Grandparenting is a role I never thought a lot about me playing. In the midst of a heavy work and travel schedule and being present in the lives of adult children and parents – as a card-carrying member of the “sandwich generation” – I just assumed grandparenting would be something that would come as I aged, was grey and balding.
Yet a little more than a year ago, when we got word that my daughter-in-law was pregnant, I was surprised to discover how excited I was, yet had absolutely no idea what I was supposed to do or what was expected of me as a grandparent.
While it has been said that there is no operator’s manual that goes with being a parent, there does not appear to be a shared understanding at what a grandparent is supposed to do.
We as a family just celebrated this first Christmas with our first grandchild with the same wonder and experience of joy associated with those first days of our children. The miracle of each moment in which are revealed new discoveries of a child, such as of hands and how they turn and move, of new sounds meant to express without words meaning that can be clear and passionate, of worlds we were unaware existed found through a toddler’s crawling on the floors of rooms and exploring things we took for granted or ignored.
And all the while, we were all on the look out to make sure that the space in the house was safe for his explorations and that he was protected out of the house from the potential dangers – weather, people and things.
Beyond being present to help provide day-to-day care for the child, if that grandparent lives close enough to do so, I started to think about what are the other important roles that grandparents play, including:
- Purveyor of traditions, family and/or cultural. My son shared with me that over the last year I have been much more concerned with ensuring that annual family rituals, such as the lighting of the luminarias at Christmas Eve or the offering of certain foods at family holidays, be observed.
- Provider of historical information about the family. I find myself much more willing to pull out the family albums and videos and gather others to look back and share our family’s journey.
- Being another port of safety for a child, another set of arms to provide safe space to grow strong and happy. To see the arms outstretched from a toddler in a full two-toothed smile and then wrapped around one’s neck tells you all you need to know that that the grandchild feels safe.
- Opening that child to a separate set of experiences and interests. As adult children certainly have different interests, skills, experiences and views, grandparents help expand a child’s view of the world around them, whether it is surrounding expressions of faith or understanding of music, the arts, the outdoors, sports or history, for example.
St. Anthony Messenger Press offers a number of resources on parenting and grandparenting. Celebrating Saints and Seasons: Hundreds of Activities for Catholic Children, by Jeanne Hunt, points parents and grandparents to ideas for integrating rituals and faith-base activities into daily family life. Allan Wright’s Jesus in the House encourages parents and grandparents to better understand and to communicate the scriptural meaning of house and home, and Saints at the Dinner Table by Amy Heyd can help families stimulate and add spiritual zest to mealtime talk. Grandma’s Bread, a powerful DVD, focuses on intergenerational relationships, death and the importance of tradition in our lives.
As well, Susan Vogt’s soon-to-be-released Parenting Your Adult Child: Keeping Your Faith (and Your Sanity) will be a welcome addition to the discussion of how to grow the relationship between parenting generations.
What are other roles that your grandparents played in your life, you have played as a grandparent or you’ve experienced with other grandparents? Let me know.
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