Welcome back to Thoroughly Modern Mimis! Mimi, Grammy, Nana, GiGi, Oma, Grandma . . . they’re all terms of endearment for one of the most important roles in life’s second act: grandparenting. And what a grand act it is!

Cavin Harper, Executive Director of Christian Grandparenting Network and author of Courageous Grandparenting, joins us today to share the Three D’s of Grandparenting! 

Leave a comment on this post for a chance to win a copy of Courageous Grandparenting! Winner will be announced next week.


The 3 D’s of Successful Grandparenting

Grandparents want to be liked by their grandchildren. But is that all there to grandparenting? Is making sure your grandkids like you what successful grandparenting is all about?

Mama Cass Elliot, of the famed Mamas and Papas, had a 1968 hit a song called Dream A Little Dream of Me. It was one of my Mama Cass favorites. The refrain went like this:

Sweet dreams till sunbeams find you,
Sweet dreams that leave all worries behind you.
But in your dreams, whatever they be,
Dream a little dream of me.

Like Mama Cass, all of us long for love. Who doesn’t want someone to care enough that in some meaningful way we are part of his or her dreams.

Grandparents want that too. There’s nothing like the enthusiasm of your grandkids when you hear them shout, “Goodie… Nana and Papa are here!” I love it when I know my grandkids are anxious to see me. It can’t be beat.

Come on … admit it. Some of you have your own “dream-a-little-dream-of-me” song. Am I right? You have those dreams that say: I dream you like me and like being with me. I dream that you come to my house and don’t want to leave because it’s such fun. I dream that our time together is so special that we will both dream of being with each other. There’s nothing wrong with being liked by your grandkids, and having a great time with them—unless that’s the sum total of the relationship.

When I became a grandparent for the very first time, I received a t-shirt soon afterward that said:

Grandparent’s To-Do List:

1) Fill them up with sugar;

2) Send them home

I see you smiling. We’re tempted to chuckle at this and think it’s cool. Sadly, a large number of today’s grandparents really do believe this represents their one and only role—enjoy my grandkids, make sure they are having a good time, then, thankfully, send them home.

Stop for a moment and consider. Is having a good time all there is to being a successful grandparent? Is it good enough to simply be ‘good’ grandparents whose grandkids like us because they can do whatever they want at our house? Or is there something more—expectations and roles that take grandparenting to another level for the sake of our grandchildren?

Every person leaves a legacy—that is a certainty. The question is… what kind?

[Tweet “Every person leaves a legacy. The question is…what kind? @livingalegacy”]

If you been around long enough to be a grandparent, you are likely aware of this principle of life: Decisions determine Direction, which determines Destination.

Andy Stanley calls this the Principle of the Path. It captures the foundational truth about the life each of us lives. Simply put, every decision we make determines a direction (a path) that we will follow, and that path will always lead to a pre-determined destination. So what does this have to do with successful grandparenting?

In the same way that parents make determinations about what they believe successful parenting means, grandparent must also determine what a successful grandparent looks like. Ask yourself what outcome you desire for your grandchildren when they become adults, and hopefully, parents themselves? What do you want them to say about the legacy you left to them when you are gone? These foundational questions start us on this 3-D journey toward successful grandparenting.

#1: What’s Your DESTINATION?

DESTINATION: What is your definition of success as a grandparent? Do you define it by how good a time you have with them and how much they like you? Or do you define success in other terms? I don’t believe successful grandparenting is determined by the good times I have with my grandchildren. I’m all for good times. Believe me, we have lots of good times together. But good times and being a ‘good’ grandparent does not define success as a grandparent.

This is my definition of successful grandparenting: Knowing I have done everything in my power to help my grandchildren know what is true and right, and that I have been a positive influence in their choice to walk in the truth. I can think of no greater joy and reward than that.

How do you define successful grandparenting? How you define it will be your desired destination, and that leads us to our second ‘D’…

#2: A Matter of DIRECTION

Think of DIRECTION as your philosophy of life. Your definition of success—destination—will lead to a path, or direction. For example, if your philosophy of life is built around good feelings and good times, you will probably choose the path of convenience and amusement. This path is all about what is fun, comfortable, and makes me feel good. It rarely takes into consideration what is good for my grandchildren in the long run.

On the other hand, if my philosophy revolves around doing the right thing, then I will choose the path of conviction. Conviction doesn’t preclude having a good time, but it does value character above convenience. Remember, every path (direction) has a pre-determined destination. We may convince ourselves that we want to get to a certain destination, but because of the direction we choose, that path will lead to a completely different destination than we intended.

You may say that your intended destination is to see your grandchildren walking in the truth, but if the direction you take is the path of convenience, no amount of good intentions will change the destination of that path. That path already has a pre-determined destination. The challenge is now figuring out how to stay on the path that leads to the right destination.

#3: It Comes Down to DECISIONS

How do we stay on the path that takes us to our desired destination? It all comes down to daily DECISIONS. The daily decisions about how I invest the numerous assets God has given me (time, skills, knowledge, finances, life experiences, wisdom, etc.) determine what path I will walk and the final destination I will achieve.

One grandmother I know told her daughter-in-law that if she wasn’t allowed to give junk food to her grandkids and let them stay up late at night (things Mom and Dad had asked her not to do), her grandkids would not like her, and therefore, would not want to come visit. “It’s what grandmothers do,” she told her daughter-in-law. “They know they can do things at grandma’s they can’t do at home. That why they like coming here.”

This young mother wisely told her mother-in-law, “Mom, we want them to like you too, but you’re wrong in assuming that how much they like you is based upon how much junk food you feed them or how late they are allowed to stay up. If what they eat and what time they go to bed is all there is to measure your worth to them, then something is terribly wrong. These have nothing to do with whether or not they like you.”

Sound familiar? I can’t begin to tell you how many grandparents have bought into the lie that this grandmother believed to be true.

Everyday decisions we make about the kind of gifts we buy them, the junk we give them, the conversations we have with them, and the values we model for them are path decisions. Does having a good time with our grandkids take us off track? No, unless that is all we care about, or we are trying to buy our way into a child’s heart.

The three D’s to successful grandparenting can be summed up in one word—intentionality. Successful grandparents know what destination they want to help their grandchildren reach as adults, and they are intentional about their involvement in helping them arrive at that destination.

The Decision, Direction and Destination choices I make are all about the legacy I leave. I want to know my legacy is worth outliving me. How about you?

[Tweet “Be intentional. @livingalegacy shares the 3 D’s of grandparenting on @SuzanneWfFisher’s blog!”]

About Cavin T. Harper


A graduate of Baylor University (BBA), Cavin worked in the family business in Cheyenne, Wyoming for more than five years before heading off to Denver Seminary in 1975. During and after seminary he served as an associate pastor in Denver for 17 years before leaving to operate Pinecrest Lodge (formerly Christ Haven Lodge), a Christian retreat center owned and operated by his family in Florissant, Colorado. While there he founded ElderQuest Ministries in 1998, which later became known as the Christian Grandparenting Network.


cg_cvr_3d_colorCavin now serves as Executive Director of CGN focusing on speaking and writing about issues related to intentional grandparenting. He also writes two blogs, and hosted a radio broadcast called Not On Our Watch for a year. Cavin has authored Wayfinder (a fictional novel) and the signature book for CGN entitled Courageous Grandparenting: Unshakable Faith in a Broken World. He and his wife, Diane, also created and conducted GrandCamps for grandparents and their grandchildren for more than 15 years. The program is now being reproduced and operated by others at Christian camps and churches throughout the USA.

Cavin and Diane were married in 1969, have two married daughters and nine grandchildren. Their home is in Colorado Springs.


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