The job of being a parent morphs, if we are lucky, into the job of being a grandparent. Asked, “What is a grandparent?” one eight-year-old observed, “Everybody should try to have a grandmother, especially if you don’t have television, because they are the only grownups who like to spend time with us.” Yes, the gift of time. Many adults, when asked what they remember about their grandfather, say, “He took me fishing.” Mostly that does not turn out to be about fish, but about time. So, whether we live close enough to spend regular face-time, or whether we communicate with our grandchildren by phone, letters, email, Facebook, scrapbooks, or however, what are the gifts of our time?
I think the most important gift is identity. Each grandchild is one-fourth bone of my bone and gene of my gene. I think she has the right to know who I am, the good and the not-so-good. She also has the right to know about her ethnic, cultural and religious/spiritual heritage whether she chooses to embrace them or not. Where she came from is part of who she is.
I know my grandparents only from stories, so I have no bone knowledge of how to be a grandmother. I think about it. I learn by watching other grandparents, and I periodically ask each of my five granddaughters, “How am I doing?” Usually they are reassuring, and sometimes they give me helpful tips. “I especially like that you send us all an email every Monday morning. It lets me know what’s going on with you and Grandpa.” Or, “I really like when you tell a family story in the email.” Or, “You’re doing okay.”
Since I can’t be “doing okay” unless I know what I am supposed to be doing, I work on identifying my list of gifts. At the moment my magic seven include:
- Build identify – share the family ethnic, cultural, and religious/spiritual heritage, and the family stories
- Boost self-confidence. “I think you can do that.”
- Offer reassurance. “You’ll be able to do that better after you practice it.”
- Make values come alive. “Thanks for cleaning my jewelry drawer. Family members help each other.”
- Offer admonitions and expectations. “Remember to do something kind for someone every day.”
- Teach skills, depending on the needs and the interests of the child. One granddaughter wants to learn to sew! Hurray!
- Engage in new experiences. “Your parents focus on sports; you and I will go to a concert.”
You may have lots more gifts. Thinking about what you got or didn’t get but wanted from your grandparents, whether through face-time or stories, can help create a checklist of the gifts you want to give your grandchild. Of course your gifts will vary with the conditions in which you live and with the special needs of each child and of yourself.
If you are willing to share some of your gifts on this blog, you may enrich all of us.
I’ll be blogging about overindulgent parenting in May. You can see more about spoiling children and about me on www.overindulgence.info.
Jean Illsley Clarke
author of How Much Is Enough?