Readers Respond: Mothering Is Not the Same as Grandparenting

Last month I bared my soul sharing what I saw as the ups and downs of grandparenting, which I felt people weren’t being entirely open about in all the enthusiasm of “Grandparenting is the greatest thing ever.” I wrote it partly because I know not everyone gets to be grandparents but mostly because I was truly pondering the surprises.

“As a mom we are concerned for our children. The trials and difficulties they go through as they grow into caring parents pull at our hearts.” —Mary VanPelt

But I was not disappointed in response from readers–hearing from a number of fellow new and seasoned grandparents with excellent advice.

My husband’s first cousin Mary VanPelt was the first to weigh in with some insights and gave permission to share them. Mary said she began reading my last column on grandparenting with a “deep frown” on her face. “Being a grandparent has been and is a wonderful experience,” she wrote, then continued

Then as I read on I realized you had lumped two very different relationships together: being a mom and being a grandparent. Let’s face it: our children are always our children no matter their age. As a mom we are concerned for our children. The trials and difficulties they go through as they grow into caring parents pull at our hearts.

Just as when they were little and scraped a knee, we want to make it all better. We remember the sleepless nights, the inconsolable crying baby, and the feelings of insecurity. We want to make it “better” by helping out and we do. We encourage, we listen and we give them a break. The parents can go out to eat all by themselves while the grandparent keeps the baby. For instance, we convinced our daughter Carla to stay with us when her husband was out of town. At the time their daughter Addison was not sleeping through the night. I slept in the room with Addison and sent Carla upstairs to have an uninterrupted night of sleep.

A ll this experience is “mothering,” and is different from “grandparenting.” Grandparenting is totally the relationship and experience between you and your grandchild. When Addison woke up during the night I enjoyed the cuddling and the rocking (I could get my sleep the next night). I cannot explain the way my heart melts and leaps for joy when Jonathan [oldest grandson] still bends down and gives me a hug. Or to get an email from my granddaughter stating she plans to spend a lot of time with us this summer. The first big snow storm this winter, we were snowed in with three grandchildren for a week… I had a blast! Yes… the parent gets the teen “eyerolling” but you as the grandparent, you still rock. I totally agree and understand all the emotions you shared, but they are the result of your mother’s heart for your daughters. I wanted to encourage you in your grandparenting experience while validating your concern for your daughters.

I told Mary she helped me put into words some of what I was feeling. She and her husband, Edwin, are such wonderful grandparents in so many ways (having an above-ground pool for the kids and grandkids, for instance). Each summer they invite each grandchild for a week’s stay. “As they get older it becomes more difficult,” Mary wrote back. “Enjoy this time to the fullest! I love what John Hagee said: ‘When we were raising our children our house was the house of “no.” Now Nonna and Poppa’s house is the house of “yes.” You want chocolate cake for breakfast—that’s a “yes.” I had to laugh when I heard that because our grandchildren often make the comment ‘It is okay. We are at Mimi and Granddaddy’s house.’”

Elaine Banman added, “As a grandparent of children ranging from three months to 20 years, I do think it’s great to be a grandparent. Yes, they stress out their parents, but the parents love them so much it’s okay. As a grandparent, I don’t get the day-to-day stress of being a parent. I get six- year-old Aida calling, ‘I love you, Grandma’ in the background when her Mom is talking to me on the phone. I get a hug from 17-year-old Darian when I go to her softball games or other activities. I get hugs from 20-year-old Jordan whenever I see him, and eight-year-old Riley runs out and meets me at the car whenever I come to visit. Little three-month-old Amilea smiles at me already, even though Mom is the true center of her little life. As Grandma, I don’t have to be cool. I just have to love them unconditionally and stay involved in their lives. For Grandma, it’s acceptable to just be Grandma, no matter what age the kids may be.”

Emily Nighswander and Jim Bowman point out that part of the fun is watching daughter and son-in-law be parents. I totally agree with that.

I’ve very grateful especially to Mary who was able to put her finger on the fact that I was lumping two very different relationships together. I can now totally agree: grandparenting is great at this age. Parenting can still be difficult, but it is all a marker of the love, empathy, and connection we feel. I want to have a house of “yes!”

Have you experienced disappointment and misunderstanding in any new role you’ve had?

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Posted 5/15/2014 7:00:00 AM

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