I am lucky to have had awesome grandparent role models. Perhaps this is why I love hanging out with over 60s here so much! My grandparents spent years of their life teaching my brothers and I the life skills that we use today. And when I was learning, I am not sure I was even listening to their lessons, they just bore into me through their gentle insistence over many years that I keep trying things their way.
The most important skills and lessons that they taught me can be boiled down into a simple list. But it is oh so much more when you stop and think about how important each of these little things are. How many of these do you value and teach?
Traditions are special and to be relished
My grandmother spent weeks at Christmas teaching us how to bake her mother’s pudding recipe. We’d blanche the almonds for days, soak the fruit, boil the pudding, then dry and season it until Christmas day came around. And on the day we’d work our way through a delightful selection of very traditional recipes handed down our family. These traditions have stuck with me forever and I find myself wanting to teach my children these things. Traditions create memories and memories are an emotive thing in life.
Money doesn’t grow on trees
My grandfather was a great believer in saving money. So much so that my grandmother would have to scrounge away her housekeeping to buy birthday presents for the grandkids, or special things for the house. He used to teach me how to select from the tins available on the supermarket shelf, noting the price tags at a very young age to ensure I got the best price available. Old things were treasured in my family growing up, not disposed of. Furniture was fixed if it broke, oiled if it was stained and every household item was used to its greatest purpose, right down to the ice cream containers and jars that were stored for reuse and for making preserves.
Learn how to look after your things
My grandmother was a stickler for ironing the clothes you wear, and mending holes in things. At a very young age she taught me to stitch up holes and hems, and even how to use a sewing machine. By the age of ten I could iron my own school uniform, which she trained me to do by first letting me iron Grandpa’s hankies for years, as entertainment. Funny to think how long it took to learn the life lessons I take for granted now in caring for my own family and how regularly my Grandma made it part of our days. I remember popping in for a visit and enthusiastically asking if I could iron some more hankies, excited at the opportunity as a child (was I nuts?)
How to use a knife and fork, properly!
My grandmother would set the table with three forks, two knives and a spoon, fabric serviettes and a bread and butter plate many afternoons when we stayed for dinner. My grandfather used to watch us and make sure we knew how to hold the knife with dignity, and the fork without getting our hands dirty. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, as my friends used their forks like shovels. But now as a grown up I appreciate it greatly. In fact I fear proper and tidy use of cutlery could be becoming a lost art in the younger generation and it disappoints me.
Never be too good for your own family
The only people that stuck by my mum through some very hard times in her life was her family, and my Grandparents were very clear on this fact as we grew up. No matter how good you get at what you do, or how special you think you are, it was always the role of our grandparents to remind us to be humble, and to put our family first. And even today I am reminded of this from time to time and my grandfather’s words run through my memory.
Smell the flowers and understand nature
My grandmother was a botanist…. really. She spent a lot of time teaching us as children to appreciate the garden, and the beauty and peace that can be found in nature. And I appreciate that many years later to a great degree. But how many of us have taken the time to show a child how nature really works, and what the garden can give to them. My grandmother would sit us down next to a large spiders web, throw in a grasshopper and give us the best biology lesson of our lives. We would watch as the spider pounced, wound the grasshopper in thread, and gradually did what nature does. The best lesson!
Look people in the eye and listen
Listening seems to be a lost art in today’s society and eye contact is something many people would rather give to their phone than to the people around them. It is sad really, as my grandfather was a stickler for using body language, looking people in the eye, and taking the time to listen to those around you. I find listening and having an active conversation with someone an absolute delight yet so many other people I meet are clearly terribly uncomfortable doing the same. Could grandparents of the current generation be able to stop and work with their grandkids to build better listening skills?
Spelling and language use is important
We all make errors in spelling from time to time, but my grandfather did believe that strong literacy skills were important. He spent years quizzing me on language use, oxymorons, similes and metaphors, especially during the years in my pre-teens when the foundation blocks of literacy were built. I often look at my own children and hope I can do half as good a job of making literacy enjoyable and fun. He taught me to spell “ornithorhynchus” [read: Platypus] at the age of four, and was always riddling clever words and playing word-games with us.
Drop in on your friends, but call first for courtesy
My grandmother’s friend lived just two streets from their house, and she knew us well. We’d frequently drop in on Mrs Croll and she would make us a cup of sweet tea and give us the nice biscuits. But my grandfather was a stickler, if we were planning to drop in on someone, we should always call first. Whether it was a friend down the road, or one of his friends, we would always call first and see if we were welcome.
Be your partner’s best friend
My grandfather always taught me that to be married is to be in a partnership. And the older he got, the more and more his marriage looked like one. My grandmother and grandfather had decades and decades of shared memories, shared friends, shared lives, and shared aspirations to be great parents and grandparents and great role models for us, the kids all the time. But what was most beautiful was the little things. For as long as I remember my grandpa always brought Grandma a cup of tea and a piece of gluten free toast in bed in the morning, and brought his tea back to bed for a chat, propped up on the pillows. He spoke quietly to her about the important things, and never involved others in things that weren’t their business. And he was, I have no doubt, my Grandma’s best friend.
Funnily enough, I know my father watched on in admiration of what my grandfather taught us, and now takes his own role in my childrens’ lives very seriously. He spends a lot of time teaching them lifeskills that I fear might be being lost in today’s society.
And so I ask you, what life skills are you determined that you can influence in the lives of your grandchildren?