Interview – Ralph Walker On Grandparenting
1. What valuable memories do you have of your grandparents?
Spiritually speaking, they are a bit one-sided. My father’s parents were active in a denomination, but I do have vivid memories of my grandmother, who was a self-taught pianist, playing hymns on her upright and singing along with them, just for herself, it seemed to my child’s mind. My father learned about NT Christianity from my mother before they married. Her parents were very active in the Lord’s church in Pensacola, FL. Since my mother came from a large family, getting everyone to services when we had family reunions was like organizing a military invasion. But I have sharp memories of all of us occupying pews in worship together – a block of them I think, my grandmother always in a pillbox-type hat. And she loved to sing, though she didn’t have a great ear for pitch. She did love to hear her grandchildren sing for her whenever we learned new songs. I realize how important those memories are in my life, and I want my grandchildren to have similar memories of Paula and me.
2. When you realized you were going to be a grandparent, what were your first thoughts?
My oldest daughter was married a couple of years when they announced they were expecting. I think my earliest thoughts were that I was too young to be a grandfather (49) and she was too young to be a mother. They lived away from us and we thought they would need lots of help. They didn’t.
3. Describe some of the special events, traditions you and your wife have set up for your grandchildren.
Whenever the grandkids who live away are home, we love to read aloud to them. And we always try to have family singings and devotions together. Of course we sit together for worship, which is a great blessing for Paula and me. We have two sets of grandchildren who live here. I think we sacrifice the special efforts to share devotional times with them for the exchange of familiar times with them. My oldest grandchild was saved this year and I want to remember her “rebirthday” every year, as I have consistently remembered my daughters rebirthdays (the day they surrendered their lives to Jesus) with a special card and reminding them how old they are in spiritual years.
4. What are some of the typical mistakes Christian grandparents need to be aware of?
Not deliberately focusing on spiritual lessons. We can be that way with our own children, too. Taking advantage of the moments to share some beautiful thought about our Lord or the Word is redeeming the time, I think.
Not being a disciplinary force in their lives, but being the mushy-love figures. I don’t want to wait until I’m upset to exercise discipline. I need them to know me as an authority figure who loves them, but demands obedience too.
5. How do you navigate the relationship of being a grandparent, without intruding into the realm of parental oversight?
Paula and I try to maintain an advisory-on-demand relationship. We really have to work at not offering counsel or opinions which are not asked for, but I think that is generally the best course of action. The exception would be when you see children making serious mistakes or judgments, in which case an unrequested intervention might have to take place. I believe those are welcome if they don’t occur too frequently.
6. How are grandparents today generally different from grandparents in the former generation?
I recall my grandparents being very willing to be disciplinarians. They didn’t hesitate to correct us, even when my parents were in the room. My own parents were much less likely to do that with my own children. I don’t know if that is more attributable to the times or to individual character traits. I’ve noticed actions by other current grandparents I like a lot. We’ve taken our grandchildren for a week at a time and love the deeper relationship that allows. But I remember doing that with my own grandparents. But Grandparent Camp, in which some or all of the grandkids descend on the grandparents’ home for a week of fun and instruction, seems such a new idea to us. When we get the nerve, we’re going to attempt that one.
7. How does the role of grandparent change as the little ones become teens and young adults?
Well, we aren’t there yet. Our oldest grandchild is 10. But I think the challenge we will have is that of all grandparents (and even parents) – keeping relevant in their lives as they move into the “I know everything and I don’t really like anyone” years. There is a reason you don’t find “Grandparent Day” in the Junior High and High Schools. We want to do what we can to stay involved without alienating the teens. I know our parents were pretty successful in keeping good relations with our girls as they entered those teen years. They didn’t do it by trying to be their pals, but maintained a nobility with them. They demanded respect and yet were kind to give them space for their privacy and opinions.
8. Is the priority seeing our children and grandchildren become God’s children?
Absolutely. My daughters gave me a framed picture of Paula and me and the then current batch of grandkids with the passage from Psalm 78:67. It sits on my desk at all times, reminding me “that the generations to come might know, even the children yet to be born, that they should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.”
When I was working at FC, one of my duties and privileges was to speak to the incoming class’s parents at an orientation session. I always chose for my devotion with them Psalm 127. While I tried to stress various lessons for these parents letting their children go for the first time, the main one was the value of an arrow to extend our influence and power beyond our own reach. An arrow carries our desire far beyond our bodies.
Our children and grandchildren have been told and will continue to be told that we want them to carry the banner the Walker family has hoisted for Christ Jesus, and we want them to plant it higher on the hills of life than we were able to plant it. Hopefully they will all become powerful extensions of our own work for the Lord, and do more, go farther and penetrate the darkness more effectively than Paula and I could ever do ourselves. That is our plan, with the help and grace of God.