June 10, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

It seems that parenting is ‘grander’ at every level

Cynthia DewesWe call them “grands” and “greats” because they are. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren are wonderful. Of course, our children are also above average, as Garrison Keillor notes, but our relationship with them is entirely different.

When we become parents, we are overwhelmed with feelings of love and the desire to protect, but we also feel responsible for everything about our children. We think we must work to make them smart, kind, generous, obedient, healthy, and any other virtue we can dream up.

We believe that we’re the ones who will equip them to face the world. Never mind that we ourselves have probably never quite reached these goals, our kids surely will. So we set out to make it happen.

Parents teach us to brush our teeth, chew with our mouths shut, change our clothes, and take other civilized measures designed to make us acceptable to ourselves and others. They also monitor our eating, making sure that we eat lots of vegetables and not much sugar. They send us to bed at a certain time, and make sure we eat some breakfast.

Grandparents, on the other hand, only feel responsible for the grands’ and greats’ safety. If the kids don’t want to take the time to brush their teeth, they let it pass. And if they want another cookie they say, why not? They aim for a reasonable bedtime, but if there’s a good TV movie on late, they let everyone stay up eating popcorn together, and then sleep late the next morning.

Parents do most of the legwork for children. They go to school conferences for them, and attend their concerts and ball games. They cart them and their friends around to play dates, then to music lessons, and then to school and social events. Finally, they teach them to drive themselves, much to everyone’s horror followed by relief.

On the next level, grandparents get most of the fun and not much of the grunt work. They help out with driving now and then, but are not regularly scheduled to do so. They go the concerts and ball games, and are introduced proudly to teachers and friends. Parents are more likely taken for granted.

Parents must be correct and serious, but grandparents can be frivolous with kids. Once, I swept up a visiting little granddaughter, and danced her around to the raucous sounds of the Crash Test Dummies. Another time, when we were watching an Anne of Green Gables film together and Anne rejected her boyfriend, I said, “Why’d she dump him? He’s a hunk.” Now, I’d never have done these things with my children, thinking I must maintain dignity.

Speaking of the Crash Test Dummies, it was a present from a grown son who shares my taste in music. This rapport comes when our children become adults, but happens early on with the grands and greats. We are friends sooner rather than later.

Today, with so many fractured families in our country, grandparents have often taken on the role of the parents. They have become the primary caregivers for their grandchildren, if not their grown children, trying to fill the gaps in a dysfunctional society. At an age when they should rightfully be able to relax, they’re forced to start all over again with a new generation.

Whatever the family is like, being a grandparent is something special. When these little critters first take your hand with total trust and look at you with pure love and admiration, you’ve entered the grandparent dimension. Lucky us!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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