Coach or Cheerleader?

Being cheerleader instead of coach gives grandparents a leg up.

Philosopher Will Durant quipped, “Our children arrive as barbarians, and we have about eighteen years to civilize them.”  God has given this unenviable task to parents.  Even our little barbarians understand that.  Every poll reveals that Millennials and Gen Zs say parents are the most important people in their lives. Yet, grandparents are their favorite people.  

The Most Thankless Job of All 

     Why this preference of grandparents over parents?   Civilizing little barbarians is an epic task.  It requires constant oversight, accountability, discipline, and rules, along with relentless nagging, cajoling, pushing, warning, rebuking, and lecturing—acts that make good parents look like big meanies.  Kids often see their folks as taskmasters, judges, jailers, and executioners.  From their perspective, a parent is the original Grinch who delights in stealing their chances at instant gratification.      

    However, even Ogres want to be liked by their children.  Or at least appreciated for their sacrifices.  But that would be wishful thinking.  So, these killjoy parents are reduced to repeating that age-old mantra, “I’m not your friend, I’m your parent.  And someday you’ll thank me for saying ‘no’ today.”  Every frustrated parent can relate to a line from a TV sitcom where an exasperated Roseanne Barr says her kids, “When I look at you, I can understand why certain of the animal kingdom eat their young!’

The Enviable GRAND Parent

     Grandparents, on the other hand, don’t have to play by the “I’m your parent, not your friend” rule.  They really can be their grandchildren’s friends.  They did their tour of duty when their grandkid’s parents were little barbarians.  They are now free to see their children’s barbarians as angels, worthy of applause and affirmation.  Teaming up with parents is like “good cop, bad cop.”  In this case, grandparents get to be the good cops.  While parents are the coaches, grandparents get to be the cheerleaders.  Because they aren’t the ones who hold kids accountable, they are in a better position to communicate unconditional love.  They get to focus on fun things, without correcting, nagging, or snooping into their grandkids’ affairs.  That’s why studies show Millennials and Gen Z’s would rather hang with their grandparents, join them on vacations, and even confide in them—all the stuff they’re hesitant to do with parents.   

Remember Who’s Coach and Who’s Cheerleader 

     The Legacy Imperative’s mission is to equip and mobilize grandparents to evangelize and disciple the next generations.  Yet, by unleashing grannies and grandpops, we run the risk of creating family conflict.  Few parents want their folks to interfere with raising their children.  But, it’s hard for old coaches to transition into cheerleaders. 

     However, when the shift is well done, it is a beautiful thing to behold.  Three years ago, Bob Stoops stepped down as the legendary coach of the Oklahoma Sooners.  He turned the reigns over to his protégé, 35-year-old Lincoln Reilly.  Stoops now sits in the stands as a cheerleader.  He never interferes with young Reilly’s coaching. The transition has been spectacular.  Lincoln Reilly has taken his team to the Bowl Championship Series two out of three years as head coach, while producing two Heisman Trophy winners, a Heisman runner-up, and several All-Americans.  

     After fifteen years as the Senior Pastor of Covenant Church of Naples, I initiated a succession plan to turn the reigns of leadership over my protégé, Dr. Trent Casto.  Still in  his thirties, he is now the head coach of a dynamic congregation.  I sit in the worship center as a cheerleader.  I no longer coach him or his team.  Sometimes, like Bob Stoops, I might have drawn up the plays differently than my successor.  But, he’s doing an awesome job during tough times, and my job is to cheer him on. 

      So, it is with grandparents.  We are no longer our grown children’s coaches.  Nor are we our grandchildren’s coaches.  We are there to cheer both our children and their kids on to success.  Though teams are prepared by their coaches during practice and led from the sidelines during the game, it’s the cheering fans who inspire the players to victory and encourage them in defeat.  Embrace your new calling as a cheerleader.  Leave the hard stuff to your grandkids’ coaches.  When we work together to fulfill the roles that God intended for each generation, we will truly forge a better future! 

Dr. Bob Petterson
Legacy Imperative