The champion stands alone on the podium — triumphant, a winner. Years of training have paid off: the sacrifices, the dedication and the unrelenting commitment to excellence. Now comes the reward — being the best. Being a champion in this sense is an ultimate — an endpoint.
But there is another kind of champion — where the word is a verb as well as a noun, and where you become the person who elevates others as an advocate, encourager, supporter, defender, protector and opportunity-maker. This is the type of championing where you stand behind the podium, invisible, and cheer on the person you have mentored. It is wonderful to champion the people you love, particularly your grandchildren.
Within the Young Presidents Organization, where we often speak and mentor, every event has a “champion.” If there is an international family event promoting strong parenting, someone is named to champion the event. If there is an adventure cruise to encourage ecology and green living, one leader will champion it. When we are asked to speak at a conference or event, the first question we ask is, “Who is the champion?”
YPO champions aren’t involved in the nitty-gritty planning and execution or deciding of every little detail — they have paid staff for that. But champions are the main advocates for the vision of the program. They may or may not have originally conceived the theme or purpose for the event, but that’s not what matters. What matters is that they get behind it, provide encouragement and advice, may lend financial support and share their enthusiasm with others in the network.
That is the way we should champion our grandchildren. We should be their biggest cheerleaders, the ones they know are always there for them, and the resource they can fall back on when they need help. We should take our grandchildren out for regular grandma and grandpa “dates,” attend as many of their performances and games as we can, talk and — more importantly — listen to them, contribute to their college fund and interact with them online almost every day.
Our focus and emphasis will shift as they grow, of course. For little ones, babies to 8 years old: be their ringmaster, show them a good time, take them places, spoil them a little — but always in concert and communication with their parents. Enjoy them and let them enjoy you!
For grandkids age 8 to 16: Be their buddy, stay in regular touch with them in the way they like to stay in touch, whether it’s through social media sites or simple texting. Let them teach you how to use whatever electronic communication they use, and then you use it on them.
For those 16 and up: Be their consultant by establishing a relationship of trust in which they’ll ask for your advice, or at least listen to it. Explain that a consultant isn’t a manager or someone who tells you what to do or pushes you around, but someone with a lot of experience and resources who can help you with your goals and help you get what you want and to become what you want.
Four guidelines for all who want to champion their grandchildren:
Get to know the individual. What are his or her gifts and interests? Who do you see this youngster becoming, and how can you help? Be careful you don’t become a “negative champion” who tries to dictate a child’s future, imposing your own vision on them as an extension of your ego. Ask questions and be willing to be surprised.
Be in teamwork with the parents. Make sure that the parent or parents know of and welcome your support. Have their backs. Don’t make an autonomous plan, but instead ask them what they believe their child needs, and what they need. It’s incredibly easy to overstep, so be sensitive to the parents’ desires and boundaries.
Consider how you can be the most help and then make a plan. Will it be spending time together, going out and talking together twice a month? Will it be making sure that you’re there for all the big events in the child’s life? Will it be creating a matching fund for education? What will it be for you and for that particular grandchild?
Follow through. You can make your greatest impact though consistency and longevity. Letting someone know you’re there for them, whenever they need it for as long as they need it, is one of the most valuable contributions you can make to anyone of any age.
Richard and Linda Eyre are New York Times best-selling authors who lecture throughout the world on family-related topics. Visit them anytime at www.EyresFreeBooks.com or www.valuesparenting.com. Their latest Deseret e-book is “On the Homefront."