Wise and Funny: Those Things That Grandparents Say

Grandchildren Do Retain Our Pearls of Wisdom

grandchildren remember the things their grandparents say
Research shows that grandchildren do remember many things their grandparents say. Photo © JGI/Jamie Grill | Getty Images

When one of the youngsters in our family skins a knee, someone is sure to call out, "Rub it in the dirt!" That's what our much-loved PawPaw Adcox would have said. He meant shake it off and go on. Like many of the things grandparents say, it is remembered and repeated to children who never knew our family patriarch.

If you've ever doubted the impact that grandparents have on their grandkids, ask someone to recall some of the things their grandparents said. One survey found that the average adult retains 22 bits of advice from grandparents! I drew upon that research, another survey and my own crowd-sourcing to compile these examples of common advice from grandparents.

The Power of Being Positive

One attribute that grandparents preach a lot is the power of being positive. Grandparents have lived long enough to know that harboring bitterness and negativity is no way to live.Here are some of the adages that reflect that philosophy:

  • Find the good in everybody.
  • Hate the sin but love the winner.
  • If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all.
  • Worrying is just praying for what you don't want.
  • Always ask. They can only say no.
  • You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated.
  • You never know what others are going through.
  • Can't never could.
  • Good manners don't cost anything.
  • Be nice to people on the way up, as you will meet them on the way down.
  • Don't go to bed mad.
  • Things will look better in the morning.

In a similar vein, my husband's family had a saying, "You've got the same clothes to get glad in, that you had to get mad in." In other words, getting mad doesn't change anything. You can choose to be glad and happy, or you can you can choose to be mad and unhappy.

Practical Advice

Although grandparents' advice often tends toward the positive, grandparents also understand human nature and have great advice about how to get along and get ahead in the world. They pass along gems like these:

  • A leopard never changes its spots.
  • You don't get something for nothing.
  • Don't leave until tomorrow what you can do today.
  • Don't buy what you can't afford.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness.
  • If you're going to do something, do it right.
  • You can't control what others do, only your own reactions.
  • Actions speak louder than words.
  • Knowledge is never wasted.
  • Never turn down a free meal.
  • Pay yourself first.

Another friend tells a story about going to the bank with his grandfather and being amazed by the deferential treatment that he, an ordinary working man, received. His grandfather then gave him this advice: "Pay your bills first and then buy groceries. Your stomach will guide you better than most financial advisers."

Family Matters

Every grandparent I know wishes for a close, harmonious family. They have some ideas about how families operate:

  • You don't love one child more; you just love your children differently.
  • You're not marrying one; you're marrying the whole family.
  • Blood is thicker than water.

One of my readers contributed this gem: "Every old crow thinks hers are the blackest." If that means that all grandparents think their grandchildren are the greatest, I agree!

Folk Wisdom and Just Fun

Have you noticed that your grandchildren don't understand some of the expressions you use? When I'm cooking with the grandchildren, I often say, "A watched pot never boils," which gets me nothing but blank looks.

We've abbreviated some of our sayings, which makes the meaning difficult to gather. Adults know that when you refer to a silver lining, that's a shortened form of "Every cloud has a silver lining." But kids may not know that. Similarly, when we say, "The grass is greener," most adults fill in "on the other side of the fence," but kids may be lost.

Many of our grandparents' sayings come from an agricultural past that our grandchildren know little about. I think that's a little sad, so I try to keep these idioms alive.

When I thought I faced a big obstacle, my dad would say, "That's no hill for a stepper." A stepper was a horse that had a flashy gait, that raised its knees high. When someone became wealthy, my dad would say, "He's in tall cotton." If I lost weight, my grandmother would say, "You're about to dry up and blow away!" She had seen a few crops do just that during times of drought.

When I was getting tired near the end of a task, my dad would say, "Come on. You're in the short rows now." Farmers often plowed fields at an angle, so when you were near the end of weeding or harvesting, you were in the "short rows."

"Between hay and grass" referred to someone who wasn't young and wasn't old. One of my friend's dads, when asked how he was doing, always said, "Entre verde o seco" ("between green and dry").

Other sayings have lost their meanings for different reasons. Try telling your grandchildren that they "sound like a broken record"!

Keep on Communicating

One of the greatest gifts that grandparents can give their grandchildren is a clear sense of their beliefs and values. Of course, our grandchildren may not agree with everything we stand for — that's inevitable — but they still gain a lot from being grounded in a family ethos.

It's important for grandparents to remember that communicating is a two-way street. We must make time to listen. For most grandparents, that isn't hard. On a technical level, we may need to learn to text and to use FaceTime, Skype or whatever new-fangled technology comes down the pike. (Another idiom!)

Grandchildren have a lot of wisdom to impart to us, too. The funny things that grandchildren say can be amazingly profound. And through being with them, we learn to live in the moment, to keep our priorities in order and not to sweat the small stuff, all of which can make our lives richer.