Mind Matters — Grandparenting: Another View

We are the carriers of history, whether we want to be or not. Now that I am a grandmother, I find myself reflecting a lot on having been a mother to young children, constantly thrown back to when my children were the age of my grandchild. I am also pondering about what it was like for my grandmother and mother to be grandparents. People often quip, “Ah, grandparenting is so much easier, you play with the kids and then give them back.” That may be true for some who swoop in for visits from time to time, but it is certainly not true for those who do hands on grandparenting. If not harder than parenting, it may be more complicated. Complicated? How, you say?

Consider that in caring for your own growing children, you are the authority. Once the children are adults, at least in Western culture, your authority is obsolete. Add on a layer of grandparenting to having no authority! As a grandparent, of course, you recognize that the final authority rests with your grown children, who are now the parents.

It is an odd position to be in, constantly wrestling with an inner dialogue of what do the parents want versus what you used to do as a parent. Often, the dialogues are congruent, but sometimes they are not. Sometimes you can also, if you’re honest, consider your own parenting mistakes and work to not repeat them.

Being a grandparent has humbled me in a way that parenting did not. Just at a time when we lose professional status through aging or retirement or both, we may become grandparents, a wonderful vocation indeed but, in this culture, not one that is held in high esteem.

It is also humbling to consider what my grandmother and mother endured in their grandparenting. I think my grandmother was highly regarded by all her grandchildren, but no doubt she also kept many things close to her heart and may have followed my father’s little adage, “a word that’s not spoken never does any mischief.”

Certainly, my mother as grandmother quietly carried what she observed. There was always the fear for her that if she spoke her mind she would never see my brother’s children. I remember her saying how upset she had been that the maternal grandmother had hit one of their grandchildren. She didn’t say anything because she considered she would not be heard and her concern would be dismissed.

I could be dismissive too even though my mother saved the day when I became hospitalized with pregnancy complications and my daughter was only seventeen months old. She and my father drove all night from New Jersey to Pittsburgh. She hit the ground running to care for her granddaughter for three months! There she was every day alone with Zofia—well, not alone, we had two goats, two dogs, a cat, two horses (not ours), and five acres. Despite all that she did, I admit I could be a petulant nasty daughter at times. That tension between mother and daughter may be about wanting to be independent and competent in our own right. Yet, I know that if it were not for her patience and courage to do what she did for me and for my daughter, it would have been a desperate situation. My daughter would have suffered even more abandonment than she did.

No, my grandmother and mother weren’t perfect, nor am I, for sure. Hopefully, each generation learns a little more from the past and gets even more adept at parenting and grandparenting all the while not forgetting what we have already learned from the past.