By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger
Being a grandparent or a mentor can be one of the most rewarding experiences of one’s life. However, it isn’t always easy, especially for devout Catholics whose adult children are reluctant to pass on the faith to future generations. “I want to explore the challenges of being a grandparent, but recognize the opportunities those challenges can (bring) for us,” author and grandparent Lauri Przybysz told Catholics during a workshop earlier this year.
The Diocese of Davenport hosted the virtual workshop July 23 in celebration of the first World Day for Grandparents and the Elderly. Pope Francis recently instituted this special day for the fourth Sunday of July as part of the “Amoris Laetitia Family Year.”
Marianne Agnoli, Marriage and Family Life coordinator for the diocese, started the evening with a prayer from retired Pope Benedict XVI. “Look with love on grandparents the world over,” she prayed. “Make them teachers of wisdom and courage, that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.”
Przybysz, past president of the National Association of Family Life Ministers, encouraged participants to refrain from being heavy-handed about catechizing grandchildren or other young people. ”Remember, grandparenting is a spectator sport. You’re there to encourage and be of assistance, but you aren’t the head of the organization. Be a presence whenever you can, and recognize that you aren’t alone” in this struggle. “The fact is that young people are drifting away from religion.”
It can be heartbreaking for faith-filled grandparents to know their grandchildren are not being catechized at home or have not been baptized, but Przybysz warned participants against aggressively nagging family members about it or taking matters into their own hands by arranging for “secret baptisms.” Such actions can cause a family rift and break lines of communication with the grandchildren. The best thing mentors and elder family members can do is to be present, and not pushy. “Stay connected even when we and others don’t agree … try to understand” loved ones’ viewpoints.
When family members are not practicing the faith, “it is important to listen to them and recognize that God sometimes takes a while to reach someone,” Przybysz said. She cited St. Monica’s prayerful, gentle approach to bringing her son, St. Augustine of Hippo, into the faith after years of resistance. “Sometimes we get impatient … but don’t worry. In God’s time your faithful witness could be a motivator for that young person to come to faith later in life.”
Grandparents can set good examples by staying firm in their faith, educating themselves and leading by example. “Be ready to give an answer if someone asks you why Catholics do what they do,” Przybysz suggested, noting it is also helpful to read up on reasons young people drift away from the Catholic Church.
Keeping close ties with children and grandchildren and building a trusting relationship is essential. “You can provide a safe space when trouble comes … and show it’s possible to emerge from hardship.” Staying calm in the midst of conflict is another way to build trust. Holidays can be a great time to bond with children and grandchildren through the sharing of family traditions.
Grandparents who have a close relationship with their grandchildren can find non-aggressive ways to share the faith, such as inviting them to a church picnic. When a grandparent is caring for the child, they can pray before a meal and before bed. Additionally, a grandparent can ask their grandchild to pray for them. “They may not have thought of praying at any other time, but when someone asks you to pray they take it seriously,” she observes. Grandparents do not need to hide their faith; offering blessings and having religious objects around the house can offer opportunities for grandchildren to ask questions. If a grandparent does not live nearby, “face-timing” (video chat) can be a valuable tool for building or maintaining relationships.
Przybysz urged mentors and grandparents not to be afraid or embarrassed to seek help or support. Communities or parishes may have support groups and the internet is filled with supportive resources for mentors and grandparents. “Google ‘grandparent resources near me,’” she said.
In a question and answer session to wrap up the workshop, participants offered examples of how they share faith with grandchildren.
One grandmother said she gave her grandchildren the recordable storybook, “Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep,” so they can hear her “praying” with them when she’s not there. A few sets of grandparents talked about their learning curve with technology, but it has allowed them to have deeper relationships with their grandchildren.
One grandmother, a retired social work professional, appreciated the affirmation that the ability to stay calm in a contentious situation is a great way to build trust. The ability to quiet oneself and avoid rolling eyes and aggressive comments “is very important in many circumstances,” not just in grandparenting, she said.
Przybysz sent participants off with the following message: “Stay connected, keep learning, find community, trust God, and over all, love.”
Some Recommended Resources
“Catholic and Grandparenting: 5 Challenges and 5 Opportunities” by Lauri Przybysz (https://
“World Day of Grandparents” 4-Book Bundle (both available at https://pastoral.center/gifts-seniors)
“Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep” recordable book (available at www.hallmark.com)
Grandly: The Strategic Grandparents Club (http://grandly.org/)
The Grandparent Guide: What’s New? What’s the Same? (https://www.zerotothree.org/resources/1985-the-grandparent-guide-what-s-new-what-s-the-same)
Christian Family Movement (www.cfm.org)
The Grand Adventure: a six-meeting grandparenting program (www.cfm.org)