In honor of Mother’s Day, this month’s blog features a special guest writer, Darlene Martin. Darlene is an accomplished mother of three and grandmother of five. Her writings offer a personal view on the subject of grandparenting and just how she’s become an expert:
On becoming a grandparent: The unexpected joys of the “golden years”
By: Darlene Martin
I remember being a sleepless young parent back in the 1980s, rocking my babies in the middle of the night, dreaming of what it would be like as they grew. At that time, my mind often skipped along the milestones that were yet to come: first teeth lost; first crushes; first dances; first driving lessons. But the silver lining that I imagined in my sleep-deprived state was not the proud moments of parenthood; it was an empty nest of no more diapers, messes, or tantrums. No backtalk, dental bills, high insurance rates. There would instead be rest, travel, spa treatments, and other pampering that goes along with a job well done.
Those things did come to pass; the good, the bad, and the average. All we did was blink, and the long road of parenting was over. But despite the glamourous aspects of growing older and being child-free, there was one thing I didn’t count on bringing such profound and indescribable joy, one that trumped all others: becoming a grandparent. It’s not only a whole new world; it’s a whole new realm.
For my husband and me, it started seven years ago with one tiny baby boy. Our brood of grandkids has grown to five, with more on the way. None of our children live close to their home base, so seeing our grandkids means traveling about the country. So travel we do, as often and for as long as we can. For you see, grandparenthood is addicting. Those little ones grab onto your heart, and the grip is incredibly strong. We have by choice become the best storytellers, secret keepers, doughnut providers, book readers, park goers; coaches, teachers, snuggle buddies, friends.
Google the term “grandparenting quotes,” and you will find pages of memes with endearing tributes to the role of being Grandma and Grandpa. Loving those grandbabies is easy, and as the old adage goes, “You get to spoil ‘em then give ‘em back.” But like anything else, there is a learning curve to this new role.
I found out pretty quickly that despite considering myself a matriarch of sorts, my children wanted to be the rulers of their kingdom. They had (gasp!) regulations by which I had to abide. While a little spoiling was tolerated, there were (gasp, gasp!) limits. And rightly so. I balked at that, and for a while, it caused some tension between my children and me as we navigated this new relationship territory. There is a balance achieved with communication, and grandparents do need to respect boundaries set by their children. I learned to temper my opinion and choose my battles; to give advice when asked for it. Before I knew it, I graduated from my learner’s permit of grandparenting, to a full license with all the privileges that go along with it. I am of the opinion that grandparents are an extension of the parents; not a replacement, and certainly not in need of having the upper hand.
I realize that socially, there are different roles which some grandparents are now taking on. In some societies, there are multi-generational households where grandparents often stand on equal footing with parents in child rearing. In many homes with both parents working and tight budgets, grandparents are, out of financial necessity, taking on the role of full-time babysitters to their grandchildren. By no means am I an expert on these diverse and changing cultural phenomena. But the universal aspect that I see, particularly among my friends, is that in spite of different roles and amounts of time spent with their families, grandparents relish being a part of their grandchildren’s lives. The bonds that form between grandparents and grandchildren is strong and indelible.
When I’m not with my grandchildren, I still play another significant role as their grandparent: the historian. My children and grandchildren are of the electronic age. Heck, my six-year-old granddaughter often texts me with her mommy’s phone to let me know that she loves me. We FaceTime and Skype, and share family videos via Facebook and Instagram. But I’m originally from the “paper generation.” So I provide something that is not done too often anymore: I am the keeper of our family’s history…tangibly, on paper. I still write stories. I take digital photos (a lot of them) but still print pictures and make old-fashioned photo albums for each grandchild.
I am grooming my grandkids to take an interest in our ancestry, not only by showing the kids photos of their great-grandparents and other relatives, but by telling, as the kids say, “real stories” (their definition of non-fiction). I weave magic around such anecdotes as that of my own grandmother, who came to the United States from Poland alone on a boat, with money sewn in the hem of her skirt by her mother, yearning for a juicy orange and knowing nothing about her secret stash. When I do tell fairytales, I make up my own, then add a lesson or fable to teach a moral value. I have created a whole kingdom, of which the characters have grown out of my and my grandkids’ imagination. Even our grandson begrudgingly enjoyed a “girly” fairytale recently, when I made the prince of the kingdom discover a game called “bucketball.”
These are certainly the best of times; exhausting, yet exhilarating. And the things that I thought I was done with: first teeth lost, first crushes, first dances, first driving lessons…are coming around the corner once again for me…and awfully fast. I will continue to cherish every single one of them. I’ve learned that instead of looking to the future or dwelling on the past, the best thing I can do for myself and my grandkids is to live in the moment: to be mindful of what is right in front of me, and to let them be my main focus when in each other’s presence; to simply love them. There’s nothing healthier and more uplifting than enjoying that precious commodity of time with those little ones. And that is better than any trip to the spa.
Darlene is also an amateur landscape photographer. She lives with her husband in Marshfield, Wisconsin. Darlene can be reached for comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.