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.