When I first conceived of the GaGa Sisterhood 14 years ago, I naïvely thought that every grandma was just as “gaga” for her grandchild as I was for mine. I now realize not every grandma can be “gaga.” Over the years, I’ve learned that every grandma’s experience is uniquely her own. Despite the universality of the love we feel for our grandchildren, that love can be expressed and received in different ways and to different degrees.
Sometimes that love can be unrequited or spurned by the grandchild’s parents. I’ve read comment after comment from broken-hearted grandmas who’ve been denied access to their grandchildren for reasons they may never understand. In a recent post I shared on my Facebook page, Grandma Feels Disappointed and Left Out, the response from grandmas who could relate was overwhelming. Many feel alienated from their grandchildren and have struggled miserably with that painful rejection.
Equally heart-breaking are families who are searching for a surrogate grandma for their children because there is no one to fill that role. Mothers write to tell me that their parents are not fit to be grandparents or they simply aren’t interested. As hard as that is for me to comprehend, I know it’s true.
In between those two extremes are a wide spectrum of grandparent types. In a Huffington Post article by Jane Giddan and Ellen Cole, the authors describe three types of grandparents:
- Those who live for their grandchildren, many even literally relocating to live nearby
- Those who love their grandchildren dearly, but do not consider themselves defined by their grandma role
- Those who don’t want to be involved, or don’t know how, or just plain can’t
In addition, there are grandparents who are raising their grandchildren or filling the role of daycare provider as a Granny Nanny. There are more and more step-grandparents who are learning how to integrate new grandchildren into their biological families. Sadly, there are grandparents who have lost grandchildren to illness, drugs, and violence.
On this National Grandparent Day, it’s important for us to have compassion and understanding for all different types of grandparents. Do not be quick to judge or get caught up in Grandma Wars like many young mothers often experience in Mommy Wars.
Don’t judge other grandmas or their children if their experience does not meet your standards. We can never truly understand another person’s life and relationships. Instead, express joy for the grandma who gushes with enthusiasm and empathy for the grandma whose heart is broken from the pain and loss of not having her grandchildren in her life.
If you’re blessed to have grandchildren in your life, call them and tell them how lucky you feel to be a proud grandma on Grandparents Day. If you don’t, consider visiting an elder — that was the original inspiration for Marian McQuade, the founder of Grandparents Day. In 1956, she wanted to bring attention to those forgotten residents of nursing homes who spend so much time alone and to help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer.