I’m a grandpa now. Twice over. My daughter Devyn has a girl and boy. I have a granddaughter and grandson. Over the last couple decades, it’s represented the single most impactful change in how I view myself in the grand scheme of things—far more even than the sale of Primal Kitchen. I still remember the day I met my granddaughter. Looking down at that little girl, barely aware of anything going on, I realized that something enormous had happened. Things would never be the same again.
We talk a ton about gene expression around here. The entire Primal Blueprint is designed around leveraging the environment to create the best possible stimulus for your genes. Genes turn on and off based on the environmental stimuli they encounter—the food you eat, the sleep you get, the sun you expose yourself to, the exercise you do, the chemicals you interact with. What might look like a “bad gene” on paper can be mitigated, nullified, or even turned into a positive with the right environmental stimuli. And more often than not, emulating an ancestral environment will trigger those positive changes to gene expression and set you up for good health, fitness, and happiness.
If something as simple as the oil you use to cook can alter gene expression, what about meeting your grandkid for the first time? Because having kids yourself is one thing. It’s very cool, extremely transcendent, changes your life, and you’ll never be the same, but there’s a real generational transition of the mind that takes place when your kids have kids.
Your genes finally have a sense of closure. “You’ve made it. You’ve really made it.” Because after all, from a natural selection perspective, having kids yourself isn’t enough. Passing on your genes to the next generation isn’t sufficient. No, your genes want to see themselves carried over to the next-next generation too, just so you “know” that the line will continue. It hasn’t just made it one more generation—it’s made it two more. That presages good things down the line. That’s the promised land for your heritage. You mean to tell me your genes don’t sense the shift?
The first thought is how quickly life passes. It feels like Devyn was 12 only a few years ago and we were attending soccer games, working on class projects and boogie boarding with her brother Kyle at Zuma Beach in Malibu. Now she’s a wife and a mother and on her way to building her own family. The time compression that occurs retroactively in the mind seems almost unfair. Did I give enough? Did I appreciate or enjoy it enough in real time? And then, of course, here I am now at 70 playing Ultimate Frisbee and standup paddling and fat tire biking and getting after it in the gym. So at another level, my Primal mind fights the reality that I’m a grandfather and that maybe it’s time to back off a bit. Because becoming a grandfather is a big signal that you’ve done your part, fulfilled your role. And then what comes next?
The second thought is how miraculous life is; how this six pound bundle of joy and love came to be a person so quickly and perfectly. I didn’t give it as much thought – or perspective – when my own kids were born. Now all of a sudden it boggles my mind and prompts deeper reflection on the real meanings of life, love, responsibility and purpose. And this from a guy who is all about biology, evolution and epigenetics, and who has always had an answer based purely in science for just about everything.
Holding that little girl made me believe miracles do happen. I still don’t know the provenance of those miracles, I don’t know the source or whether they can be explained in rational terms, but they absolutely exist.
Becoming a grandparent also thrusts new roles upon you. You’re a parent again, but a different sort of parent. You have a new job to do, and you’d better make the most of it and do the best job you can.
You don’t want to be the grandparent that’s relegated to a walker or a hospital bed or a wheelchair, or even just the couch. You want to be the vigorous grandparent who can play with their grandkids. Throwing the football around. Getting down to play tea party. Throwing them in the air, taking them on adventures, going on hikes.
You need to stay fit, stay active, and stay strong. Be neither feeble nor frail.
Pass it down
The classic role of the grandparent is to pass down knowledge. That could be physical know-how—teaching skills like fixing cars, carpentry, or cooking. That could be wisdom—imparting important life lessons and transmitting advice from an age now lost to time.
This is more than tradition and culture. This is the biological role of the grandparent. It’s why grandparents were preserved in the human species. It’s why we don’t just drop dead once we cease being reproductively viable. We still have a role to play, and imparting knowledge and wisdom to our grandkids is it.
Fill that role. You made it this far, which means you have something to pass down to your grandkids. Figure out what that might be, and make it a point to pass it down.
One important role of the grandparent is to spoil the grandkids, but you have to do it properly.
Spoil without spoiling. Expose them to the finer, more pleasurable things in life without making them sick of it or overdoing it. You want to make them happy, provide stuff that mom or dad won’t, without over-saturating them. And when you spoil, use only the best quality.
Give high quality ice cream instead of McDonald’s fake ice cream.
Give good chocolate instead of chewy candy that sticks to your teeth.
Watch a classic kid’s movie with them on the couch instead of plunking them down in front of Netflix.
Create a warm environment of peace and solace
“Grandma’s house” is more than a physical space. It’s an emotional one, a barrier from all that is difficult in the world. If a child’s home is both a place to shelter from the world and be challenged to dominate it, where the child trains to rise in the world, Grandma’s house is purely a shelter. Peace and warmth distilled, refined, concentrated. Grandma’s house is just comfortable. comfortable, warm, inviting, and safe.
Be a good parent, too
When you can, take the grandkids for an evening or overnight. Without enough free time to cultivate their marriage, the marriage suffers and the family (your grandkids) suffers. Help out with childcare whenever possible so that your son or daughter have the space needed to keep their marriage strong.
Are you a grandparent? I’d be curious to hear your tips on Primal grandparenting and insights on what the role has meant in your life.
Thanks for reading, everyone.
About the Author
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.