Although not directly involved in producing the baby, grandparents play significant roles.
Step One to becoming a grandparent is to be a parent. Though a childless person can become a grandparent by marrying someone who already enjoys this status. Then you’re a step-grandparent, though that term is rarely used.
Parenthood changes your whole existence. After about eight months’ notice, this little baby enters the world, and you find yourself madly in love with this apparently fragile little being. You gaze into their eyes for long periods of time and feel your heart melt as soon as they start smiling and clutching your finger.
In the blink of an eye, they are walking and talking and going off to school by themselves. Over the next few years, they morph into teenagers, and they physically and psychologically withdraw from your influence. You were the centre of their toddler universe and now they’re asking if they can borrow the car. You take a deep breath, say a silent prayer, remind yourself of all the values and competencies you have conscientiously instilled, and hand over the car keys.
A Baby is Born
Then – pouf – they’re married or living common law, and the happy couple break the news that they are pregnant. You squeal, hug tightly, and picture the joy of holding their newborn.
Here comes another member of your immediate family. You decide what name you want grandchildren to call you – a delightful, rare choice. Every other baby-related aspect is decided by the new parents.
You can logically explain your little granddaughter’s genetic makeup. For example, your son consists of half of you; the other half of his genes are inherited from his other parent. Therefore, his child is only one quarter you. If she happens to resemble you physically, you may subconsciously forget this fact and see her as a clone. No harm in that as long as you keep your bias to yourself.
If you are fortunate enough to have the young family living nearby, you see quite a lot of the baby. As a new grandparent you are particularly helpful in the early months when the parents are sleep-deprived, and your babysitting services are free-of-charge. Both parties feel grateful and a magical symbiosis develops.
Having not interacted with a tiny baby in many years, you do your best to appear calm and confident when carrying/changing/bathing the precious creature. You recall long-unused childcare skills and principles while listening carefully to the new parents’ preferences and guidelines.
It is an evolutionary fact that every generation of parents think they know the best way to bring up their baby assuming, “Granny is clearly out-of-date.” The more flexible and willing to learn new methods grandparents are, the more they will enjoy the privilege of interacting with the youngest generation.
Inevitably, holding a brand-new grandchild reminds you of holding your own baby, but now you
are not physically exhausted or burdened with taking care of the munchkin 24/7. You always hand the child back and wave goodbye as the new family departs. There’s a grandparent mantra: “Happy to have them arrive; happy to see them go.” Baby care is draining for seniors.
You witness your grandchild’s rites-of-passage: sleeping through the night, sitting up independently, walking without holding on to anything, going without diapers, buckling their car seat, outgrowing the car seat – to name a few – that happily reduce your caregiving workload. Lifting a toddler into a car seat takes strong back muscles.
You Are Not in Charge
Because this child was borne of your offspring (and may carry your surname and/or bear a family resemblance) you may think of them as another child for whom you are responsible – an extension of you. Here is a significant difference: your grandchild is NOT your child. Their parents are responsible for their upbringing; you are not.
You help out when you can, act as a surrogate parent in their absence, think about them when writing your will, set up funds for their education, shower them with treats and presents according to your value system, try to encourage good manners, but you are not in charge.
If your grandchild lives in a distant locale, your time together may be limited to only a few weeks a year – or even less, if they’re on another continent. As the visit begins, you find yourself adjusting to the new person who hugs you hello. They are taller, and their appearance, mannerisms, and conversations have matured. The degree of change to which you must adjust is directly proportional to the amount of
time since you were last in each other’s company.
Their reaction to having you around will certainly vary – during one visit they will climb into your lap asking you to read them a story. Next, they’re preoccupied with friends, cellphone, a new romance, or getting their driver’s license.
When you look at your grandchild’s photo as a baby or toddler, it is easy to recall the fun you had together during that era. In fact, over time you have had many different individuals to connect with. The 13-year-old resembles the three-year-old in name only. It’s natural that your affection can ebb and flow.
Build Unique Bonds
It will take a few hours being physically adjacent for you to pick up their current interests and level of conversation. Because you want to stay relevant and fun to be with, you listen carefully and pay
attention to their choices. The effort to do so pays off in spades. Wise grandparents are progressive and willing to use texting or FaceTime to connect with kids.
You find ways to make your interactions specific to each grandchild, to build a bond that is almost sacred. You carefully choose a book you know they will love, teach a sport like golf, bake together (gently withdrawing your involvement as their aptitude grows), or take them to a ball game.
When they show interest and a prolonged attention span, you teach them a skill like drawing, chess, or sewing that will last their lifetime. The time you spend one-on-one is precious and fleeting.
How blessed you are to have your children’s children enriching your life. During their teenage years, you begin to feel irrelevant but just be patient. Time will bring maturity and the warm, genuine hugs will return. If you are lucky, you can see them into their twenties or beyond. Because your bond is unique, they may confide in you in startling ways – that make your heart sing.