One of the greatest desires of a caring grandfather is to see his grandchildren reach their full potential. He can help them reach their full potential by passing on the life skills, talents, and competencies that he has learned during his life. Mentoring work refers to the time, effort, and energy grandfathers demonstrate to teach, coach, guide, and correct their grandchildren as they learn practical knowledge and skills. Grandfathers are motivated to do mentoring work because of their grandchildren’s need to be competent in and informed about their world. Grandfathers are also motivated to pass on part of themselves—their own knowledge, skills, and learning—to the next generation.
Mentoring work is an important dimension of grandfatherwork, which is defined as, “the effort, energy, time, and resources grandfathers put forth to care for, serve, meet the developmental needs of, and maintain relationships with their descendants” (Bates 2009, 338). Simply being a grandfather does not take much effort. However, grandfathering is more than being a passive observer; it implies action and engagement. It means that a grandfather makes a conscious commitment to be present and participate actively in his grandchildren’s lives. It also means he takes a personal interest in helping his grandchildren reach their potential.
Grandfatherwork is grounded in the human developmental stage of generativity. Life span theorist Erik Erikson proposed the term generativity in 1950 which refers to the motivation to teach, establish, contribute to, and care for subsequent generations. Grandfatherwork is one way aging men can practice generativity. By teaching, guiding, and nurturing grandchildren in and through various activities, grandfathers are fulfilling their own developmental need to be generative. If aging men are not actively engaged in generative activities they are not working toward their developmental potential and may become stagnate and self-absorbed (Erikson 1982).
Benefits to Grandchildren
Talents, skills, and knowledge that a grandfather attempts to transmit to his grandchildren reflect his occupation, education, and hobbies. For example, two brothers who lived with their grandfather when they were children would often tag along when he would wire a house for electricity. They learned how to install electrical wiring from their grandfather and both eventually became professional electricians.
A grandfather’s efforts to perform mentoring work can be influential on his grandchild’s personal growth, values, and beliefs. Research indicates, even after accounting for the amount of contact, there is a moderately strong tie between doing mentoring work and a grandfather’s influence on grandchild’s family ideals and values, trustworthiness, intellect and creativity, work ethic, beliefs about education, and success in the future. This suggests that by working to instill practical skills in his grandchild, a grandfather is impacting other important areas of his grandchild’s personal growth and development.
Grandfathers may not always be successful in passing on skills and knowledge. Indeed, some grandchildren may not be interested in learning from their grandfathers. If learning is accomplished, grandchildren may choose not to put it into practice in their lives. Regardless of the outcomes of his efforts, for many grandfathers, the teaching of skills and the sharing of knowledge and talent is important for relationship development and for supporting and nurturing the emotional development of their grandchildren.
To be successful in mentoring, grandfathers should engage in teaching opportunities with patience, calm persistence, and enthusiasm. Grandfathers can demonstrate or model the skill, explain how to do it, and allow the grandchildren to practice it. Keeping a grandchild involved in the learning by coupling the new skills with the grandchild’s preferences and interests is essential.
Benefits to Grandfathers
Research on grandfathers who participate in mentoring work has found that greater involvement is related to enhanced grandfather-grandchild emotional closeness and to higher levels of relationship satisfaction. This means that doing mentoring work strengthens a grandfather’s personal connection with his grandchild and makes that relationship more meaningful and satisfying. Mentoring work is also related to a man’s satisfaction as a teacher of practical skills. As he teaches his grandchildren skills and helps them develop talents and abilities, he experiences greater satisfaction knowing that he is doing his part in the family. Research has also found that grandfathers who said they mentor their grandchildren also report increased feelings of happiness, hopefulness about the future, and life enjoyment.
Activities for Grandfathers to Do with Grandchildren
- Teach grandchildren practical life skills such as how to sew on a button, change a car’s oil, how to brush their teeth, and so on. There is an inexhaustive list of skills grandfathers can teach.
- Discuss current events with grandchildren and how such events might affect them.
- Encourage grandchildren to develop their talents in dance, music, sport, and employment.
- Teach grandchildren how to prepare meals and dishes, preserve foods, or grow fruits and vegetables in their own garden.
- Share hobbies with grandchildren and allow them to participate according to their abilities.
- Foster grandchildren’s intellectual growth by encouraging them to work hard in school, by assisting with homework, and by attending their school events.
- Teach grandchildren how to make responsible financial decisions such as purchasing items that will retain value, saving for the future, budgeting, and giving to charity.
Note: Data mentioned in this document are from the author’s research project titled “Grandfather Involvement and Health Survey.” This is the first time these data have been published.
This fact sheet is part of the Nurturant Grandfathering series, including: Let's Get Involved (HYG-5800), Lineage Work (HYG-5801), Mentoring Work (HYG-5802), Spiritual Work (HYG-5803), Character Work (HYG-5804), Recreation Work (HYG-5805), Family Identity Work (HYG-5806), and Investment Work (HYG-5807).
Bates, James. 2009. “Generative grandfathering: A conceptual framework for nurturing grandchildren.” Marriage & Family Review, 45, 331-352.
Erikson, Erik H. 1950. Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
Erikson, Erik H. 1982. The life cycle completed. New York: Norton.