Being a grandparent is something some people look forward to for years or even decades. For others it is something that scares the hell out of them. My dad revels in it, my mum does as much as she can despite working full time, and others try very very hard but we know are exhausted by the kids after a few hours or so. There’s a big difference though in the effort made and the rewards reaped in my humble opinion. As the observer in the relationship (the mother of the grandkids) I can sit back and reflect on what makes a grandparent/grandkid relationship thrive. It starts at the beginning with a will to get involved, and it goes on, to how much you make an effort to be their mates.
I remember as clear as day the day we handed my in-laws and parents the announcement that they would finally become grandparents. We did it in a cheeky, fun kind of way, over dinner, just handing them a children’s book we had inscribed with the information. The book was called “Spot goes to visit his grandparents” and for us it was the perfect metaphor for the moment. We’d looked forward to their reaction to our special news for months, knowing they were the side of the family who had no previous grandkids so for them this was a momentous turning point in life. It did not disappoint. And for the first years of the grandkids they were a very regular fixture in their youth. My mother in law particularly got the best of the baby-years making the effort to meet us every week and hang out. She wanted grandkids to be “cool”. Now our kids are clearing the school age, all that is left for grandparents who, let’s face it, are often busier than we middle-aged 40 year olds are, is weekends and school holidays to spend time with them. How many have the perfect formula for these short encapsulated times?
My parents (Nanny and Poppo) were never likely to be awesome grandies (a tough thing to say but they might agree based on precedents). They ran their own business for 25 years and battled with their obligations and their desire to travel, live their life and see the 6 grandies nearby. But they’ve come through in an enormous way, and a different way, developing an intimacy with the kids that I would never have been able to believe was possible when they were born or in their early years. I remember watching my dad hold my daughter for the first time – he was so timid I thought he’d freeze. But over the years he found his way… a beautiful way indeed and one worth reading on to borrow ideas from.
It is not like this for everyone though. I also remember when one of my dear friends became “surprise” pregnant when we were travelling, at the humble age of 24 or so to her boyfriend of over 5 years. Their parents were mortified, and not about the pregnancy, simply about becoming grandparents. The mother for more than a decade had the young grandies call her by her first name in case someone thought she was a grandmother. That little boy is now 16 years old and loved more than ever by his now doting grandparents but those first ten years or so weren’t easy for the family knowing their grandparents didn’t think being a grandma was “cool”. It certainly reflected in how they were included in family life too.
The reality is, if you want to be cool, you can choose to be. With grandparenting, as we’ve seen in our family, you can enjoy obligation free cuddles, you can give them back, and you can make them smile and demand more, all in the same sentence. And in that sentence is not piles of laundry, nor loads of dishes or heaps of work as it was when you had kids. It is all about the connection you build.
And, if you’re very lucky, you can build something very very special. But it is not done without effort. Please don’t expect to rock up to your grandchildrens’ birthday parties and christmas events, and the occasional rare visit, and then expect them to come running to you like they are your best friend if you aren’t prepared to put the work in (and buying stuff doesn’t count). Like most good things in life, relationships take work, and your grandkids will enjoy the work you put in, so will you, so long as you bother.
My father always says, “If I work hard to get inside their hearts and minds before they are 13, I might manage to get them inside my life when I am older and more boring”, and he does work very hard at this. When all the other grandparents are hanging out with a glass of wine at the dining table, my dad is in the pool with the grandkids getting dunked over and over, laughing in the way only a “Poppo” can. When everyone in the grown-up house wants a sleep in and the grandkids are staying, my dad packs them all in a car and takes them to the beach from 6am, and runs them down the beach for a few hours before stopping at woolies on the way home to collect their favourite “bacon”. He makes them pancakes when toast would certainly be easier, and he takes them to McDonalds for lunch, something parents rarely want to do. He takes them places he declares are “his” now to enjoy with them – the local kids museum, and the second-rate theme park near his house that is cheap and they love. But by golly does he get it all back for the effort he puts in…
When the 8 grandkids he has see him arrive they come running. They call his name “Poppo’s here! Poppo’s here!” and they bolt to the door (yes – even the 12 year old and 10 year olds). And as they get older, they make the steps now to make sure they include Poppo and Nanny as they are known, in their lives because they “choose” to.
My kids call their grandparents ahead of the school holidays and organise to go and spend 5 days with them. They demand it, enthusiastically because our grandparents have set up a precedent of being “awesome fun” to hang around. They plan ahead all the fun they want to have, mapping it all out.
They invite them to their school productions, performances and events wanting to do them proud! They want their grands to share in the moments that they are working to achieve in.
And they make them things… those fun things and silly things that we all love like pet rocks and crafty pictures and paper cranes.
That is why I would rate being a grandparent… not for the cosmetics or what people might think of me. But it’s only there for those who make the effort. Have you reaped in rewards like this?