by Dr Angel Adams and Dr Patricia Papciak
A new baby is like the beginning of all things—wonder, hope, a dream of possibilities.
-Eda J LeShan
Recently I became a grandmother and was surprised as my friends complimented me on my beaming smile and aura of radiance. At first I was dumbfounded by this new state of being; having never really relished the thought of becoming a grandmother. It used to conjure up images of being old, and the premise that old age is not valued or respected in our western society. This appears to be true especially for women who try to hide their age, are ashamed of their wrinkles and loathe the thought of being called ‘Granny’. I sought out others who have had this identity of grandparent bestowed upon them and there was a common theme that filled our conversations… having a grandchild is like falling in love. This was based on comments such as:
Becoming a grandmother is such a wonderful gift, a love like no other.
When I saw the love in my son’s eyes for his baby and the mother of his baby, I experienced an exquisite and rare feeling of life’s perfection. All the struggle, joy and pain leading to that moment in our lives, seemed totally worthwhile, and it made my heart sing
When I look into my grandson’s eyes, I see the love of God staring back at me and I am overwhelmed with joy-
Experiencing childbirth is miraculous, astonishing, and tiring. It commands a daunting sense of responsibility and full-time commitment. To hold a new baby in my arms as a grandparent however, is like rising to an elevated view looking over a whole new landscape and giving me another chance. The birth of my first grandchild brings my place in the world as a parent to a new phase in my life cycle. Knowing that my little granddaughter will carry my DNA perhaps for generations to come gives me a sense of immortality.
Years ago I watched a film called Everybody Rides a Carousel which depicted Eric Erikson’s 8 psychosocial life stages. Erickson was a Developmental Psychologist who had a profound interest in humanity and society’s well-being. He believed that humans could pass through these various stages of life with meaning and dignity. The last stage of life he called ‘Integrity v Despair’. For the purposes of this article, this last stage is where a grandparent can find integrity in feeling at peace with oneself and the world. No regrets, retributions or recriminations.
Integrity as a grandparent means to look back on one’s life in a positive way. At this stage grandparents can feel confident that they brought up their children in the best of their ability and are proud that they contributed to making the world a better place.
Despair, on the other hand, represents the opposite: feelings of wasted opportunities, dissatisfying conflicted relations, alienation, and wishing to be able to turn back the clock and have a second chance. We have all felt sorrow, disappointments, and regrets for the mistakes we made, but we actually have a choice to stop brooding and suffering from chronic emotional stress and let our greatness shine even from the depths of despair. This rebuilds the wreckage from the previous stage and restores us to wholeness.
Societies which value, honour and respect the elderly invite them to tell the stories of their lives to the young. Grandparents and great grandparents have so much to share about their world and the way life used to be. As a young person I loved listening to both my maternal and paternal grandparents tell me about what my mother and father were like when they were children. Those stories were fascinating, endearing and humorous, and I wanted to hear them over and over. There is line in an African song that says: “When an old person dies, it’s as if a library burns down.” When my grandparents and great grandparents died, I felt grief naturally, but also a loss that I would no longer be connected to my history through the stories they told. Our grandparents hold the key to our family’s collection of knowledge and memories to pass down. We need to open up the door before it is too late. Collect the recipes they cooked, the poems they wrote, the songs they sang, the paintings they painted, the music they loved, and make videos of them telling their stories.
Clarissa Pinkola Estés, a psychologist, writer and storyteller tells how strong the tradition of storytelling was in her house as a child. Estés was surrounded by people from older generations and many different traditions who were first generation Americans/immigrants, who did not have the luxury of being educated but who were the repositories of much knowledge passed on through the stories that they had learned. In her household, the oral traditions of the European storyteller were an important part of everyday life. She was told stories and her elders primed her to remember and retell the stories that she heard.
We would also like to acknowledge all the grandparents out there who are parenting their grandchildren full time! When asking others about their experiences and memories of their grandparents and great grandparents, a few comments were collected:
I always liked to go to my grandma’s house especially when I was sick because she gave me special things to eat that I never got at home.
My Nana lived with us for the first twelve years of my life. When things were slow, she would make a picnic by taking our lunch outside and finding a beautiful spot to eat. It would all seem special and different just eating out in the garden. She was fun to be with and also had very old fashion manners as she was brought up during the Victorian era. We learned good etiquette from her that has benefited us. Most of all she was a loving grandmother. She always allowed us to dress up in her clothes, let us snuggle up with her in bed, and responded in a caring manner when we were unhappy. I gave my daughter her name to protect and honor the wonder of what I learned from her both from a practical and an emotional level.
I always remember the beautiful Persian rugs in my grandmother’s house. When I grew up, I bought some rugs like them and I often think of my grandmother while looking at those rugs.
My grandmother gave all of us the most special gift. She made each family member their own personal album of photos she collected over the years from birth through our teens. When I look at it I think of her and how she took the time to do this for me. I shall never forget the photo of my sister and I standing on top the twin towers in New York about ten years before 9/11. I shall never forget my hairdo at that time either!
Isn’t it all about happy life-long memories in the end? When we think of our own grandparents, it is usually the joyful and amusing times we remember the most. Some people are fortunate to have lots of happy memories of their grandparents who might have lived near by and helped with their upbringing or who lived far away in a place that was different and fun to visit. When this is true, we tend to recall those happy times and think of ways we can make those kinds of things happen again for our own children and grandchildren.
Having had a significant relationship with a grandparent adds dimension and richness to our lives. Watching our parents treat their parents with great respect is a gift to give all children. All of this gives us a perspective that some people are not fortunate to have had this gift. But even if you are someone who has not had a special relationship with grandparents in your life, you have no doubt had older people who you looked up to and who cherished you. You can and may have already created something similar for your own grandchildren or loved ones.
Life is always about the fluidity of moving from one generation to the next, transported by time as night into day, and from one season to the next. Our forefathers and foremothers struggled for a better life for the next generation by overcoming tribulations and shining with human resiliency. We must give each generation their dignity even if we don’t fully understand the motivations behind some behaviour. There are two important mindsets we can take.
- We can look at our grandparents and parents and respect what they believed in and the way they did things, even if they are different then the choices we made for ourselves.
- We can then turn and look at our children and grandchildren, or any children that we are connected with, and guide them from a place of love and compassion. We need to encourage their potential while listening to and honouring the choices they make that are different than our own.
In the end, the nature of our human spirit is to honour the past, relish our present, and envision hope for our familial and global future.
If this article has been helpful to you, or if you wish to share your own insights, please post a comment below: