Excitement filled the day of my birth. I was the first grandchild on my father’s side and the first granddaughter on my mother’s. Besides that, I appeared two months early—totally ruining my father’s golf plans that Sunday and probably many Sundays afterward.
My family is Italian. With that comes a love for language and expression. My grandfather on my father’s side could be hyperbolic. He took one look through the nursery window and declared me an absolute beauty. Perfect in every way. Wasn’t I the most wonderful thing anyone had ever seen?
My grandmother was more pragmatic. There were many babies in little warming beds that day. One baby boy was over 10 pounds. Blond hair. Rosy cheeks. Pudgy arms and legs. He was cherubic. Next to him was a 4-pound, 22-inch, spiky-black-haired monkey. That was me. When Grandma questioned which baby Grandpa was in fact looking at, she was given the silent treatment for the next two weeks.
She had broken the rule, and he let her know it. All grandbabies that belong to you are beautiful. She came around eventually. I grew up having all four grandparents involved in my life.
If you have loving memories of your childhood with grandparents, you hope your children experience the same.
My husband Brian and I had our first child, Amanda, 18 years ago. She was the first grandchild on my side of the family, the fourth on his. She, too, was born premature, like me.
“We suspect she has Down syndrome.” “She may require heart surgery.” “We need to check for gastrointestinal anomalies.” “She has jaundice.”
This is what I heard every time a specialist walked into my hospital room. I called my parents, who lived across the country, to deliver the news.
My mother endured two flights, layovers, Los Angeles International Airport, and a 25-minute car ride to arrive at Torrance Memorial Medical Center within 24 hours of my call. She frantically rushed through the hospital and entered my room.
“Oh, Deborah, she is just beautiful.”
She did not see issues, challenges, or perceived problems. She saw a beautiful baby girl. Her granddaughter.
After we left the hospital and began our life with Amanda, we reached out to other families. We attended support groups and heard tales of grandparents who would not acknowledge their grandchildren with special needs, who did not feel capable of including them in outings, who felt uncomfortable. What do you do when your parent cannot accept or love your child? It is heartbreaking and destructive.
I have no words of wisdom when that is the case. I can only hope that with time and exposure, acceptance and love will come.
We thankfully have not experienced rejection within our family in any way. What is unique is that each grandparent interacts with Amanda from a different place. Nana, from gentleness and concern. Grandma from logic and problem-solving. Ben, from admiration of spunk and grit. And Papa, who likes to challenge and motivate.
These different approaches provide insight my husband and I don’t have. We learn from their approaches. Grandparents are slightly removed from the situation, which gives them perspective. Plus, they have the experience to help them know what is truly important. Are their grandchildren healthy? Happy? Learning? Growing? Showing kindness?
They see the bigger picture, instead of being hyper-involved in the day-to-day drama.
And when it comes to discipline, they do not have to be the bad guy. They don’t have to say no.
“You want to have chips with breakfast, Amanda?” “You want to wear your pink tutu, with stripped leggings and Hello Kitty flip-flops to church?” “You want me to make your bed and pick up your room?”
Did I just hear that? On what planet am I living? It certainly is not the planet I was raised on with my mother and father. Why then is it OK for my daughter to do these things or ask these things? Because she is the beautiful grandbaby, that’s why.
Grandparents, unless they are raising their grandchildren, have already done their job. They have gone through the life span of raising a child. Now they want to sit back and just enjoy.
I asked my mother-in-law for a quote describing what being a parent meant to her for a speech I was writing.
“Being a parent is great, but being a grandparent is even better.”
And why shouldn’t it be? The grandparents and grandchildren both deserve it.