Thirty-nine years ago my first child, Joshua, was born. The experience of becoming a mom was so powerful that it actually inspired my life’s work, helping to create and direct the parenting organization, Birth To Three, which we know today as Parenting Now!
From my own experience as the mom of Josh and his brother, Ari, and from working with parents and leading a parenting organization, I learned very well the joys, challenges, responsibilities, commitment and never-ending surprises of parenthood. During those child-rearing years, I didn’t give any thought to the idea of someday being a grandparent. Life was too busy and grandparenting was much too far away. I appreciated my children’s grandparents, but never imagined myself in that role.
Yet, here we are today – my sons are fathers, and my grandchildren are 9, 6 and almost 1. They all live in Eugene, which is a continual delight. I am their Nanalee. Avery, Jayda, Charlotte and their parents have taught me a great deal about being a grandparent. And, by leading JOY of Grandparenting workshops, checking out research and talking with other grandparents, I’ve learned more.
To be sure, being a grandparent can be among life’s most delightful, rewarding and joyful experiences. It can also be challenging. Although noncustodial grandparents don’t have a parent’s exhausting 24/7 day-to-day and lifetime responsibilities, it does take effort to stay up-to-date with our grandchildren’s world, which is quite different from the world in which we raised our children.
Understanding our adult children’s experience of parenting is also helpful for us grandparents. It is worthwhile to become familiar with the new information about child development and parenting styles that has become widely available since we were new parents.
As we approach Grandparent’s Day on Sunday, Sept. 13, I’d like to share just a few things we can all think about to help us experience the joy of grandparenting:
• Our role with our child has changed. Our child is now the parent. A critical part of our success as a grandparent lies in acknowledging and respecting our child and our child’s spouse as the parents. This is always a major topic in our workshops!
• Childrearing is different: The parenting world has changed since we raised our children and information on technology, brain development, nutrition, health and parenting styles have also changed. It’s important for us to stay informed.
• Staying connected is a challenge: For long-distance grandparenting, technology like Skype can be our friend. It’s important to find ways to stay current with our grandchildren’s lives and interests, and to interact meaningfully with them. This is just as true for grandparents whose grandchildren live nearby.
An important thing for us to keep in mind is that although most of us don’t have primary responsibility for our grandchildren, we are still needed and have an important role to play by being there, both for our child and our grandchild. And we can be thoughtful about our role and legacy.
One of the most rewarding parts about being a grandparent is the opportunity to create our legacy. To help us do that, consider:
· What memories do we treasure from our grandparents and/or what things would we want to do differently?
· What traditions, history, values, skills, beliefs and experiences do we want to share with our grandchildren?
A great help in shaping the way we can contribute to our grandchildren’s lives and leave a lasting legacy is to be continually aware and deliberate about creating memories and a legacy with our conversations, interactions, and things we model and explain.
As I think about the past 39 years, I believe no role in life could be as all- encompassing and heart-filling as that of being a parent. Yet, I’ve also learned that grandparenting can bring a joy that can almost feel like a reward for some of the harder times of parenting and is, in itself, an on-going adventure. To all of you who are grandparents, I wish you a very happy Grandparents Day!
Minalee Saks, MS, is the founding director emerita of Parenting Now! Minalee and psychologist Kris Hallenburg, PhD facilitate “JOY of Grandparenting: Creating Your Legacy” workshops for noncustodial grandparents.