My first grandchild arrived, as babies often do, in the middle of the night. I remember huddling in bed with my husband, the phone between us, as we listened to the details of our first grandchild’s entry into the world. This was the beginning of a new act in our lives… one that many in my generation are experiencing. As we leave behind the demands of parenthood, we are left with more time, patience, and even silliness to enjoy our grandchildren. I like to think of it as our bonus round.
Just when we’re at a place in our lives when our household is emptying, and our roles changing, something amazing occurs: our children have children. Our sons and daughters become parents. If we seize the opportunity, grandparenthood can open our eyes to experiences and feelings not to be missed, and lessons to be learned. As Adair Lara says in The Granny Diaries, “Grandkids bring you into a sweeter, slower present. They show you the future at a time when a lot of your friends are thinking about the past. And they take you back to childhood – theirs, the Parents’, your own: a three-time admittance to wonderland.”
One of the joys of grandchildren is their unconditional love. They accept us as we are, lumps and all. In fact, they make us feel smarter, stronger, and more important than anyone else, and by doing so, they bring out the best in us. They love us without reservation, forgive us readily if we mess up, and repeatedly tell us that we are the best, all of this at a time in our lives when we are often beginning to feel less valuable to society.
How else do grandchildren affect us? In lots of amazing ways.
They teach us to slow down and savor each moment, and to open our eyes to things long taken for granted. This might mean appreciating the intricate workings of God’s creatures as a grandson shows off the earthworm curled around his finger. Or being reminded of the magnificent places we can visit through the power of the written word while reading a story together. Barbara Graham in the July 2011 edition of AARP, comments, “Adults spend hours doing yoga and practicing meditation in order to feel truly present, while kids… live in the here and now. We simply must be in the here and now if we hope to keep up.” It’s as simple yet challenging as letting go of the worries and concerns about tomorrow and embracing the joys of today.
Grandchildren inspire – or perhaps require – us to be flexible.
As grandparents, my husband and I have learned to bend. If the grandkids can’t be with us for a holiday, we’ll hide Easter eggs around the yard in June, and shoot off the 4th of July fireworks over Labor Day. We don’t want to miss a moment of tradition and celebration with these remarkable children of our children, so we make them happen wherever and whenever time allows.
Our grandchildren remind us to play! As a mother of three adult sons, I now have granddaughters who encourage me to put on my fairy wings and fly, for the pure joy of it. Playing dolls and “house” were not part of my parental rituals, with a house full of boys. But my granddaughters happily remind me what it’s like to be a little girl, and soon I’m collecting leaves and twigs to build fairy houses with them. For my husband, this can mean cuddling with a grandchild to watch the morning cartoons instead of burying his head in the newspaper. We are given permission to act as silly and carefree as we like, and to play and laugh along with our grandchildren. Research has shown that laughter is a great stress-reducer, and who doesn’t need that?
Grandchildren encourage us to let go of our fears and try new things. Whether we’re accepting a fashion dare or zipping down a giant water slide, they teach us to become less inhibited and bolder. We will do things for our grandchildren that we wouldn’t consider attempting for anyone else. When our granddaughter Emily finally met the height requirements for the adult roller coaster at nearbyBuschGardens, she chose my husband and me to join her. My stomach was dropping with each twist and turn, and Emily screamed in my ear at a glass-breaking pitch the whole ride, but on her face was a huge smile. I wouldn’t have traded that experience for anything.
We all need love and human contact to sustain us as we grow older, and if we let them, our grandchildren provide an ample supply of both, while helping us to remain positive and forward looking. The ways in which we can learn from them are as varied as one child from another. As a very wise person once said, “a grandchild fills a space in your heart that you never knew was empty.”
Mary Kasky is a retired geriatric social worker. She is married with three adult sons and seven grandchildren. Mary lives in Warrenton and enjoys reading, writing, travelling, and spending time with her grandchildren.