Selfish Grandparent, or Healthy?


by Dr. Paul Schmidt

            A client recently shared with me a very helpful sermon he had heard from his pastor, Brian Tome at Crossroads Church in Lexington.  It helped me as a grandparent, and it made me think about the various styles of grandparenting I have heard described in my office.

            The sermon contrasted five ways to distinguish a patriarch grandfather from a grandpa.  The sermon was about living for the long haul, an attitude it described as the patriarch style.  Tome says that patriarchs are mentors, and by contrast, he said grandpas are huggers. Matriarchs leave a legacy, where grandmas want the grandchild to create a legacy for her.  A patriarch attracts and adds people to the family, but a grandpa’s circle of concern tends to shrink over time.  The matriarch leads toward change, but a grandma tends to be retro and conservative.  A patriarch sits in the front seat, looking and moving forward, whereas a grandpa gets close to his grandchild in the backseat, looking backwards in time, through a rearview mirror.

            Rev. Tome did not talk about selfishness or healthiness, but to me, this is the contrast he kept making.  His sermon got me to thinking about other ways we can tell how selfish or healthy we are being in relating to our grandchildren.  I am assuming here that it is healthy to be unselfish.  Since we reap what we sow, and no one can really enjoy a selfish grandchild, it is healthy, unselfish grandchildren who will bring pride and joy to their grandparents.  So let’s look at ourselves as grandparents (GP’s), by considering seven other ways to see how selfish or healthy we are.

            The healthy GP trains his grandchild through discipline, but the selfish GP is afraid to discipline.  Healthy GP’s lead discussions, but selfish GP’s too often are lazy, and just follow their grandchildren’s conversation.

            The healthy GP lives her life as an example, while the selfish GP is more of a spectator, and may even see her grandchild as the example to follow.  When you ask healthy GP’s how they are doing, they will tell you, honestly.  But if you ask selfish grandparents how they are doing, they are prone to evade the question, and tell you instead how their grandchildren are doing.

            The unselfish GP gives unconditionally, but the selfish GP gives to get.  The unselfish GP sends his grandchildren on guilt trips so that they will come by and visit him.  But the unselfish GP will go out of his way and take a love trip to come into his grandchildren’s world as a blessing to all who are there.

            Unselfish GP’s support their own children (and their children’s spouses) as authorities over their grandchildren, and as much as they can, they submit to the priorities and practices of the middle generation.  When they cannot in good conscience do so, instead of openly or secretly defying their children, they talk things out with them privately.  If that doesn’t work, they seek new resolutions with mutually trusted third parties.

            The unselfish GP speaks his grandchild’s language, but the selfish GP trains the grandchild to say what he wants to hear.  Unselfish GP’s make the effort to keep up with technology, which is a primary love language of the young.   

            The unselfish GP gives good advice, but only when asked, when the listener is ready, but too often the selfish GP gives unsolicited and bogus advice.  Healthy GP’s invite and encourage their grandchildren to make healthy choices, presenting them as opportunities for the young.  But unhealthy GP’s too often encourage selfish behavior in their grandchildren, and defend these over-protections and over-indulgences as the right of the elderly.

            The unselfish GP focuses more on personal growth and wellbeing, while the selfish GP is more oriented to physical comfort and pleasure.  Unhealthy GP’s talk about their physical pains and disabilities more than their personal wellness and ability.  Likewise they raise grandchildren to prefer seeking pleasure and avoiding pain over the personal fulfillments of mental, relational, and spiritual growth.

            In closing, I have come to believe from both personal and professional experience that aging tends tomake us all more selfish and unhealthy in our choices.  But being around our grandchildren can offer a healthy antidote to that curse.  When we really pay attention to our grandchildren and think carefully about what they need to have a good life in the long run, we receive powerful guidance and motivation for all our sakes to make healthier choices.

Dr. Schmidt is a psychologist life coach in Middletown, Lexington, and Shelbyville (502) 633-2860,

Dr. Paul Schmidt is a psychologist life coach you can reach at [email protected], (502) 633-2860.


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Dr. Paul F. Schmidt