Square. You don’t want to wind up with Gordon’s regrets. Guard your heart.

Trust your gut (sometimes!)

I was talking to Dr. Erin Greilik

recently about the neuroscience of brain gut connection; not the sort of topic that just comes up in random conversation, right? But Erin and I were discussing a “gut feeling” I had about something and Erin told me I should listen to it.

By personality bent and professional training, I’m not one to trust in gut feelings. As a lawyer I want to see the evidence. Prove to me that this road is taking me where I want to go. Convince me with facts. Don’t try to blow sunshine at me by talking about seemingly spongy “gut feelings”.

But Erin says there’s a basis for trusting your gut. Neuroscience supports a connection between the brain and the stomach. She told me about an experiment where volunteers were given past weather related information for a particular day and then were asked to predict what the weather the next day was. Initially the participants were right about 50-50. But the volunteers were given immediate feedback on whether they were right or wrong and after about 20 or so times, most of the volunteers got better–a lot better–at their predictions. Most of them jumped to being 70% accurate after being given feedback on whether they had predicted rightly or wrongly. The participants were then asked how they did it. What patterns did they detect? How had they improved? And you know what? None of them could explain it. The couldn’t articulate how they had improved. They just knew the right answer “in their gut”.

I found this gut brain connection has been recognized over and over by scientists, like those at the Toronto Neurology Centre where they say:
What is the Gut-Brain Axis? Have you ever wondered why we use the expressions “gut-feeling” or “butterflies in your stomach?” These phrases stem from the connection between our gut health and brain function. This connection is called the Gut-Brain Axis, which is a bi-directional communication network that links the central nervous system (the brain and spinal cord) with the enteric nervous system (the digestive system). Your brain and digestive system send messages to each other and can affect one another’s health and functioning. Disturbances to the gut-brain axis may be associated with many neurological conditions, some of which include anxiety, depression, autism spectrum disorder, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

So next time your gut tells you something, listen to it. I’m not saying your gut is always right. Sometimes we eat the wrong stuff and our gut gives us bad feedback(!) But there’s something to be said for those gut feelings. Don’t just dismiss them. Evaluate and test them.

Be Brave to Prevent Evil

I have a family heirloom in my office. It’s about six inches long, wooden , with a slug of lead embedded in one end. It’s a blackjack and it tells a story that you would not discern by simply picking up the weighty weapon. The blackjack reminds me there are times we must dare to do good by preventing evil.

One night, in the early 1900s, the weapon came into the possession of Grandpa Tom, my dad’s father. Tom was a young teen and was spending that early evening with two older friends, one of whom was named Mickey. Here’s how Tom told the story to my dad.

blackjackMickey told us he was going waylay someone on their way home that night. The guy he planned to rob usually had a wad of money on him and Mickey knew his usual route of travel. Then Mickey pulled the blackjack out of his pocket and said “I’m going to sneak up behind him and knock him out with this blackjack and take his money.” I thought this was a bad idea both for the man and for Mickey. But he would not to be talked out of it. A little while later, when Mickey wasn’t paying attention, I was able to slip the blackjack out of his coat pocket and into my own. I figured if he didn’t have the weapon he wouldn’t try the crime and I was right. Mickey later told me he had somehow lost the blackjack and had to call off the robbery.

Grandpa Tom never told Mickey he was the one who liberated the blackjack. I think he was afraid if he did Mickey might use it on him. So Grandpa kept it and passed it along to my Dad who entrusted it to me, along with the lesson that we must sometimes be brave to prevent evil.

The choice my Grandpa made that night became a lesson and a continual reminder to me every time I look at the blackjack. The small but brave choices we make can impact generations.

Avoid Snowplow parenting

When I was 16 I tried out for my high school basketball team. My school of 1800 students had 60 guys try out that year. I knew my odds were slim.

But I hustled and sweated and made the first cut to 40. Then I made the cut to 25. But when Coach posted the final cut to 15 I wasn’t on the list. I know because I checked the list three times. Neither was one of my buddies, Bob. Dejected and defeated I dragged my gym bag and myself home and pitifully flopped on my bed.

Later that night my dad consoled me, saying, “I know you’re disappointed, but I want you to know, I wouldn’t trade you for the greatest basketball player on the planet.” That helped a little. Still, I was hurt.

Days later my hurt turned to frustration when I learned that somehow Bob was a late addition to the team. How? He wasn’t any better than I was! I asked Bob what happened. “My dad talked to Coach. Dad pitched a big fit and said he’d raise a stink if Coach didn’t take me. So Coach added me.”
Frustration turned to fury and that night I vented to my own dad about what happened. Dad said in a very measured tone, “That’s too bad and it’s not something I would ever do. I know you wouldn’t want me to because Bob will always know he didn’t earn it.” End of conversation.
My Dad did not believe in what is now referred to as “snowplow parenting”. Those are the parents who unfairly move obstacles out of the way of their children. They’ve always been around but it seems like there are more of them lately. Parents like those involved in the college tuition scandal. Or Bob’s dad.

Not making the team stung but I’m glad Dad didn’t snowplow for me. Parents: put away the snowplow. Allow your children to succeed on their own merit.