I knew two of my great-grandmothers as a child … both on my mom’s side. My mother’s parents are still living at the overripe ages of 100 and 96. It never occurred to me my children wouldn’t know my mom. Longevity runs in her family and until she received the ovarian cancer diagnosis, she was healthy as a horse. My oldest was only 6 when she died, my twin boys were barely a twinkle in anyone’s eye. It was years before I could say Grandma to my children without bursting into tears, a side effect which kept them from wanting to bring her up or ask any questions. Now, almost six years later, most days I can tell stories about her and keep my composure. The pain of not being able to share my children with her is still very much acute, but I want them to know her.
I want them to know she is watching over them. So …
— When I hear her voice in my head, I share it with the kids, as in, “You know what Grandma would say right now?”
— I talk about my childhood and all the wonderful traditions my mom started. When I copy her in my own parenting, I tell my children where I got the idea.
— When something would make her laugh, I tell them she is laughing right now. When something would make them proud, I tell them she is proud of them right now. When I am too hard on them, I say, Grandma would tell me to go easier on you right now.
— I keep photos in the house and in a casual way, address her when the kids are around. “Mom, can you believe these kids aren’t listening to me?” or “Mom, have you ever seen a cuter kid?” “Mom, how the hell did you do this?”
Things I wish I had done while she was still living:
— Take more candid pictures of my mom with the kids, before she had cancer. After she was diagnosed, it felt strange to constantly be taking shots because my motive of wanting to preserve her was too obvious.
— Save all the cards and notes she gave them in one special place.
— Record her voice, to be played back later.
— Asked her to write in their baby books or write about them on their birthdays.
The bonding that goes on across generations is a blessed one. Grandparents love their grandchildren in a way that is intense, but not suffocating. In many ways, a grandparents’ love is better and more pure, because they don’t see the grandkids success or actions as a reflection of them. They don’t have to yell, and their responsibility for the kids is limited to occasional babysitting.
If your children are lucky enough to have an involved, loving grandparent in their life, embrace the relationship … even if it is with your in-laws! And remember, the natural course of events will sever this relationship at some point. Make sure you will be able to keep the memories alive.
Tammy has a great article on keeping the Grandparent Connection going across distances that are long, but closer than heaven.