We were all children, once, and our extended family usually included some grandparents.
I only knew my mother’s mother, as all the rest had long since passed away. She was old, static and lived too far away to see very often. Visits to my grandmother were comparable to an audience with a foreign queen: respectful, awkward, and absent of a common language. As the twelfth of 15 grandchildren, my presence did not seem meaningful to her.
But, looking back on these “audiences,” I’m sure this wasn’t the case. I think she just didn’t know how to connect with me. I would like to have known her better. But I realize, now, that grandparenting today is not like it was in her time, when generational divides were stratified like geological epochs.
Today’s grandparents are so much livelier! We not only have our own active lives, but travel and plan activities with family, both immediate and extended. One grandparent friend of mine keeps her young grandsons every Monday. Rain or shine, Nani rolls with the grandkids. Facebook posts show cooking, swimming, reading, and nap time (a generational “must”).
I have other grandparent friends who spend entire weekends with their grandchildren while the parents are away. By Sunday or Monday, they are exhausted, but happy. One friend recently spent one such weekend with the grandchildren and posted this comment about her daughter-in-law: “How in the world does she manage this?”
I laughed. When I was raising three boys, my mother (as grandmother) asked me exactly the same question.
We so enjoy “grandparenting,” but it’s still exhausting. We love those kids and spoil them, but don’t mind giving them back to their parents at the end of the day or weekend. That said, my hat’s off to those grandparents who actually raise their grandchildren out of necessity. Kids need a lot of attention and grandparents have to hit the “reset” button to assume the role of parents – not always easy to do. We love these children, they are our responsibility, so we do what needs to be done. We want to be part of their lives.
Today, it seems like grandparents don’t seek the pedestal of “family sage.” In past generations, gray hair equated to wisdom. And, if wisdom comes with age (perspective does change over time), then grandparents are wiser than their children and have messages to impart to their grandchildren.
But that isn’t what we grandparents want anymore. We want to grow up, all over again, with our grandchildren, just as we did with our own children. We want to attend soccer games, go to the zoo, and introduce them to culture we enjoy. We want to impart wisdom by “doing” with them, not just speaking to them from on high.
Biologically speaking, a “grandparent” is the parent of a child’s mother or father. Conversely, my grandchildren are my children’s children. In my grandparents’ time, it was rare to have three generations alive, simultaneously, even rarer for great-grandparents to be present. We are living longer, now, and find this succession to be common. In the future, will it be five generations? Six? What will the generational roles and relationships be to the younger generations?
I can only wrap my head around the 3-generation, here and now. My children are my children and will always be so. My grandchildren reside in a special class all their own. Ensuing generations (if I’m lucky enough to meet them) will be even more interesting and special. Time is fleeting, and they grow up so quickly.
In September we celebrate “Grandparents Month.” What months shall we choose for Great-Grandparents and Great-Great Grandparents? My sense is, these generational levels will lose their literal meaning and mesh into “Grandparents” who, together, rejoice and experience the inheritance of life that we want to share with the young ones.