As any grandmother will know, there are many sources of joy in the time spent with grandchildren. For me, a key one is teaching my grandsons something and seeing how they respond.
This is also a common theme in my book, Celebrating Grandmothers, where 27 women talk about the joys and challenges of being a grandmother. In their own words, they describe how they – like me – love teaching their grandkids all sorts of things.
We tend to think of teaching as passing on knowledge or a particular skill. Certainly, this can be a large element in many interactions with grandchildren. And it happens all the time, even when you are not noticing.
For example, you may be boiling an egg or baking a cake, and they suddenly take an interest and try to learn about cooking. Or, you may take out your knitting, and they see the result and want to have a go.
Such teaching may be accidental, as described, or it may be purposeful, undertaken specifically to pass on the skill. Either way, you can see them learning a lot, adding one step here and there to their journey to adulthood.
But there is more to teaching than passing on facts or skills. Some women make a special effort to instill into their grandchildren the values and ethics by which they live.
In my book, some women gave particular importance to teaching values. Indeed, they felt that this was so important that it should be left to parents and was an inappropriate role for grandparents.
Others, however, felt strongly that they also had a part to play. One woman was keen to teach the importance of a belief in a Christian God. Another, in contrast, explained that she was teaching her grandchildren not to be ruled by a blind faith, but to question everything.
Although diametrically opposed in the specifics, both had the same goal of affecting their grandchildren’s values in life.
And finally, what I find truly exciting is teaching my grandchildren to think for themselves. This involves challenging their thoughts and helping them to see other points of view, so they can begin to work out their own position.
Such teaching flows easily from everyday discussions. Just the other day, for example, we were watching the television news and there was a long piece about migration into the US (although it could equally have been migration into Europe).
This started a discussion with one visiting grandson of why people want to migrate, why their situation is different from tourists, and how migration affects everyone involved. This entailed him asking loads of questions, as he began to see the complexity of the issues.
A few minutes later, there was another news item on people protesting climate change. Our grandson, although concerned about climate issues, was upset at the idea of protesters making people late for work.
We then moved to explore how people can best bring an issue to public attention. My husband asked the simple question, “What would you do?” Lengthy discussions ensued.
It is very satisfying to see a young person’s brain confronting complexity and trying to think things out.
I have never been a teacher by profession, but I am a teacher by inclination. I really love passing on what I have learned in the course of my life. And it is wonderful to see the impact on a young mind.
It is rewarding, first, if you see a great response in the person you teach. Some children light up with pleasure at learning a new activity, such as a sport. You show them how to manipulate a ball, and they are thrilled and do it again and again.
I am currently teaching one grandson to swim. He loves the water and enjoys working out how to move himself through it. If this is partly due to my own efforts, how can I not be thrilled?
It is also rewarding when something you taught is truly learned. Whether it is a new word or how to put together a toy, or something you believe in, keep a watch and listen – and see how it comes out later.
And finally, there is something rewarding about feeling part of a link down the chain of the generations. Your grandmother may have taught you to cook and now you are teaching your granddaughter.
You are part of the circle of life.
What have you taught your grandchildren to do? Do you prefer to teach them with intention? How do you feel when the lessons you teach produce real outcomes? Let’s start a discussion!