Posted by Sarah Anderson
Just two days into the New Year we got the difficult news that my 91-year-old grandmother had passed away. In the days that followed we did what everyone does in the grieving process. We remembered. We told a lot of stories. We recalled conversations and pivotal moments that stood out to us as we recalled the matriarch of the family.
And what we recalled, was that my grandmother was a great question asker. She had a reputation for getting the dirt on everything—specifically any romantic relationships we may have been involved in. This was torturous as teenagers, but endearing as we got older, when we started to see her incessant digging for information as not just a means to know more. It was a means to a different end. It was a way for her to encourage us and support us in whatever it was we were doing. Her great questions made her a great grandmother.
Barbara Walters, the reporter famous for her interviews with high profile people and her uncanny ability to make people cry with the questions she asked, was interviewed herself when her retirement from the broadcasting was coming to a close. About her iconic role in the history of broadcasting, she said this, “The most important thing a journalist or interviewer can do is to listen. Too often we write questions down and no matter what, we go onto our second question and our third question because that’s the way we’ve written them. We shouldn’t. The first question gets asked and the second question should be, why? How come? Tell me more.”
Obviously she was a pro as an interviewer. But her insights at what made her so great at her job are the same things that made my grandmother extraordinary.
Questions are powerful—made all the more powerful when they are a response to what we intentionally listened for first.
Purposeful questions are the best and easiest tool we have as parents to invest in the lives of our kids.
They communicate that we want more than information—we want insight into what makes our kids tick, motivates them, challenges them and hurts them.
A good first question says, I’m interested.
Active listening says, I care.
An intentional second question says, you matter.
And what follows creates relational equity between you and your kids.
So sure, we can start, with the “How was your day?” “What happened at school?” “What did you learn at church?” But what happens next can’t be found in any book, blog, or article. What happens next is up to us. It can’t be scripted or predicted but that’s where the magic happens.
It happens in the quiet, as your child slowly, peels back the layers of their life, and you thirstily drink in what they have carefully entrusted with you. And it happens when your reaction and your response communicate over and over and over again, “You’ve got my full attention, there is no where I would rather be, thanks for letting me in.”
Be prepared. You may get more than you bargained for. You may learn the details of everyone’s show and tell treasures, about the kid next to them on the bus, the specifics of what was served in the lunch line, or the atrocities of their Chemistry class. But you’ll also become the best student of your child and the earn yourself a reputation, and some day a legacy as being the person in your child’s life who did whatever it took to get to the heart of the matter, to get to the heart of them. No one soon forgets that.
They may not know it now, but what you are working towards as a parent who asks a good first question, but even better second question, is becoming the best front row attender to your kids’ lives they’ll ever know. Becoming their cheerleader, their confidant and their biographer of life, who remembers all the big stuff but has managed to tuck away the little stuff too—the stuff that makes your kids uniquely them and uniquely yours.
And that is a legacy worth creating with your kids and worth leaving behind for them.
About the Author:
Sarah Anderson writes for the XP3 student curriculum at Orange. She is married to Rodney Anderson and is mom to two beautiful bouncy boys, Asher and Pace. Follow her on Twitter @sarahb_anderson.
THE POWER OF A GRANDPARENT’S STORY
Posted by Sherry Surratt
It’s time somebody said it. Grandparents matter. We step in and dare to tread where even the bravest of parents won’t. We invite those little people to climb in our lap with their damp bottoms and sticky fingers. We listen to endless jokes that have no punchline. We cram our oversized behinds into itty bitty pink plastic Barbie chairs for princess tea parties that don’t even include tea while wearing a plastic tiara that digs into our scalp. And we like it. We like it because that five-year-old who invited us is the perfect balance of spicy delight and winsome charm.
These are not the activities I would choose to do on my own, mind you. The other day I listened to an endless description of a little boy on the playground that had big ears and a rip in the seat of his shorts who happily shared his candy corn. (That story went nowhere by the way. I think the point was that he had candy corn and candy corn is good.) But as I gaze into the faces of three-year-old Mollie Rose and five-year-old Maggie Claire (both southern girls, hence the double names) who share such stories, something happens. Life gets bigger.
I am captivated by these short people that belong to me even though I didn’t give birth to them. Their faces hold breathtaking glimpses of days long past and delightful promises of days to come. These glimpses remind me that the days are long but the years are short and fly by with lightning speed. It causes me to slow down and consider the implications. Being a “Mimi” (nobody utters the word grandma in my house) is so much bigger than having the joy of saying “yes” to another roll of Smarties before we’ve even had dinner. My husband Geoff and I are the life-giving keepers of their story.
We hold the story of how their daddy came into the world and was the most beautiful creation ever but who also looked a little like Yoda, all arms and spindly legs. We share the wonder of when each of our kids and grandkids came into the world and how it was magical and overwhelming and the most wonderful day EVER all rolled into one. When we share these stories, we’re not just sharing words. We’re giving a peek behind the curtain of our family in ways only we can. As we share the funny (the time their daddy broke eggs on the kitchen floor because he wanted to see their insides), and the frustrating (the time Aunt Boo shared her brilliance by writing the word “FOX” on her wall and carpet and bed with a permanent marker), and their lineage (how their daddy was the first grandchild to my parents and how Maggie Claire was their first great-grandchild.)
With our words, we’re not just passing on a legacy, we’re outliving ourselves. The Surratt name has a rich history of characters who mostly did the best they could, making both good and poor choices, some insignificant and others profound. As we tell the story, both the funny and the hard, the brilliant and the obscure, we paint an imperfect picture; a hot-mess-of-a-crew connected by more than birth. In the very telling of it, it sets the stage. It says “Yes, you will make mistakes too, but you’ll also do great things. Either way, you are one of us, and we will imperfectly share mercy and grace and try to love you like God loves us.”
When we share the story of how their great-great-grandpa started a church in an old storefront and gathered the family for the reading of the Christmas story mispronouncing some of the words with tears rolling down his cheeks, we’re passing along the foundation of who God is and how it shapes who we are today. In the telling and the listening, we are saying it’s okay to be imperfect and messy and broken, but we’re Surratts and that means something. You belong to us and we’re proud as can be.
My role as “Mimi,” and Geoff’s role as “Papa,” matters. When we listen to the grandkids stories that have no point or plot, and as we play games where the rules change with the breeze, our presence screams loudly, “You matter! To me and to our family.”
So grandparents, tell the story. If you don’t live nearby, you’ll need to get creative with Skype or Facetime and tell it in a way that melts the distance into nothingness. Don’t for a moment think that being a grandparent equals irrelevance. You matter. No one else can do what you do.
To think about:
What’s the most creative way you’ve shared stories with your grandkids?
About the Author:
Sherry Surratt is the Executive Director of Parent Strategy for Orange. She is the author of several books including Brave Mom: Facing and Overcoming Your Real Mom Fears, and Just Lead! A No Whining, No Nonsense Practical Guide for Women Leaders in the Church. A shoe freak and coffee lover, Sherry resides in Denver, Co with her husband Geoff who is Pastor of Church Planting at Southeast Christian. She has two grown children and two incredibly gorgeous granddaughters.