Grandparenting Through the Tough Times

Grandparenting Through the Tough Times

Loving our children’s children can also bring heartache or pain. Larry Fowler puts it so well in his book Overcoming Grandparenting Barriers: “The deeper the relationship, the greater the joy—or the pain—it can bring.”[1] Many grandparents feel at a loss to help when there is geographical distance or when dealing with a crisis because of their children’s or grandchildren’s poor choices and broken relationships, but these are perfect times to come alongside and be present in their lives.

Ben and Barbara sat with me over coffee after I gave a seminar on the empty nest at their church. They were in great anguish over their adult daughter’s poor choices and the effect of those choices on their two grandchildren. I didn’t give them easy answers or platitudes. There are none that would have helped. Their daughter had strayed far from their values and faith. She had made one bad decision after another. Drugs, lost faith, a divorce, major blended-family issues, and separation from the family were all part of what they were experiencing. They were filled with worry and regrets even in their own lives. “What did we do wrong?”

This I know: good parents and grandparents can still have kids and grandkids who make poor choices. Here is what we came up with in that conversation. No matter what happens, they could be a safe place for their daughter and her kids. Ben and Barb could offer grace and love, even as they were grieving poor decisions. It is possible to be a safe place even when you are offering tough love. Tough love is simply showing love while allowing the natural consequences of poor choices to play out. Sometimes the best thing to do is not to bail them out but to be there for emotional support. When our children or grandchildren make unwise decisions, life is fluid, but as we create a safe place of love for them, when they fall, they will return to that safe place. If we choose meanness, shunning, or anger, they will look for help somewhere else when they fall.

We also had to talk about these parents’ deep regrets and their second-guessing about their parenting and family. They kept questioning, “What could we have done to keep them from poor choices?” I heard a lot of coulda’s and shoulda’s. Everyone lives with regrets. It’s how we handle our regrets that make a huge difference in our lives. I love what former secretary of state Colin Powell once said in an interview: “What good are regrets? Regrets slow you down. Regrets cause you to fail to pay attention to the future. So I never log, count, or inventory my regrets. I move on.”[2] That’s good advice, though it’s not always easy to follow. We can’t just bury our regrets. The best thing to do with them is to name them, apologize for them when needed, practice gratitude for what we have, be compassionate toward ourselves, not taking too much credit for someone else’s poor choices, learning from them, and moving forward. For me it’s a spiritual discipline found in the writing of the apostle Paul: “I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us” (Phil. 3:13–14 NLT).

[1] Larry Fowler, Overcoming Grandparenting Barriers: How to Navigate Painful Problems with Grace and Truth (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2019), 12.

[2] Quoted in Trude B. Feldman, “Colin Powell at Sixty-five: A Dynamic Statesman,” in “In Honor of Secretary of State Colin Powell’s Sixty-fifth Birthday,” Congressional Record 148, no. 57, May 8, 2002,

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Jim Burns

Jim Burns is the president of HomeWord. He speaks to thousands of people around the world each year. He has close to 2 million resources in print in 20 languages. He primarily writes and speaks on the values of HomeWord, which are: Strong Marriages, Confident Parents, Empowered Kids, and Healthy Leaders. Some of his most popular books are: Confident Parenting, The Purity Code, Creating an Intimate Marriage, Closer, and Doing Life with Your Adult Children. Jim and his wife, Cathy, live in Southern California and have three grown daughters, Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi; three sons-in-law, Steve and Matt, and Andy; and three grandchildren, James, Charlotte and Huxley.

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