Grandfamilies: Sideways–Six Things You Can Do When Trouble Comes


Cadence and Lala. February 2014.

If you know someone whom trouble has never visited, well, you don’t know that person as well as you think you do. Rotten stuff happens. It rolls right in along an astounding array of avenues, squats down in the middle of our routines, cracks itself open like an old egg, and raises a stink.

Sometimes, bad things–like car accidents or job layoffs–happen to people we love. Sometimes, bad things–like earthquakes or persecution–happen to large groups of people, and our loved ones are swept up in the ugliness. Sometimes, bad things–like assaults or bullying–are aimed at people we love. Sometimes, bad things–like addiction or prison terms–result from bad things our loved ones choose to do. And often, these bad things, ranging in intensity from disappointing to devastating, affect our children and our grandlittles.

May God forbid it all–except He doesn’t. So, when the phone rings or reporters camp on the doorstep or the ground underfoot begins to shimmy, what’s a grandparent to do?

I know six things that can help in every situation, be it a disappointment or a devastation, be it an unhappy accident or an act of intentional malice. Here’s my list.

Number 6: Listen. Whoever is telling you the tale, listen. Listen with your ears and your heart and your head. Hold your tongue and listen. Now. Keep listening. Now. Shhh. Listen some more. 

Number 5: Ask. How can I help? These are good words. Say them every day. Get used to their feel in your mouth. Practice them so much that they fly out when you don’t expect them. And remember: Whatever judgment leaps to mind when you hear of trouble (I can’t be the only one who goes here first, can I?), you’ll help nobody–not even your own heart–by dwelling on judgment or pronouncing it. If your impulse in this circumstance is to judge, give it long and prayerful consideration before you speak. I’m talking days and days of contemplation.

Number 4: Feel. Something bad has happened. People you love best on this whole wide earth are affected. You will feel bad. Let yourself feel bad. Dive deeply into the pool of sorrow, or rage, or indignation, or whatever else you’re feeling. It’s probably a stew of bad stuff: give yourself some time to sort out its ingredients before you speak or act. Do you keep a journal? It’s your friend right now.

Number 3: Align. Your daughter might be disappointed that she didn’t get the big promotion she expected. Maybe you’re livid. This event happened to her, not to you. As best you can, align your response to hers–don’t express more upset than she does. You feel what you feel, but you have some control over what you share with the world. Use it.

Conversely, your ten-year-old child or grandlittle might be heartbroken that his best friend chose a different partner for the big class project. It may seem like a minor snub to you, but those tender young feelings are experiencing genuine hurt. If I could only offer you two words of counsel, ever, they would be: Never belittle. 

Number 2: Love. Love never fails, remember? It’s in that famous passage that we’ve all heard at way too many weddings. If your granddaughter is in jail, you can say, I hate it that you’re in here, I don’t like what you did, but I love you. I will always love you. If your  grandson is facing his first big heartbreak, it’s okay to tell him that love is complicated and messy and sometimes it hurts deep and hard. It’s not okay to tell him that it’s all for the best, or that it wasn’t real love, or that he’s overreacting. Think those things, if you must, but remember that speaking them isn’t loving.

Number 1: Pray. You knew this already, right? Beseech. Intercede. Beg. Plead. Cry out. Activate your prayer chain. Call your best prayer-warrior friend and ask him to pray, too. God loves you. God loves your loved one. He’s waiting to hear from you. And He can take whatever it is you have to tell Him. And your troubled one? However much she may resist whatever support or assistance you try to offer, she is powerless against your prayers. So go to the throne.

 None of these steps is crazy-unheard-of-news, but when you’re in the midst of turmoil, it can be hard to think clearly. And the cumulative power of all six steps is much greater than any one or two alone. Be brave. Love your family. Don’t ignore the hard stuff. 

God’s got you. 

rabbit conga

A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.
Proverbs 17:17 (ESV)

rabbit conga

On Tuesdays, we’re talking about families and the joys and challenges that arise when we stretch across three (or more?) generations (child, parent, grandparent). Everyone is welcome, and I hope to hear each generation’s perspective.  Being family is by turns effortless, impossible, blessed, challenging, hurtful, joyous . . . . Let’s talk about it.
Please join us.


  1. FABULOUS list, Sheila. Really REALLY well done!!

  2. Yes. I need to remember these…

  3. This is awesome, Sheila. Thank you.

Leave a Comment