Parents and grandparents need each other. We need each other because we can give the parents a break and they can give us what we want most — time alone with our grandchildren.
I realize this every time I have my two granddaughters over for a visit. I also feel a deeper appreciation for all the hard work my daughter and son-in-law do as parents. After the girls’ last visit, which was six days (the longest they’ve stayed with us without their parents,) I was acutely aware of this mutual need.
My daughter told me she slept 11 hours the first night the girls were gone. I felt good I could give her a break. She deserves it — as a working mom who also home schools her daughters, her chief complaint is that she’s tired all the time.
I could have used 11 hours sleep myself by the end of the visit! I love spending time with my granddaughters, who are 13 and 9. They’re polite, interesting, helpful and get along with each other. And they’re growing girls who are always hungry and want to keep busy. So even though I always hate saying goodbye when the visit is over, I’m grateful that I’m not one of the 3 million grandparents who are raising their grandchildren. That’s the great benefit of being a grandparent — you get to return the grandkids to their parents who are doing the much harder job of 24/7 care giving.
Yes, parents and grandparents need each other. We can help parents with our time, money and other resources and they can give us that precious gift of time with our grandchildren. It’s a win-win-win situation!
Lesley Stahl, author of Becoming Grandma, is adamant about nurturing the parent-grandparent relationship. “As a group, we grandmothers have a five-star reputation,” she writes. “And we are at a juncture where we have an obligation to put it to use in our grandchildren’s lives.”
On her journey of researching and interviewing grandmas she came to appreciate how essential, how vital we are in promoting our grandchildren’s health and happiness. In fact, as grandmas “we owe our very existence to our roles of providing our adult children with backup and our grandchildren with comfort.”
She issues a call to arms to all grandparents: “If you’re not already pitching in, start now; become actively engaged in your grandchildren’s lives. If you’re already babysitting and sending money, do more. If you live in another state, build into your retirement plan a way to be with those children more often. And if the path to your own grandchildren is blocked for whatever reason, then get involved helping other young children.”
She also calls on parents of young children who are denying or curtailing grandparent access: “ease up (except in cases of egregious physical or mental abuse.) It’s time to be forgiving. Swallow hard, if that’s what it takes, for the sake of the children.”
“Quite simply,” she says, “they need us. And just as important, our children, coping with the compounded stress of parenting and working, need us. Fortuitously, we’re in a situation where supply and demand mesh: they need our help just as many of us find we have the time. We have added thirty years to our lifespans in the last century, and many seniors have not figured out what to do with those surplus seasons.”
Lesley interviewed Dr. Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University, who explained that our lives are now split 30-30-30. We spend the first thirty years on education, the middle thirty on work and the last thirty — well, they’re a big question mark. “The challenge of our time,” she said, “is to design and build this last stage of life that we never had before.”
“The elderly are the only increasing natural resource in the entire world. Using that value to help grandchildren is a perfect solution, and the advantages for our overly stretched daughters, daughters-in-law, sons and sons-in-law are immeasurable. They’re in that middle thirty, in the 30-30-30 equation when they’re working and raising children. It’s crazy-making. They’re always tired and anxious.”
“And we grandparents have so much to give,” Lesley says. “Beyond affection and financial support, we have what the Bible calls zikna, meaning one who has acquired wisdom. Why not channel what we have learned to our grandchildren? When we’re in their lives, it can be win-win-win. While we’re contributing to the grandkids’ general welfare, they do the same for us. They keep us young. They give us a second chance to be nicer, more patient and more loving.”
“Our grandchildren sense our unconditional love. It’s easy for them to read and they gravitate to it. And the great reward, the extra bonus points in these last thirty years, is they love us back.”