The Jobs of Being a Grandparent

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:

  1. Build identify – share the family ethnic, cultural, and religious/spiritual heritage, and the family stories
  2. Boost self-confidence.  “I think you can do that.”
  3. Offer reassurance.  “You’ll be able to do that better after you practice it.”
  4. Make values come alive.  “Thanks for cleaning my jewelry drawer.  Family members help each other.”
  5. Offer admonitions and expectations.  “Remember to do something kind for someone every day.”
  6. Teach skills, depending on the needs and the interests of the child.  One granddaughter wants to learn to sew!  Hurray!
  7. 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

 Jean Illsley Clarke

author of How Much Is Enough?

One Response to The Jobs of Being a Grandparent

  1. Miriam Blau says:

    I loved reading this!
    I am a grandmother 63 times over!!!yes you read it right.
    And a great grandmother 7 times over.

    OK I”ll start from the begining I am 67 years old, married to the same wonderful guy 48 years and together brought to the world 11 children -all married by no

    I love being a grandmother and I really feel I am doing a good job as I have a long list of the kids wanting to come to be with us during the week-ends.
    As a Jewish orthodox family it is for the Sabbath.
    I love to tell them stories “when I was a little girl”….and this enchants them.
    I always have these requests “Savta (grandma in Hebrew) please tell me the story of when you didn’t have dolls and you made yours with materials that you filled with cotton!” or…. how you didn’t have food and you never threw out anything and remade it into a new food.”
    I love to tell them how proud I am of them when I see them helping and loving each other.
    I let them come with me when I go out to help elderly people who live alone. They carry the cookies that we bring.

    I make summer camps for my grandchildren. They come for a few days and we do activities together.
    I divide them according to age 9-12 year olds or 13-16 year olds etc.
    I once had the 5 married couples (grandkids) together so that they could get to know each other- it was a great success!

    By the way, I am still working full time as a director of a childcare center with 118 kids from 6 months to 3 years +councel 4 other daycare centers. Babies are my business!
    This helps me keep up with very interesting data and I can be of help to my daughters and daughters-in-law when I see a child that needs help.
    I thank G-d every day for his blessings and for this wonderful family that I have.
    I tell all grandparents-DO IT! Be there for these wonderful kids. It’s completely different than parenting. You come from a calm place.
    All the best

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