COLUMN: Grandparents' worries about grandchildren follow a pattern

SPECIAL to the
Sandra W. Reed

Life Care Planning

We hear it all the time. Grandparents are worried about their grandchildren. The worries tend to follow similar themes. The grandchildren are constantly on their cell phones, their computers, their tablets. They not only don’t interact with adults, they interact with each other and their friends primarily by text. Whatever happened to the art of conversation?

Grandparents worry that their grandchildren’s attachment to electronics has replaced participation in activities that require imagination and creativity. They are gravely concerned about the influence of the children’s excessive exposure to violence through video games, cinema and television. They are frightened by the changing values in the world and the effect that is having on the today’s youngsters. They cringe at the self-centeredness they see in their descendants. As the grandchildren become older and grandparents are no longer needed for babysitting, they sometimes begin to feel irrelevant. Grandchildren get cars, boyfriends/girlfriends, and go to college, and grandparents often. They feel irrelevant, unheard. They wonder how they fit into their grandchildren’s worlds. Many feel they don’t.

Gifting Program “Grandparent 2.0” Addresses These Concerns

Fort Worth financial planner Bill Fuller heard these sentiments echoed by his clients and wondered if he could do something about it. He was convinced that if grandparents could pass on to their grandchildren the importance of giving, this could help address many of their concerns. He applied his own imagination and creativity to formulate “Grandparent 2.0.” The program seeks to establish a tradition of gifting in families that stretches across generations.

Grandparent 2.0 begins with the grandparents setting aside some money to give away. Then they invite the grandchildren to tell them where to give it. This is done in a formal meeting. Now the family conversation changes; grandparents are talking with the grandkids, not just about their grades and soccer games, which Fuller refers to as “Grandparent 1.0”; now-- in 2.0-- they and the grandchildren have become partners in the business of giving.

Grandparent 2.0 addresses the concerns that grandparents have about values, but it also creates a legacy of family philanthropy that will go on after the grandparents are gone. By establishing an annual meeting, grandparents insure their relevance in their grandchildren’s lives. The grandparents determine a charitable organization the child would be interested in and promise to give a certain amount to it. If the children have some resources of their own, such as allowances or earnings, they are asked to commit to give a small amount themselves.

Fuller realized that the charitable organizations most compelling to adults – those associated with the arts, health care, the environment, and religious – might not be appealing to children. And not all children would gravitate toward the same organizations.

To find what worked best with each child, he designed exercises to uncover preferences. With younger children, Fuller presents a series of photos: a swarm of butterflies, a doctor caring for a child, a bandaged dog, a teacher with students, male and female ballet dancers in lovely white costumes posed, and singing children being led by a young attractive director. Fuller asks the children to tell him what they see in each picture. Then he goes back through and asks each child if any of the pictures make him or her feel happy or sad. He and the grandparents are listening for what moves them.

In one meeting, 10-year-old Leslie said “The butterflies make me happy because they are so beautiful.” A moment later she asked if we knew that the butterflies were dying. This was a tipoff that she would respond to giving to conservationist organizations. They found the Save Our Monarch Foundation.

Leslie’s brother, Alex, is 8. He said he felt sorry for the little boy who was sick. It reminded him of a time when he had been sick. Fuller and the grandparents decided on a donation to Cook’s Children’s Hospital.

The oldest child, Allie, age 12, was the last to speak. She had been looking back through the pictures while the others were talking. Finally, she said shyly, that she’d always wanted to be a ballerina but was realizing she wasn’t the best in the class. She still loved ballet even though she no longer thought her dream realistic. Allie’s interest in ballet meant she’d be inclined to favor gifting to the arts. The grandparent found a small ballet studio in the area where Allie lived that offered discounts to poor children. Allie could visit and see her donation at work.

In another exercise, Fuller poses the question “What is the saddest experience you ever had?” The child might answer: “The saddest day was when my best friend’s dog died.” Then Fuller asks the child to reveal his or her happiest experience in memory. Suppose the same or another child says, conversely, “The day I was afraid my dog had been killed by a car and I came home and found he was okay.” Fuller says, this child has just revealed he is most likely to be attracted to giving to charities for the protection and preservation of animals.

Another child might have had the saddest day he learned a parent or a friend had been diagnosed with cancer. Another expressed the greatest sadness when her sister died from birth defects. These children usually gravitate toward giving to health care related charities, like St. Jude’s or Scottish Rites.

Get With The Program, Whether Grandparent 2.0 or DIY

The “Grandparent 2.0” comes with a modest fee of $450.00, well worth the benefits it provides. For the fee, Fuller’s team meets with and coaches the grandparents, runs the first meeting, recommends charities that fit, and makes sure the second meeting is on the schedule. The tuition to the program would make an excellent Christmas gift to grandchildren for those who can afford it. Those interested can contact Fuller at 817-735-8200 or bill@fullercapital.com.

But those who don’t have the fee to spare can create their own DIY versions. The important thing is to channel the fears and worries of the older group into positive action that can make a difference.

Sandra W. Reed is an attorney with Katten & Benson, an Elder Law firm, whose principal office is in Fort Worth, Texas. She lives and practices in Somervell County. If you have questions or concerns, please contact her by email at swreed2@yahoo.com or by phone at 254.797.0211.