A survey of grandfathers revealed that the most important character traits they hoped their grandchild would develop were kindness, cooperation, warmth, generosity, and selflessness. Grandfathers can play an important role in helping grandchildren develop these and other character traits. Character work refers to grandfathers’ efforts to nurture and shape the character and personality traits of their grandchildren. As they do, they address their grandchildren’s needs to be sociable, responsible, and ethical members of society (Bates and Goodsell 2013). Many grandfathers feel that they not only have a responsibility to discuss with grandchildren the importance of having integrity and courtesy, but they also work to instill morals and values in their grandchildren. One way to do this is to act as moral guides and role model the behaviors and character traits they want their grandchildren to develop.
Character 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 that 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
In character work, grandfathers encourage their grandchildren’s innate desires to be compassionate, helpful, and social. They foster in their grandchildren a sense of right and wrong by being ethical themselves and by correcting their grandchildren’s inappropriate or unethical behaviors. As grandfathers lead by example, grandchildren learn to trust them for moral and ethical grounding. A grandfather who is loyal and faithful to their family—who treats his family members with respect and dignity—will be held in high regard by his grandchildren. In fact, future generations gain confidence, determination, and pride as they reflect upon the life and legacy of their grandfather.
A grandfather’s efforts to perform character work can be influential on his grandchild’s character and personality as well as on his grandchild’s personal values and beliefs. Research indicates, even after accounting for the frequency of contact, that a grandfather’s character work is associated with his grandchild’s outgoingness, friendliness, trustworthiness, composure and flexibility, family ideals and values, work ethic, and beliefs about morality. By modeling and instilling good character in his grandchild, a grandfather may impact many areas of his grandchild’s personal growth and development.
Benefits to Grandfathers
Research on grandfathers who participate in character work has found that greater involvement is related to enhanced grandfather-grandchild emotional closeness and to relationship satisfaction. This means that character work can strengthen the grandfather-grandchild relationship, making it more meaningful and satisfying. Character work is also related to the satisfaction a grandfather experiences as he sets an example of good citizenship. As he demonstrates and encourages ethical behaviors, creativity and intellectual growth, confidence, and kindness, his grandchildren see examples of the qualities and attributes needed in society. He, in turn, experiences greater satisfaction knowing that he is fulfilling his role in the family. Research shows that grandfathers engaged in character work also reported fewer feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. Character work increased their happiness, hopefulness about the future, and life enjoyment.
Activities for Grandfathers to Do with Grandchildren
- Role-model the types of character and personality traits grandchildren should emulate.
- Be involved in civic, faith-based, service, or other community organizations with grandchildren to show them the value of commitment to helping others.
- Tell stories, sing songs, or read nursery rhymes about people who have demonstrated characteristics worthy of emulation.
- Set goals and strive to achieve them. Encourage grandchildren to set goals and strive to achieve them as well. Encourage each other to accomplish the goals.
- Help grandchildren become reliable and trustworthy by giving them age-appropriate tasks and encouraging them to complete the tasks.
- While playing games with grandchildren, teach good sportsmanship by example and also by encouraging them to be good winners and not sore losers.
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.
Bates, James, and Todd Goodsell. 2013. “Male kin relationships: Grandpas, grandsons, and generativity.” Marriage & Family Review, 49, 26-50.
Erikson, Erik H. 1950. Childhood and society. New York: Norton.
Erikson, Erik H. 1982. The life cycle completed. New York: Norton.