Written by Joannie DeBrito from Focus on the Family
Over the past six months, I’ve seen stress levels rise in families all around me as parents and kids have been living in close quarters and new demands are added to their parents’ already busy schedules. Take my younger friend Andi, for instance. She has three daughters, is trying to figure out how to work from home, while trying to navigate the new world of online learning which is complicated by the fact her children are in three different grades. She commented to me that she felt competent to teach her kids through about second grade but her children are 9, 10, and 11. These daily struggles of feeling inadequate and incompetent make her feel she is losing the battle.
The stay-at-home orders in our area just happened to coincide with the week her sister gave birth to a brand new baby. She was heartbroken not to be able to be among the first to welcome her new nephew to the world just as her sister had done for her as each of her children were born.
Additionally, her husband had just been diagnosed with a food allergy that required the purchase of some special foods that weren’t available for over a month into the pandemic. This allowed his condition to worsen quickly and then he was furloughed from work. So here she was, trying to manage work and school, keep in touch with her sister about a little loved one she had never met, and tend to her husband who was physically ill and depressed about his temporary job loss. And, this all happened as their family income was cut in half. Talk about stress!
There’s probably never been a better time for us to support and serve our children and grandchildren than right now. For obvious reasons, they’re confused, scared, and overwhelmed. And let’s face it — we are too. Yet we have a little more life experience that might help us make better sense of the current state of affairs in the world along with knowing and believing that “this too shall pass.”
I’m not suggesting that we have answers that nobody else has, or that we have no fears. Rather, we are in a unique position to help our family members navigate the confusion and fear while helping to lighten the load. We’ve been in similar situations before and we’ve found ways to cope. In many cases, we’ve been strengthened physically, emotionally, and spiritually through these past experiences.
Romans 5:3-5 tells us that “…we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
Have you learned to persevere through tough times? Have you seen how God can use pain and suffering to deepen your faith and increase your reliance on Him? Maybe you, like I, have experienced a hope that transcends the difficult things that life, in this world, can throw at us. Worldly hope is a “maybe” as in, I anticipate that things may get better. But biblical hope, grounded by faith in God, provides the certainty that something better is coming. This is the time for grandparents to model and encourage that hope in our children and grandchildren. It’s a way to support and serve them.
So start with an attitude of hope, then try these practical tips to help your younger family members.
- Empathize! Be honest and open about the fact that life right now is stressful, challenging, unpredictable, and complicated. When your kids and grandkids complain, allow a little extra room for that than you might under normal circumstances. Let them know that you understand that things truly are tougher than usual right now.
- Support your kids first and then, your grandchildren. In most cases, your children will be more anxious than usual and may very well have more anxiety than your grandchildren because they are worried for themselves and for their children. In the midst of that worry, many of them (like my friend Andi) are working and teaching their kids at the same time. It’s not easy. Remember that they didn’t have time to prepare for this. So, ask them how you can help and then pitch in.
- Remind your children and grandchildren that they need to keep up with good self-care that comes with sleeping, eating, staying hydrated, and getting exercise. If you live nearby, help them by dropping by a meal once in a while or planning a family hike or bike ride. If not, arrange for dinner to be delivered once in a while and make it a surprise.
- Relieve your kids and grandkids from being stuck together for long periods of time. While I am usually encouraging family members to spend more time together, there’s such a thing as too much time in the same space and COVID-19 has pressed that to the limit. Remember those two quotes: “Familiarity breeds contempt” and “Absence makes the heart grow fonder”? Both are true. If possible, pick your grandkids up and take them to a park or for a walk while your children have some time alone away from their kids. Let your grandchildren spend some time making memories with you. You can also do this virtually by planning regular chat times online or phone calls where your grandchildren can go to another room and chat with you while mom and dad get some well-deserved rest.
- Consider a financial gift if times are especially hard. I usually don’t recommend giving adult children money because more often than not, it interferes with them learning good money management skills. You know what I mean. Sometimes, they need to struggle a little in order to impose limits on themselves. But extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. Pray about the possibility and if you feel the Spirit moves you and you’re able to be generous, do it. You might offer to pay a bill or drop off a week’s worth of groceries. This pandemic was unexpected and there was little time to plan for some significant changes so nearly everyone’s finances have taken a hit in some way. For those who were already doing the best they could on modest incomes, a little unexpected help may keep them from experiencing a financial crisis.
- Be intentional about pointing out and celebrating the good things happening in your children’s’ and grandchildren’s lives. Many of them are feeling as if they’re stuck in a bad dream that won’t ever end. They need reminders to see, feel, and enjoy the good moments: a good day of online learning, connecting with friends they haven’t seen for a while, or participation in an event that they weren’t allowed to experience a few months ago.
For every unexpected situation that life throws at us, we can make the worst of it or the best of it. I encourage you to support your children and grandchildren while they move through the pandemic and the consequences of it. Step in to help where you can and celebrate the little victories until life gets back to a new and better normal.