Sunday, October 25, 2015

Grandparenting in a New Era

I remember vividly the comfort of my grandmother's lap.  She and my grandfather lived with us when I was growing up, and I basked in the warmth and security of their love.  It wasn't uncommon in those days for extended family to live together, although it was becoming less the norm than it had been a generation before.  By the time I was grown and raising children of my own, most of us set our course differently, buying houses of our own when we were young, and taking pride in our independence.  Our children's experiences with their grandparents depended on the amount of time and energy the grandparents were able to expend, as well as the physical distance involved, as families became more mobile and scattered.  It was not common for grandparents to share in the daily care of our children.   

As a stay-at-home mom, I was never forced to place my little ones into the care of babysitters or day care centers.  I was able to work from home in various part-time endeavors, so I could be there to capture all of the small moments of motherhood in my heart.  It was important to me that I be there to pass on values and provide comfort and solace to my children.  It was also my hope that my grandchildren would be fortunate enough to be home with their mothers.

That dream vanished, though, as the pace of life in our country, the increased cost of living, and the desire of women to chart a different course, meant that my grandchildren would need some type of child care during the day.  For the past eight years, I have provided that care for my three grandchildren.   

As I have walked this path, I have noticed that more and more grandparents are now walking this same path with me.  It seems each time I visit the grocery store, I see a grandma or grandpa shopping with preschoolers happily "helping."  Each year it seems there are more grandparents dropping off and picking up their precious ones at preschool, holding little hands on field trips, and attending the special parties and programs.  I see grandparents at the elementary school, signing out their older grandchildren at the end of the day.  One grandmother I know drives an hour each way a couple of times a week to provide care on the days her daughter works.  Often both grandmothers share in the care of their grandchildren -- alternating days and schedules to suit the needs of all.  Many of these grandparents are retired -- they could be travelling, spending time with friends,  playing golf, instead of rocking babies, washing hands and faces, and entertaining active children.  Many of them are still working themselves, and make huge efforts to arrange their own working schedule so that they can be available to fill in on the days when they are needed.  One 82-year old great-grandmother remains "on-call" to care for her granddaughter.  

What we are doing is a gift of love to both our grandchildren and our children.  We lighten the burdens of our children when they know that we will be there to keep things running smoothly each day, to provide loving care to their precious children, and to help them avoid the significant cost of child care.  Most importantly, we are providing our grandchildren with consistent love and security in today's world, which is fast-paced and often confusing to children.  We answer their questions, listen intently to their joys and worries, and provide that "comforting lap" that my own grandmother provided for me.  

To cite an example, one day a week, I wait with one of my granddaughter's preschool classmates as his grandmother rushes from her job to pick him up.  I hold his hand, and my little Emma chatters away to him, and he stands there quietly.  As soon as his grandma comes into view, I feel the tenseness vanish from his hand, and his face relaxes -- when she reaches out for him, he suddenly starts chattering away to her.  She is there; he is secure; he is loved.  What greater gift could we grandparents possibly provide.   

Monday, October 12, 2015

Owned by a House

We all carry our childhoods with us in one form or another, either as baggage that weighs us down or as wings that encourage us to expect happiness and success in our lives.  My family was fairly poor when I was young.  That wasn't uncommon in the rural community in which we lived; however, we didn't own our home, so I vividly remember the fear of being evicted from our little house each time our lease was up.  Would our landlady decide to sell the house, or would we be safely at home for another year?  How I loved that little house; I was happy there, with its cozy rooms and large yard, surrounded by fields.  I did envy my friends who lived in houses their parents owned; they never knew the uncertainty of whether they would stay or go, as I did.  And then, as I entered my teens, we were forced to leave.  My parents were able to buy a house then, but I was very unhappy there, uprooted from the home I loved and distanced from my best friend.

Perhaps that is why I fell in love with the old house in which I have lived for over forty years.  This precious old Victorian had been in my husband's family for almost fifty years, and had a sense of permanency in its walls; when the chance came for us to buy it, I was thrilled.  We were young, and I looked beyond the antique kitchen and fading wallpaper, picturing myself tucking babies and little ones in at night in their own bedrooms.  The house has always been a work in progress; by the time we finally had finished stripping wallpaper, renovating the kitchen and bathroom, and repairing the porch, family life had taken its toll; there was always something that needed to be done.  Most importantly, though, I was happy that my children were being raised with the security of being in a home that was theirs -- they never knew the uncertainty I lived with as a child.

Maybe this uncertainty was the reason that I have always been a "nester" -- content to stay in the same house and the same town all these years, while others feel the need to stretch their wings and easily move from place to place, storing up memories and experiences as they go.  But I am content and feel rooted here.  My children don't understand my strong desire for them to own homes and be secure; sometimes I feel like I am a bit provincial -- never having experienced life beyond my little town.  Who ever really knows what life would have been like if we had made different choices.  Fortunately, the consequence of my choice has been contentment and security.  I am reminded of a quote from a book I read several years ago:

"It struck me that there are stayers, who always stayed, whether they should or not, and leavers, who invariably left, no matter what they were leaving, or whom, or how, or when."
Paula McLain, in Like Family