When I gave birth to twin daughters 32 years ago, I never imagined my babies becoming parents. It seemed light years away. But in the nonstop busyness of growing up, milestones stacked up rapidly into bigger and grander moments, until one daughter gave birth, then three months later, the other.
I wasn’t totally new at grandparenting. Jayden, my daughter Amelia’s stepson, has trained me over the past four years. Jayden and I have weekly Thursday date nights. I can be selectively exempt from the rule enforcement that is his parents’ job. Occasionally I can bare my soul to him, so he can practice the reciprocal nature of relationships and share stories about things we have in common.
He tells me when my daughter loses her temper and complains he’s not clean enough. Jayden is a typical grimy, frog-catching 8-year-old, and my daughter has obsessive-compulsive disorder. Her OCD was difficult for me when I was raising her, and I can sincerely empathize with Jayden. I can also tell him he can be pretty darn gross, and he needs to work on that.
The babies are now 16 and 19 months. I remember understanding love at a completely new level when I gave birth and saw my daughters for the first time. I remember thinking I would never love anyone so much ever again. That tidal-wave feeling washed over me anew as I witnessed them give birth to their own children. Holding their tiny babies was such an undiluted moment of joy that almost two years later, I am searching for words that capture the experienced sense of completeness and wonder.
A baby’s development is fast. As a mother of twins, I was so sleep deprived I couldn’t appreciate every milestone and individuating nuance. Now, I have the luxury of gushing at every cute and brilliant thing the grandbabies do. Rachael recently texted a photo of her daughter, Aviva, standing proudly next to their Aussie-mix Sela, who was all wrapped up like a mummy in toilet paper. The caption read, “I only left the room for a minute.” Once upright, Amelia’s baby Violet skipped walking and went straight to dancing. She twirls in circles while clapping her hands, shrieking sounds of self-approval.
I am so fortunate to be part of this family constellation. We are mutually dependent in a wide spectrum of ways. As I grow older, my daughters’ families are a reason to stay young. My 95-year-old mother, who lives a few miles from me, tells me her incentive for living is having something to look forward to like the fun of the next “party” (any event that includes any number of her offspring and their offspring). Having met many, if not most, of my career goals, my priorities are shifting, and my mother’s sentiments are relatable.
My daughters’ families need me as well. It is a very difficult time to be a parent. The cost of living outpaces increases in minimum wage. Jobs do not guarantee health insurance. Households with two working parents often can’t afford the daycare needed to maintain jobs. Single-parent families have it even tougher.
Families are increasingly vulnerable in a society where school shootings, bullying, racial and economic and gender inequities are part of life. My daughters consult with me on difficult issues that affect them personally. We discuss best options for childcare, schooling and health care, based on the individual needs of the child, the family as a whole and the logistics of finances. I confess to still paying for their phones, because I honestly don’t know how they cover all of their bases with what they have.
Ongoing research shows that active grandparenting benefits the grandparent as well as the parents and grandchildren. As senior adults have fulfilled many of their career and personal life goals, the importance of staying active is a critical consideration for mental health, cognitive health and quality of life. The ability to participate as a caregiver in a small or large capacity could be a win-win solution to the emergent needs of a family.
Intergenerational exchanges of knowledge offer grandparents exposure to new ideas, ways of thinking and connection to the here and now. The experiences and stories that a grandparent can share help connect the younger generation to history, making the past more accessible. My mother, a Holocaust survivor of Nazi Germany, has been able to share her story with three generations. History as context for the development of identity, values and future pursuits is foundational in making sense and meaning in one’s world.
A 19-year-study out of Boston College showed that emotionally close ties between grandchild and grandparent considerably reduced depressive symptoms in both groups. Additionally, the more significant relationships children have growing up, the healthier and more successful they may be as adults.
The saying, “It takes a village to raise a child” is something all parents realize almost immediately when the overwhelming feeling of responsibility arises along with the bubbling surges of love for a new baby. Meanwhile, grandma and/or grandpa might be well-positioned to help and thrilled to still be an important member of the family.
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