WHAT KIND of grandparent are you? Do you dote and lavish attention on your grandchildren? Is everything they say or do funny and clever, if not absolutely brilliant in your eyes?
No one teaches us how to be grandparents. We may think that the miles traveled and years lived make us experts on how to raise children, run homes and live life. Here’s a bit of advice. Don’t push these “credentials” on your children.
I never knew my grandparents. My father’s parents died when he was a little boy. Lola died when Mama was not even in her teens, and I have a vague memory of Lolo Corrales. I only remember the scent of Agua Florida in the air when he was around.
So I have no one to blame or thank for the kind of grandmother I am today.
At my recent “milestone” birthday, I was presented with a beautiful book of pictures as well as messages and testimonials from family and friends, all very loving and extremely generous.
A whole month later, I am still excited to pull the book out of its elegant jacket and, in the privacy of my room, relish every word of thoughtfully and tenderly written prose; silently savoring every syllable, eager to believe it all.
The photographs are priceless. Wonder of wonders! I was young, in that “once upon a time.”
In their descriptions of their mother, my children are magnanimous, loving, sentimental and funny. My grandchildren also have their say. I review their pieces thoroughly, read them carefully, once, twice and again, a little afraid that my sometimes abrasive, unbending stance may have left bruises.
‘Lola Buy’ and ‘Lola Teach’
Several years ago, two of my grandchildren who are now past their teens were asked how they rated their two grandmothers. They replied: one we call “Lola Buy” and the other one, “Lola Teach.” They didn’t say which one they loved more. I didn’t ask.
One of my classmates says she loves being a grandmother because “the children come to visit, you play with them, and when they get dirty or unruly, you send them home.” Sounds simple. But it isn’t, really.
Do we spoil our grandchildren? Do we give them too much? Are we ready to accept blame when they grow up aimless and with a warped sense of entitlement? When a grandchild breaks the rules, do we look the other way? Do we defend them like they say in Spanish, “a capa y espada,” or tooth and nail, beyond reason? I once heard a grandfather boast, “I will spoil them as much as I want to. That’s my privilege.”
I have met many exasperated parents. “When mom and dad come to visit, discipline flies out the window,” they cry. Couples I know are at their wits’ end looking for a nice way to tell their parents to back off. I hate to break it to them, but there is no nice way.
Stress and conflicts come from all quarters. Each one of us wants what is best for the children. But we must accept that their upbringing and behavior are not our responsibility. It is, without a doubt, the job of moms and dads. Make a note of that, and remember it well.
Let us not wait for our children to remind us that we are out of bounds. Their territory is clearly marked, and rightfully so.
My children are too kind to take me to task when I overstep my limits. There is, however, that sharp intake of breath, an unmistakable roll of the eyes, or a sudden decision to change the subject or call it a day that speaks volumes. When that happens, I know it is time to beat a retreat.
Cheri Burcham, family life educator from the University of Illinois, has simple real-life tips for grandparenting. Allow me to paraphrase.
“Let your children do their job. The most important thing to remember is you are the grandparent, not the mom or dad. Respect your children’s right to raise their children and follow their lead. Be supportive and loving. Do not compare child-rearing techniques.
“The most frequent cause of conflict is miscommunication. Instead of meddling and giving advice, offer concerns tactfully. Don’t bring up the past. Focus on the present. Criticizing adult children in front of the grandchildren is a big no-no. If the grandchildren sense the stress between generations, they may use this to their advantage by playing one off the other.”
Enjoy the role
In closing, she admonishes:
“Step back and enjoy the role of grandparent. It’s one you don’t want to miss. Grandchildren can bring out your inner child and make you feel young again, and can give you someone to share your history with.”
There is wisdom in these words. Are we listening?
There is a lot of lip biting and tongue holding when you are a grandparent. Many words must remain unspoken, and there are tears you learn to swallow. It comes with the territory.
But the rewards are abundant.
I would have never known the feeling of another little hand wrapped around my finger, or tasted once again the delicious smell of a baby’s breath against my cheek. Once, I watched them take their first steps. Today they offer their strong arms to steady mine.
Woven into the intricate tapestry of my life, there are new threads, new colors. I see the faces of my grandchildren, no longer babies, but all grown up.
Someone just bought a diamond ring. “I met the right one,” I hear him say. When did he stop playing with Lego toys, I ask. I have lost track. We have a bride, and then another. More rings. More flowers. Suddenly, another generation has taken wing.
These and a million more memories are mine, all mine, because I am a grandmother. Life is sweet. Should you all be so blessed!