Skip to main content

By Hanley Foundation Prevention Specialist Lorrie van Voorthuijsen

Recently, I read an article entitled “The Power of Grandparents: Grandparents Play an Important Role in Preventing their Grandchildren from Drinking and Using Drugs” published by Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. I immediately went to memories of my grandparents and keys.

Let’s play a word game.

You can use any dictionary you’d like. Think of a metal key as a device that unlocks or locks; it opens or closes a bolt that keeps something available or beyond reach. Now think about a grandparent. Grandparents are also gate-keepers; they can open up the past worlds with their own family stories about the good (and the bad) old days, or they can lock up the avenues to drug misuse by speaking their thoughts concerning drugs and by physically keeping any medications out of reach.

Now picture a computer key.

Touching that key can lead to worlds of connections and communication. Grandparents, with their loving touch and empathetic manner, can connect their grandkids with the messages they need: that they are truly loved without measure, that they can always bring their concerns to their grandparents, and that they will never be turned away.

Imagine a set of new car keys.

Having that set with you allows you to start the car and go. You can travel far from home, to school, to work. Grandparents are like that key to your children. Your kids know that they are there and that they have their back. This knowledge allows children to go, to do, and to become.

Another definition of a key, as found on Google, is that it’s the part of the first coat of wall plaster that passes between the laths and secures the rest.  

What a great description of grandparents! As grandparents, we are the “first coat,” so to speak for our family. We have passed through the laths, and we are fortifying the rest of the family. That’s a big part of our job as grandparents, knowing what to look for in life (because we’ve been there) and safeguarding the grandchildren from harmful activities such as drug misuse.

Close your eyes and hear your favorite band singing your favorite song – oh, the harmonies – which is another definition of the key, as found on Merriam-Webster.

As grandparents, we can become the key, the harmony between family members.

The interaction between parents and their children is not always smooth; grandparents can be there to be the listening ear from both sides. Remember that the listening part, not the solving part, will produce the most accord.

Picture another form of a key. It’s a keystone, also known as the central stone at the summit of an arch, locking the whole together. This also can be a portrait of a grandparent. Often grandparents are there to help in many ways holding the family together financially, morally, experientially, and emotionally.

Both kids and grandkids often come to the grandparents when these matters come up, especially when the grandparents are approachable and willing.  

And while we’re visualizing, see yourself on a small island, which is still another kind of key: an island of tranquility where happiness reigns and smiles abound. And, although we can’t always be this kind of grandparent, we can often provide the sanctuary away from cares of school, tests, and peer pressures, if only it comes in the form of a homemade chocolate chip (or favorite bakery) cookie.

Finally, consider when the word key means to be essential to or the crucial factor in achieving.

You may think that grandparents cannot fill this characterization. You may feel that we are just on the periphery of the scene, that our time has come and gone, that no one cares what we think. But that is not true.

Even if it seems that we aren’t making major decisions about our grandkids, that technology has (and continues) to pass us by, that our opinions aren’t valued anymore, we can still be the key. Keys often seem small and insignificant but imagine what life would be like without them.

Keys make the world go around in their silent, steadfast, and solid way.

I’ve heard this refrain from parents and kids alike, “Where are my keys?” Sometimes the “keys” are right in front of and behind them. Be that kind of key.


Partnership for Drug-Free Kids. The Power of Grandparents:Grandparents Play an Important Role in Preventing their Grandchildren from Drinking and Using Drugs.