The Magic of GrandParenting!
I became a grandfather for the first time a little more than a year ago. My granddaughter was born 18 months after my daughter and her husband returned from living overseas for 7 years. Circumstances dictated that they move in with us. We, including our son, have all been living under the same roof since.
Needless to say, the arrival of our granddaughter was a major event. Evidence of this is visible in every room of our home and for all to see. Furniture has been displaced and rearranged to make room for baby gear. Strollers and kiddie cars are parked haphazardly throughout the house. The living room has been transformed into a playground. Kid songs fill the air and resonate in our brains in a continuously looping tape. Welcoming her into our home prompted a monumental reorganization of our daily lives. Now, we arrange our schedules and priorities centered on the collective act of raising her. We parse our private time. We take turns in caring of and watching over her. We embrace our position of being supportive parents to our daughter and her husband, while also providing a subordinate parenting function. We realize this is an area ripe with subtle potential for conflict, but we are careful not to “compete” with them as parents or usurp their primary parenting role.
I come from a childhood where my grandmother lived with us. It was a natural extension of the tradition that had been observed for generations in our extended family. She had been born and raised in a different culture, with a different language and more ardent religious beliefs. Despite having lived in America for decades, she could not speak English, rendering a conversation with her difficult to manage. My maternal grandfather passed before I was born. My paternal grandparents lived too far away for them to be a regular part of our everyday lives. Even with these circumstances, it was deeply embedded in our family culture that grandparents were to be respected and revered, even if they were not an active part of our daily lives.
Our family constellation represents a throwback to previous generations when extended family members living together was commonplace. It provides ample support for each other and several role models for the baby to learn from as she grows. The arrival of a grandchild provides the opportunity for grandparents to be supportive and involved not only with their grandchildren, but also the parents. Studies show, and plentiful anecdotal evidence suggests, that parents of a newborn fair far better when there is a helpful and supportive grandparent present.
Supportive and optimally involved grandparenting offers parents an opportunity for respite from the more tedious and challenging aspect of raising a child. It is a comfort for parents to know that someone else is thinking of and involved with their child, freeing them to refuel and replenish themselves and mitigating feelings of resentment towards the quotidian challenges of parenthood. Although the primary attachment relationship is ideally between the parents and the child, grandparents can provide additional, supportive functions to boost the nurturing effects of parenting.
Over the past year, we have seen small but significant developmental events continuously occur, illuminating an exciting and sometimes bewildering mindscape. Glimpses of her inner world are revealed and made visible but not always discernable. We are not always certain if we are on the same page with her. Thankfully, the clues are becoming simpler to interpret. It is less difficult to fathom what she wants. As we become more adept at reading her mind and her heart, so is she more adept at making her intentions known. Now, she points to an object, shifting her gaze between it and us and then back again. She will grab a pant leg and vocalize her intentions and often raise her voice. If this does not work, she will continue with other means to get our attention until we “get it” and our minds have aligned with hers.
As with parenting, grandparenting can test your patience. Anyone who has small grandchildren occupying a large slice of their lives can attest to transitory feelings of exhaustion and depletion. It is not always easy to find the energy to be the way your children or grandchildren want or need you to be. The key is to maintain composure and not attribute this to a character flaw in the child or evidence of inadequacy on the part of the parent. Misconnections and less than optimal attunement to the needs of the child are frequent, inevitable, and even normal. The task is to interpret the meaning of the behavior and repair the rift without negatively distorting the intentions of the baby.
We have been extremely fortunate to be moving through this same space and time as a family. I consider myself blessed to help create a loving narrative of a devoted family for our granddaughter. Still, I know this arrangement is transitory. My daughter and son-in-law understandably aspire to have their own homes and sense of independence. There will come a day when social and geographical conditions will set a different course for our family, and that our involvement as a grandparents will be redefined and limited. I consider it an essential task to make room for that to happen, even if the opportunities and life circumstances take them far away. To advance in their lives and find their own interests, places to live and people to associate with, it is imperative that the family bond is flexible enough to make it feasible. It is our place as grandparents to show that we too have built alternative places, people and activities to turn to a well.