Here are five ways for grandparents, both near and far, to reinforce and supplement the family faith.
by Ryan Langr
The Importance of Grandparents
Grandparents are an important part of any family, and when it comes to passing on the faith, research shows that they have an important role to play, second only to parents. Pope Francis has also affirmed the role that grandparents play in family life (see “The Gift of Grandparents”).
Some children are blessed to have their grandparents close by, while others make due with seeing grandparents only a couple times a year. Still, even with infrequent visits, it is important for grandparents to be involved in the spiritual lives of their grandchildren.
Parents should plug into this extra help by explicitly asking grandparents to participate in the faith formation of their kids. Sometimes grandparents can be shy or worry about interfering; affirming that you value the example of their faith may give them the permission they need to share more openly.
Sometimes, of course, grandparents can have a negative impact on kids’ faith, perhaps because the grandparents aren’t fully formed in the faith or lack faith entirely. Parents can still encourage grandparents to take responsibility for nurturing their grandchildren’s faith in ways that seem most appropriate and comfortable for all.
Here are five suggestions for how grandparents might help pass on the faith to their grandchildren. Each idea includes variations for “long distance grandparents.” And you can find even more strategies at the website of the Catholic Grandparents Association (see below).
5 Ways Grandparents Can Nurture the Faith of Their Grandchildren
1. Attend Mass with your grandchildren
Attending Mass with your grandchildren and their parents (or taking the children to Mass if their parents cannot attend) can go a long way in showing your grandchild that faith is a lifelong commitment. They will see that it’s not just their parents who go to church, and that faith and the sacraments are part of a tradition that has been handed down in the family from generation to generation. There is nothing more special than being able to celebrate the Eucharist with your family, and the homily may even give you something to talk about!
If you’re far away, try to do this whenever you get a chance to visit—your grandchild will see that you value your time with God, and that time with God is important even when time together is precious.
2. Participate in your grandchildren’s catechesis
By participating in your grandchildren’s family faith formation, you’re doing more than teaching them about the faith: you’re also a living demonstration of the richness of lifelong faith. Moreover, your presence can add the perspective of valuable life experience.
Generations of Faith is a great parish-based program that grandparents can participate in, but even if your parish doesn’t have Generationf of Faith, you can create your own multi-generational faith formation program. Do a “three-generation” Bible study, read the catechism together, or help children prepare for First Communion or confirmation—the possibilities are endless. Most of the activities here at Peanut Butter and Grace can include grandparents,
Long-distance grandparents can participate by Skype or Google Hangouts, or if technology isn’t your thing, just do a weekly phone call.
3. Celebrate religious holidays
Not only are Christmas and Easter excellent times to gather as a family, they are the two most important days of our faith. Establishing a tradition of celebrating these and other religious holidays with your grandchildren can further reinforce their faith, as well as give you an opportunity to discuss what these holidays mean. It doesn’t just have to be Christmas and Easter, either; patron saints’ feast days and holy days of obligation can be opportunities as well.
If you can’t make it for these holidays, attend mass with and offer it up for your grandchildren, or have a particular mass said for them.
4. Read stories to your grandchildren
I’ve expressed the importance of reading stories to children in previous posts, and this is an easy one for grandparents to do. Not only will it help you bond to one another, but narrative is one of the primary ways we hear about our faith. Read Bible stories directly, or try classics like Lord of the Rings or the Narnia series, which give Christian messages in a different setting. No matter what, though, talk about whatever you’re reading.
This can be done whenever you’re together, even if it’s infrequently, and it will be a time you both treasure. Grandparents who live far away can record themselves reading a story for their grandchildren.
5. Eat with your children and grandchildren
People bond and share through sharing a meal. This is especially evident in the symbolism of the Eucharist and the Last Supper. Share a meal with your grandchildren whenever possible (even if it’s just fast food) and take the opportunity to say a meal prayer. Talk about what is going on in their lives, and especially their faith lives. The idea here is to develop a personal relationship with them so that whatever witness to the faith you show, big or small, it will take hold. It doesn’t have to be often to make a difference!
The Most Valuable Thing Grandparents Do
The most valuable thing a grandparent can do is love their grandchildren. You are another person of faith who loves them, and though parents have a huge influence on children, having a unique relationship with their grandparents can strengthen a child’s faith, especially in the teen years. You can be another person they respect and love when the world is telling them faith isn’t cool. If you are blessed enough to see them often, many of these suggestions could be easy for you, but even if you aren’t able to spend as much time with your grandchildren as you would like, cultivate a loving and respectful relationship with them and your spiritual bond will grow as well.
Catholic Grandparents Association
Based in Great Britain, this organization offers a wealth of resources for grandparents as well as resources for pastoral programs that encourage and support grandparents. The mission of the CGA: “To help Grandparents pass on the faith and keep prayer in the heart of family life.”