It's grand being a grandparent - Madonna Magazine

It's grand being a grandparent

Margaret-Mary Flynn 25 March 2019

Grandparenting is not always easy, but it is always rewarding.

Once upon a time, when my first baby was about four months old, I was talking on the phone to my mother-in-law. It had been a long morning, consumed with the 101 tasks that come each day with a new little person.

‘Oh, when do they stop needing you so much?’ I wailed.

I could hear the smile in her voice as she answered, ‘I’m sorry, but I think you’ll have to ask an older mother.’

Now I am the grandmother; how times have changed. And 40-or-so years of mothering have slipped past in a flash. My children have taught me so much along the way about being a parent – but it seems to me that they are still as much a mystery as ever they were. As Kahlil Gibran writes to parents in his poem On Children,

‘You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.’

What we can be, we are for our children. We love them with all our hearts, even when they make themselves hard to love! Hopefully, at the end of a long journey towards adulthood, we will have done the job of sheltering and providing for them, bringing them up with loving and faithful hearts, and helped them to grow wise enough to live good lives. Given them roots and wings, as the saying goes.

A grandparent’s love

Being a grandparent, however, is a totally different kettle of fish. First, just as nothing prepares you for becoming a parent, nothing prepares you for the depth of love you tumble into when you become a grandmother or grandfather.

We all chuckle at the cluckiness of our friends as they share endless pictures of their grandchildren, in a haze of happiness. I suspect grandchildren are accountable for what my generation have learned about using their phone cameras, and social media.

Given half a chance, we would be on the new family’s doorstep 24/7. No baby has ever been so divine. However, sanity generally prevails after a few months, and we settle down for the long and lovely task of helping to build a new family.

Second, you discover that we are hard-wired to become the devoted slaves of our grandchildren. Their arrival coincides, generally, with a period in our own lives when we are free from the pressures that our children are now encountering. They enter the busiest part of their lives, the working and family-raising years, in which it seems that every day is fuller than it can hold of the ‘urgent’ and ‘important’.

Willing baby-sitters

Grandparents are willing and delighted baby-sitters. It might be the case that when they enter the house, routine is thrown out the window, and lollies and over-excited jollification ensue. But they will sing songs and croon for hours as they pat baby to sleep; laps and cuddles are there for as long as they are needed; meal-times include patient aeroplane delivery of spoonfuls until all is gone; and storybooks and slow walks around the block are given all the time in the world.

We bring along spag.bol. or veggie soup for the freezer, another pair of hands at bath-time, and grandad’s tool-box (if so gifted). We bring the washing in and fold it, wipe sticky hands and faces, and teach ‘please’ and ‘thank you’.

Service is a privilege

We listen patiently. Now, with time, we can see into the precious little hearts of children. Our own hearts have been made compassionate and humble by child-rearing. We understand what our children are beginning to learn of service and sacrifice. And we know that this service is a privilege, and infinitely worthwhile.

Grandchildren run us ragged, of course. Our reflexes are not what they were, nor are our knees. When they visit, fun and laughter and chaos arrives. The household is strewn with toys, all the cushions are on the floor, and mess and fun are what we do. All is topsy-turvey. But the little handprints on the glass door are left, for a while and a while, long after the visit is over.

Grandparenting is not always plain sailing as we chart a new course in our own lives. Our children marry other people’s children, into other families, who also have values, customs and traditions. Our understanding of how to be a parent-in-law is walking hand-in-hand with the role of grandparent. You need to ‘leave your ego at the door’, sometimes. Grandparents have a place; in-laws also have a place. The tricky bit is negotiating a common place, and knowing when to speak, and when to listen; when to hold, and when-and what- to let go.

But for all that, to be a grandparent is to have found the crock of gold at the end of the rainbow. When those little ones run into your open arms and hug you with all their heart and strength, you know with the most profound gratitude that you have found indeed

…a dream that will need
All the love you can give
Every day of your life
For as long as you live.’

(Sound of Music, ‘Climb every Mountain’, 1965).