I had hoped for lots of responses to my recent “Long Distance Grandparenting” column. What I had not expected was the inclusion of so many thought-provoking confessions.
“I need to talk to you!” he said, stopping me on the street.
“I’m 55. I’m likely to live at least 40 more active years. That means my grandchild born this week could be a grandmother in my lifetime. I could play a role in the lives of 4 generations after me. My own grandfather died at 67, his life complete.
In contrast, for me to stay relevant I’ll have to keep up with the changing world and each generation’s realities for over 40 more years! I’ll want to demonstrate what a great, extended life can be.
My grandchildren and their children will have to teach me while I teach them. Wisdom no longer belongs primarily to the old. Information is being created too rapidly for that. I desperately want to stay relevant for at least 40 more years and will need my grandkids’ help in achieving that. This will mean having real relationships with them forever. Put that in your column!”
“Thank goodness you answered your phone,” she said. “I need to finally say this out loud. I’m 59. We have two grown children and five grandchildren. I don’t love or even like my grandchildren equally. We do our best to treat them all equally, of course, but I do have my favorites. Now I realize what a grownup experience being a good grandparent really is. I can have my secret preferences but must behave wisely, too.”
The doorbell rang. He said, “I’m embarrassed to admit that many of the things I thought were terribly important as a dad— from spilled glasses of milk to playing on the best sports teams—weren’t. The years have taught me that I periodically lost perspective and balance in my parenting. I was a good dad. I want to be an even better grandfather.”
The doorbell rang again. She said, “I want you to write a column about what grand-parents may be thinking but not saying. I admit it. I am really not interested in being an active grandparent. At age 50 I’m finally free. I’ve already done my time with kids. I worked hard, did all the right things, and now it’s my time for me.”
Nothing is going to get in my way.” Her email was short and to the point.
“I admit it. My grandson is two different boys in one body depending upon whether his parents are present or he’s just with me. Frankly, I prefer him when his parents are not around. He has wonderful parents. I have no criticism of my daughter and son-in-law. Still, when my grandson is alone with me, he’s less whiny and much more fun. I never hear this discussed, but I can’t be the only one to notice.”
“I’m only 72 now,” his letter began. “I’ve never admitted this to anyone. I’m hoping great relationships with my grandchildren now will provide a caring safety net for me much later. I want my grandchildren to be around to hold my hand and help me decline with dignity years from now. I fear my children will not have the courage or the heart for it. It isn’t that I don’t love my kids. I do. They love me, too. I suspect, however, my grandchildren will be able to see me with better perspective and insight than their parents will.”
We don’t know for sure where Grandparenting is going any more than we know for sure where all the world’s other changes are taking us. What we do know, however, is that we have the opportunity to recreate Grand- parenting to be relevant to the times ahead us and for all the people we care about…including ourselves.