Are your grandchildren old enough to put themselves in the shoes of others, to understand their own feelings, and to respond to the world with kindness? Author Jane Isay believes we grandparents have a sacred role to help foster empathy, self-understanding, kindness, and acceptance in our grandchildren simply by our ordinary attention — now more than ever before.
In her book, Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today, Jane calls these qualities the four pillars of the moral imagination:
I recently attended a webinar with Jane and she explained why our role during COVID-19 is even more important for imparting these values to our grandchildren. We have more time to spend with them on FaceTime or Zoom than their working parents. We can model empathy by giving our undivided attention and unconditional love to them as we simply listen.
We can show them perspective by telling them stories about hard times we went through – even survivor stories that serve as models for them because we’re two generations removed.
We can share our knowledge, which is different from information. Information is what you get raw from all kinds of sources – books, media, and school. Knowledge is information processed through life experience — your life experiences.
The fourth quality, agency, is the ability to act independently and make free choices. We can nurture agency in our grandchildren by encouraging them to follow their dreams, to tell them “we support you and believe in you.” The little bits of conversation we have with them that empower them will exist in their memories as “tiny shards of color in the great mosaic of understanding.”
Since each of my three granddaughters was born, I’ve made a point to share my values and stories with them. My youngest granddaughter, Sophia turned six in June. I haven’t seen her in person since March 1 when I gave her the children’s book — Be Kind: You Can Make the World a Happier Place – 125 Kind Things to Say & Do. Sophia and I have hour-long FaceTime calls every week and she often shows me how she’s reorganized her dolls into a new little hiding place. Every time she creates her “little spaces” she always places this book next to the dolls. She told me it’s her favorite book and she brought it to “show and tell” back when her kindergarten class was still meeting. Whenever we talk, I always tell her what a kind person she is with her friends and cat, Vera. I have reinforced this quality so much that she often uses the word “kind” to describe herself.
In her book, Jane asks if she’s giving grandparents too much credit by saying we have a sacred role. “Of course parents do the heavy lifting. But rounding off the corners of a child’s character and strengthening that child’s courage can benefit from more than one set of adults. And the joy of it is that we’re not teaching, we’re not preaching.” We’re just doing what we do best — loving them unconditionally.