“Truth be told, being a grandma is as close as we ever get to perfection.
The ultimate warm sticky bun with plump raisins and nuts. Clouds nine, ten, and eleven.”
Bryna Nelson Paston
Today’s 65 million grandparents are not what grandparents used to be, and that’s all to the good. We’re living longer, healthier lives, so we can expect to be grandparents for a long time and perhaps even great-grandparents. Increasingly, we have second careers, we are traveling for business and fun, and we are actively engaged in sports and civic and philanthropic endeavors. Our independence means we can be companions to our grandchildren instead of, as in the old days, being a burden to them. It also means we’re not always as available.
When I’m ready to go home after a visit with my grandsons, the six-year-old says, “I wish you could stay for 100 days.” His dad, my son, looks on, panic-stricken at the thought of even one more day with us hanging around.
But then our grown children aren’t the same, either. They need more help as nuclear families are under increasing stress. We often provide the unpaid babysitting that allows single parents or two-earner households to cope. We chip in financially, and not just for frills. In divorce situations, it is often the grandparents who hold the family together.
“Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you're just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric.”
As you can see from the quotes I’ve included, for many grandparents, this role is the highlight of their lives, especially when their grandchildren are very young. Grandparenting gives us a chance to do it all over again but this time with a free heart and clear mind. We can have all the fun of parenting that we might have missed out on when we were frazzled young marrieds with young kids and demanding jobs. Grandparenting expands our circle of loved ones and provides an opportunity to grow closer to our grown children as we bond over this miracle of new life. Conversely, grandparents who are unable to maintain contact with their grandchildren due to divorce or disagreements are likely to suffer from physical illness, depression, and even grief.
“Young people need something stable to hang on to — a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.”
As wonderful it is to have grandchildren, which some have called “God’s compensation for aging,” it’s equally wonderful for them. They gain a sense of security and personal history because, when you think about it, grandparents stand at the nexus of five generations. We are the cultural link to the past, and we help kids feel rooted. Since we are living, breathing models of healthy aging, hopefully with them we can change the stereotype of the “elderly.” Moreover, as we age before their eyes, we are giving them an opportunity to develop empathy. Finally, who doesn’t need what grandparents provide in abundance: unconditional love, kindness, patience, comfort, and life lessons?
To have three delightful people so genuinely and completely happy to see me is something I haven’t felt since their dads were little boys. I never tired of hearing “Daddy!” And hearing “Grandpa” never gets old, even as I do.
So, the bottom line is that they need us and we need them. In her psychology of aging classes, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, Ph.D. noted that students in her class often spoke of how important their grandparents were in their lives and how, when a student reported a death, it was generally with great sadness. According to Dr. Whitbourne, “Students value their relationships with their grandparents more than anyone realizes.”
“You are the sun, Grandma, you are the sun in my life.”
As the Legacy Project concludes:“At their best, relationships across generations are defined in the often-used symbol of holding hands. A grandmother may hold her little granddaughter’s hand as they cross the street. Thirty years later, it is the adult granddaughter taking her frail grandmother’s hand. But they are still holding hands. It is a relationship that has withstood the tests of age and time.”
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