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Listening around I have a feeling that families today are much more fragmented than they used to be, and that seems a shame. Surely grandparents are supposed to be a means of support and stability, the link with yesterday, encouragement to keep going and a source of wisdom. Another person in this conversation, obviously a mother in middle age, spoke of wanting to have someone who could mother her still on the odd occasion when she felt low. A good role for grandmothers!

Browsing around some of the other pages of this magazine, I noted a group of young Mums who were thinking of adopting a grandma, I think it was. They were each acknowledging a need that they perceived in their new, small family, for wisdom and support of an older generation. Listening to what the media tend to say, I get the impression that the Silver Surfer generation now do more with life than ever before, but the danger seems to be that we don’t do it with the generations below us; many of us are too busy going on cruises and doing other life-fulfilling things.

I’ve come to realise that it takes time and effort to be a grandparent. It comes naturally to some but has to be purposefully worked at by others of us. My wife is a ‘natural’; she is a brilliant grandmother, there for her kids, baby-sitting and constantly building on the relationships with the grandchildren. They love her. I just flow in her wake.  Of course I love the grandchild but I struggle more to be there for them. It’s more of an effort for me, but once they are around, I love them to bits and amazingly they seem to love me. Yes, I’ll always be there for the kids of both generations but I’m not quite so blatant at it as my wife is. Physically I sometimes find it a strain now, and that doesn’t make it easy.

I’ve concluded we’ve just got to do the best we can with what we are, but then I am challenged to go a bit further by the thought of what “might be” in the years ahead as the grandchildren grow up. Will I be able to be there for them? Will they come to me in their teenage years when they are struggling with home relationships as all kids do? Will I be a listening post for them to come and pour out their hopes and dreams that they might not pour out to anyone else?  These thoughts challenge me to work a bit harder today at just being there for the grandchildren, because if I don’t build now, we won’t have anything together in the future. I must lose that thought of “I’ll be better at it next week.” Next week never comes. I need to do it today.

There is something else I’ve noticed. To be a grandparent means to be selfless. I’m sure this applies in a variety of ways, but I’ve noticed what happens when all our family are together. We have three married children and between them five grandchildren. By and large, I think each of our kids and their partners are great uncles and aunts. I watch them with fascination. But I’ve also noted that when they are all together the grandchildren gravitate to one or other uncle or aunt who may be clowning around and good old granddad is given a complete miss. Now I think I’m probably fairly secure in myself and I know that when just one couple is around with their kids, the kids play or sit with granddad and I’m appreciated and a real part of their lives..... but when they’re all together, that’s something else, and I’m happy with that. It’s important that you fit into the whole jigsaw that makes up their lives. Mum and Dad come first and then at other times Granddad and Grandma come next, but if their other family members are around – the cousins or uncles and aunts – then they need space to relate to them and if I get left out for a while, well that’s how families work and that’s all right by me!

So what sort of analogy might fit being a grandparent?

- An encyclopaedia? (Source of wisdom?)
- A first-aid kit? (Source of comfort and healing?)  
- A walking stick? (for the family to lean on?)  
- A rock? (immovable and always there?)
- A hamper? (a source of food in a fun environment?)

None of these cover it really, do they, and yet they provide a source to ponder upon as we think about what our role could be. What picture or object would typify your role as a grandparent? Happy grandparenting!

Quote:   “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humour, comfort, lessons in life and, most importantly, cookies.”
(Source:  Rudolph Giuliani)
4. Being a Grandparent  

I recently sat on the edge of a conversation about family support, not the financial kind but the relational kind. One person, a mother, was saying how they missed out as a family because neither she nor her husband had any real contact with their surviving parents and so the children really didn’t have proper grandparents. She talked about how they had relationship with some friends where the friends had almost taken the role of grandparents for their children. That set me thinking about what the role of grandparents was, and I concluded it is what you make it.