When Being a Grandparent is Hard

Advice from my mother about being a grandparent, “Your job is to love them.” (Linda Kistler)

My dad turns 60 years old today. He has been my dad for 36.5 years. He has been a husband and father longer than he has done most things. He has been a grandfather for 12 years and in that time seven grandchildren have been added to his family. What I have witnessed in my father is a man who is continually “righting” himself. I have learned a lot about being a parent from watching him navigate being a grandparent. Because like being a parent – being a grandparent is not always easy. It doesn’t just happen naturally for everyone.

This story is for when being a grandparent is hard.

a moment in my shoes jkmcguire

A Back History

During my growing up years my dad had a temper. He never struck my mother nor did he lay a hand on us kids beyond discipline (our parents weren’t very creative in disciplining us…nor were their parents before them), but he did have a bit of anger inside.

Seriously if you watched how his family of origin navigates around him and about him even today – his anger at the time is not all that surprising.

So that anger would bubble over and lash out at those closest to him when he was frustrated, worried, hurt, or afraid.

In the process a part of me learned to fear him.

Now to be honest I was afraid of a lot of things and places and people when I was a kid – like basements, the dark, being raped, and everyone being raptured without me. Now add going to do laundry in the basement after watching those “Thief in the Night” videos that our Wednesday night church showed to us 4th graders – and every time I went to help do the laundry in the basement I would run upstairs terrified that my family had been taken to be with Jesus while I was being a heathen/unbeliever in the basement. EVERY TIME I was terrified.

It is funny now, but I feared most grownups at the time. I was an Evangelical, churched girl. And church folks dealt in fear and shame and trying to keep us kids from burning in hell. It was all about keeping us in our place so that our actions pleased God.

So anyways – I was afraid.

Then my parents became staff foster parents which meant we had a house filled with neglected and hurting kids and my dad was not working the way that he had been. He was not outside of our home as much.

During that time we discovered a dad who was playful, emotional, gentle, and present.

His being fully and intentionally present (emotionally, physically, and spiritually) saved our relationship.

He was a father I learned that I could “lean into” – I could trust him with the real me.

kistlerfamily watermarked

¬†For example…

When I brought home a “D” in Algebra 2 in high school and my dad did not react in anger, but instead asked, “Did you do your best work? Did you do everything you could?” And I felt like I could answer him honestly without his over-reaction, “No, I could have done better.”

He did not rage. He did not shame me. He did not guilt-trip, use silence, turn away, ridicule, name-call, or mock my lack of effort…

that is when I began to recognize the changes in my father. I began to see that he was shifting.

His shifting wooed my heart.

And our relationship was saved. Plus it inspired me so…I began to work harder in school and was able to bring my math grades up into As and Bs for the remainder of the year. My math teacher actually complimented my efforts and recommended I take higher level math courses for the next year.

When our children witness our stumblings and “Rightings” – when we “right” ourselves in front of them – by doing it right which means reacting correctly, leaning into them instead of pushing them away the next time they disappoint us…this is holy ground, grace-based parenting that inspires and encourages kids to be the best version of themselves.

Vulnerable parents and grandparents win the hearts of their family.

vulnerable fathers jkmcguire

How Does This Relate to Being a Grandparent?

I told you the above story so that you could get an image of our relationship.

Because a grown child’s relationship and history with their parents greatly shapes the relationship that a grandparent is going to have or not have with their grandchildren.

When, my dad’s oldest granddaughter, our daughter was born almost 12 years ago she did not receive him the way that we had hoped and envisioned that she would. When she basically rejected all men from about 9 months till about 5 or 6 years of age, barely tolerating her own father for the first few years of life it was really hard on my dad.

Grandkids can magnify all your insecurities and in the process throw all your imperfections back at you.

Our oldest child is the master at keeping grownups humbled and in check from her birth to now. She humbles her father and I daily.

But my dad had to learn how to love her and grandparent her in a way that uniquely fit who she is and what she needed.


Loving her was not automatic or easy because she has never reciprocated in a manner that would make you feel valued and loved and appreciated. She is a lot like her father. She is not bribed. She is not easily manipulated. And those qualities are not a deficit in her character – that means she is not easily bought. I love that fierce quality she holds. Because she is not likely to grow up needing other people’s approval to navigate. She won’t live frozen by rejection. Go Girl.

And seriously she was not impressed by anyone’s attempts to woo her.

Grandparenting is not always automatic or easy. Like parenting, some people are not “naturals” from the moment they hold their first child/grandchild.

No matter how much enthusiasm you bring to being a grandparent – for some kids it is going to take a lot of patience, quiet “leaning in,” and always a spirit of being teachable.

You have to be willing to get to know them on their terms – not your own.

Stubborn, pigheaded, know-it-all, forcing it grandparents/parents lose their grandkids/kids every single time.

when a being a grandparent is hard jkmcguire

What our girl needed was a steady, non-pushy, not overbearing presence in a grandfather. She needed a grandpa who leaned in when she was frightened and anxious. Who would tease and laugh with her – not at her. Who was willing to learn how to grandparent her even though it was going to be hard. And even when it hurt.

And in the process of learning how to grandparent her best – he won her heart.

My dad had to learn how to not allow the hurt and resentment that could build because his efforts were continually being squashed and hopes dashed – to not allow her rejections of him to define their relationship.

Now that little girl who was afraid and rejecting has become a preteen who jumps down out of the truck when we visit, pats her Pappy on the top of his head to show him how tall she has gotten, and snuggles up close to him on the couch to watch car shows with the menfolk.

A little girl’s heart that was anxious of new places and terrified of new faces – yes, even faces she knew – found a safe place in her Pappy’s hands.

And even though it takes a big learning curve to navigate all these crazy, glorious grandbabies that he has been given –

He is continually learning how to “right” himself.

And it is pretty awesome to witness.

Happy Birthday Dad… Thank you for being a safe place for our family.

You are loved!



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