If one day I get the chance to be a grandparent, my first order of business will be to imitate some of the best in the business.
I’ve learned the ways of great grandparenting from my parents and my husband’s parents, from mom friends who are ahead of me in the game, and from older folks at church.
Three things I’ve learned about being a grandparents
- Start Early. I’ve learned that great grandparents start early. My teenager calls her grandparents and sets up her own sleepovers with them these days. When my college student plans her college breaks, time with her grandparents is always at the top of her priority list. “Are grandpa and grandma going to be there?” has been a frequent question ahead of my kids’ events and performances over the years. (The answer, as often as possible, has been “yes.”) My children’s grandparents laid the foundation for this seeking-out literally from the moment my girls were born. They understood that if they wanted to have deep relationships with their grandkids when those kids were older, their grandchildren had to know them…and they had to know their grandchildren. What they like. Who they are. What they do. Where they’ve been. Where they’re going. The A-list grandparents I’ve had the privilege of observing have woven themselves into the fabric of their grandchildren’s lives from the very opening threads and have ended up with a relationship tapestry that doesn’t unravel.
- Show Up. I’ve learned that great grandparents show up. The older-generation members of my kids’ lives have sat in the rain at marching band shows. They’ve hung around for track meets that lasted 40 days and nights. They’ve helped with birthday parties. They’ve picked their grandbabies up from school and have been waiting at home when they got there and were on-call to fill in the gaps, should gaps open up. They’ve bought fundraiser items and dance recital tickets. They’ve given birthday and Christmas gifts they didn’t understand but didn’t question. They’ve sat on the stairs and played hours of “button, button, who’s got the button?” They’ve told stories and given back rubs and listened. They’ve sought out and soaked up every detail of their grandkids’ lives. They’ve bragged on them and loved on them.
- Understand Your Role. I’ve learned that great grandparents understand their role. “Life is better at grandma’s,” we say, and blessedly, it’s true. My children’s grandparents have lavished love on them, but they’ve also respected limitations. They’ve understood that of all the gifts they might be able to give their grandchildren, their time is the most priceless. They’ve understood the profound truth of something a mom friend once observed about her parents in regard to her children. “They’re so patient with my kids,” she told me. “I go crazy tossing a ball around with my son for five minutes, but my dad will do it for an hour.”
My heart breaks for those who are missing grandparents
My heart breaks for the grandparents who want to be all this for their grandchildren but aren’t given the chance. My heart hurts for all the parents who want these kinds of grandparents for their own kids but don’t have that option.
As with all that isn’t always what it could or should be, we do what we can: we decide to follow faithful footsteps that have been laid out ahead of us, or we decide we will, if necessary, break a new path. We look at what we had and determine to pass it on. Or we look at what we didn’t have and determine we will be the ones to give it.
When my younger daughter was a baby, she had a tiny hoodie that read, “Let me tell you about my grandparents.” If you took her or her sister up on that offer today, they probably wouldn’t know where to begin. But I imagine they’d start here: “They are wonderful.”
They are. It’s grand. Given the chance, I hope I will be, too.
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