Danny and Claudia Abramowicz exemplify what might be termed intentional grandparenting.
The two, who celebrated their fiftieth wedding anniversary last month, are no strangers to service. Danny—who has had a long history with the NFL as a player, coach, and broadcaster—appears on EWTN’s Crossing the Goal, is actively involved in evangelistic outreach to Catholic men, and wrote the book Spiritual Workout of a Former Saint. He also serves on EWTN’s Board of Directors. Claudia was a stay-at-home mom while raising the couple’s three children.
The two share simple priorities: God first, family second. They cared for their two elderly fathers. And when the need arose, they gladly moved to a Chicago suburb to help care for three of their grandsons, ages seven to fourteen, while their daughter and son-in-law work. They also have a nine-year-old grandson who lives in Colorado.
“We knew God was calling us here and that we must serve,” said Danny. “Just because your kids get old doesn’t mean your job stops.”
Live Your Faith
The best way to have an impact on grandchildren’s lives is to examine how you live your own life, said Danny.
“It’s important to be genuine around your grandchildren, in order for them to trust you,” he said. “Just be yourself around them and let them be themselves around you. Then, they trust you.”
Even the decorations in your home communicate a message. As Danny said, “Our grandchildren see—there’s no doubt in their mind—that God is number one in our lives. There are no NFL pictures on the wall—it’s Jesus, Pope John Paul II, and Mary.”
“But we don’t push it,” he added. “We talk about sports, and Grandma cooks. Then, as we’re doing these things, we slip in spiritual aspects and how you live it in your life. We also just let them have fun with us. We go biking and let them see Granny and Papa can have fun.”
Claudia said, “You have to try to seize the moment to bring in the faith.” She finds many simple ways to bring the faith into discussions. “If I come across something—a song or an article they can relate to—I save it so we can we listen to it or look at it together.”
She added, “You can only give what you possess—a prayer life, virtues, knowledge of the faith.”
Danny’s oldest grandson recently chose him as a Confirmation sponsor. He told Danny, “I knew you would take it seriously and you would hold me to it.” Danny said, “He didn’t make that choice in a day. He had to see something about how I live my life. How you live, how you treat other people, and what you do is an important part” of helping educate your grandchildren in the faith.
Perhaps the best by-product of this form of evangelization is that their “kids see and hear the message too,” Danny noted.
Respect Your Children
Danny and Claudia noted it’s important to respect your children’s roles as parents when building relationships with your grandchildren.
Danny explained, “The father is designed by God to be the spiritual head of a household. Whenever a function is at our home, I take the lead role. When we go to their house, I let them take the lead. This is where a grandparent’s role can be tough. It’s their house and their children. Our grandchildren—they love us—but they have to have a sense that their father and mother are the head of their household.”
Claudia also keeps this in mind when she watches her grandsons. “For the past six years, I’ve taken care of these little ones,” she said. “I’ve had to realize that their home is not my home. I can’t organize things my way. I have to allow them to have the comfort of that home while I be aware of their needs and responsibilities.”
The couple also said it’s important to have a good relationship with one’s own children first. “We have to make sure the relationship with our adult children is right, and then the other relationships will fall into place,” said Danny.
Grandparents also can help support their children’s marriages, the couple agreed.
“We see the stress on marriage,” said Danny, who noted that they sometimes offer to watch their grandkids overnight. “We have to be observant as grandparents, especially if we live nearby. It’s critical to let them know the number one relationship is a husband and wife.”
Bridging the Distance
Danny and Claudia also put a lot of effort into fostering their relationship with their grandson from Colorado, who they see two to three times per year.
Danny said that in order to be a long-distance grandparent, “you’d better be in social media—FaceTime, text, and send pictures. We dote over him, and they send us updates about what’s going on in his life. We have the option to talk just him and us. When we’re around him, it has to be quality time.”
Claudia added: “We always try to hold on to the information we get about what he’s involved in, and bring it up with him. (Two of our grandsons) have similar interests. We share with them what each other are doing and what books they are reading. We want to make him feel a part of our lives.”
In fact, he is flying to Chicago to spend time with his grandparents and cousins this summer.
“You have to work at it to maintain these relationships,” Danny explained.
Danny and Claudia also prioritizing on-on-one time with their grandchildren.
“For birthdays, instead of gifts, we let them choose to go to something like the Art Institute or the zoo,” Danny explained. “We’ll spend the day together. We do a lot of listening and observing. They are three totally different kids. Once they feel comfortable, they will say things and get into discussions.”
Laying this groundwork enables the couple to talk about more serious topics with their oldest grandson. “He’s fourteen now, and we’ve got to speak to him in a different way,” said Danny. “We let him know we understand what it’s like to be fourteen, and also that it is important to keep your mind and conscious clear, and about the importance of Confession.”
To anyone with an older grandchild making potentially harmful choices, Danny offered the following advice:
Pray for the child and ask the Holy Spirit to come down upon them. Keep the lines of communication open. Sometimes a grandparent can have more influence than parents at this particular rebellious stage. Remind them their parents love them. I would show them they are off track—through examples, for instance, of how in my own life I was off-track. And finally, love them back into the fold. That’s your best chance to break through.
Growing in Faith
Danny and Claudia both say their own faith has grown through being grandparents.
“Being a grandmother has helped me grow in reflection,” said Claudia. “I have to keep tabs—where is my faith? What is my demeanor for the day? Do I need to be praying for different virtues for today? Do I need to be praying for my grandchildren? I want to be a prayer warrior on their behalf. It keeps me on my faith toes.”
Danny added, “I’ve seen how grandparents can have a tremendous influence on the grandchildren and children’s lives. But the only way we can stay on target with this is to intensify our prayer time. Prayer is key. We can’t be afraid to evangelize in our families—but you can’t evangelize if you don’t have it in your heart.”
This article originally appeared in Renewal Ministries’ 2016 newsletter. You can view it here.