Wonderful Ways to Love a Grandchildby Judy Ford
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Honoring the unique role that grandparents play, this delightfully heartwarming and down-to-earth book offers more than sixty inspiring suggestions for how you can actively participate in your grandchildren's lives, whether they live down the block or across the country. Parenting expert Judy Ford gives practical tips for developing your identity as a grandparent and for ways to complement and not conflict with parents. A must-have for all grandparents.
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Wonderful Ways to LOVE a Grandchild
By Judy Ford
Red Wheel/Weiser, LLCCopyright © 1997 Judy Ford
All rights reserved.
Many years from now when your grandchildren are grown and have children of their own, they will reminisce and tell stories about you, unlocking a tiny time capsule of love energy flooding their souls with sweet memories.
Be very clear, don't stop growing, stay in the flow of life.
Respect Your Life Experience
Perhaps you've noticed that people are starting to recognize you as an elder, an honored and respected member of your family. You wonder sometimes if it's because your age is showing. Although age may qualify you for senior citizen discounts, it's not what qualifies you to be a grandparent. That requires maturity.
A mature grandparent has the wisdom to acknowledge the challenges and heartaches of life so that he or she can appreciate the blessings, joy, and laughter. Maturity is marked by inner integrity, honesty, and goodness. It's knowing that you alone are responsible for your life. You don't blame others. You accept responsibility for your own happiness. If you're down in the dumps, you don't stay there long, because you know that life has a way of working out. If you've messed up, you admit it. You're not defeated by mistakes, but rather keep on living and trying again and again.
Maturity is the ability to enjoy the unexpected and roll with the punches. That's the wisdom that is truly beneficial to your grandchildren. Children are inundated with far too many examples of adults blaming their circumstances on bad luck, the stars, the weather, their parents, or "the other guy." Children need examples of people behaving responsibly, living happily, and making the most of their circumstances. Children will make mistakes, have setbacks, and experience disappointments—it's part of growing up. You can't protect them from frustrations, nor should you. But with your shining example, they can gain an understanding of what it means to accept responsibility for creating a wonderful life.
By watching you face your challenges, they'll learn that they too have what it takes to face life's ups and downs. They'll discover that through perseverance and determination they can succeed. You're a living testament to durability and goodness. That's the maturity you offer: a mixture of experience and a heart full of acceptance. The gift you can bestow on your grandchildren is a strong sense of self and a respect for life as a continuous journey.
Margaret was such a grandma. In spite of her few chances to spend long periods of time with her grandchildren, they were nevertheless taken with her pluck and true grit. In her later years, she had debilitating back problems and suffered bouts of agonizing pain. Although she acknowledged her health problems when asked, she never focused on her misery when her grandchildren were with her. Instead, she took delight in hearing about their lives. She conveyed to them a generosity of soul and a fighting spirit. She taught them that you can't always choose what happens in life, but you can choose where to put your focus.
You're a master! You've seen and done many things over the course of your long life. You've survived heartaches and setbacks, and you've celebrated loves and victories. You've learned from living, and you've probably gained more common sense than you ever thought you'd need. You've gained the seasoning that comes with age, and your grandchildren are the beneficiaries.
Let Your Grandness Shine
Webster's defines grand as:
Large and impressive in size, scope, or extent; magnificent. Rich and sumptuous. Of a solemn, stately, or splendid nature. Dignified or noble in appearance or effect. Noble or admirable in conception or intent. Lofty or sublime in character. Wonderful or very pleasing. Having higher rank than others of the same category. Having more importance than others; principal.
Now that's certainly a lot to live up to, but it doesn't need to scare you. You are grand, and this is the time in your life to let it show, not in a bragging or boastful way but rather simply by your character. Your grandchildren know you through your personality, your disposition, and your mannerisms. It's not so much what you do as who you are. To be grand, you don't have to do anything more than be yourself. You don't have to lecture, advise, reprimand, scold, or coach. This is another benefit of being a grandparent rather than the primary parent.
If you've ever been to a redwood forest and walked among the three-thousand-year-old trees, you will never again doubt the grandeur of an aged creature. Walking among the three-hundred-foot Sequoias, I'm in awe, talking only in whispers. It's as though I'm standing in a splendid cathedral. A reverence for the natural order and progression of life prevails. The rings of the tree trunk denote the age of the tree—the more rings, the older the tree. Those of us fortunate enough to live, and strong enough to survive, eventually become old. Like the rings of a redwood tree, let your age proudly show your status. Your "rings" show how far you've come. They're your emblem of subsistence and strength.
You've lived long enough to be a grandparent, but that doesn't mean you're "over the hill." Research has shown that senior citizens are not doomed to years of infirmity, decrepitude, senility, or degradation. Quite the contrary: With exercise, good nutrition, a positive attitude, and a sense of humor, your life can be full of vitality, enthusiasm, and adventure.
The grandparenting years can be spectacular, and we're the torch bearers of what these years can be. The middle and younger generations need examples of how to live fully; they're following in your footsteps, looking to you to show them the way. Someday they too might be grandparents and, if you've been steadfast on your course, they will look forward to it. So be as grand as a redwood and remember that in the eyes of your grandchild, you already are.
Define Your Grandparenting Philosophy
Whether you're an eager, "I can hardly wait" grandma or a reluctant, "I'm not sure I'm ready" type, you need to think about the kind of grandparent you want to be. How much time do you want to devote to your role? What do you want to give your grandchildren? What do you want them to think and feel about you?
There seem to be two stereotypical notions of grandparents. On one extreme are the doting, waiting, loving, all-caring, and sentimental grandparents "without a life of their own." On the other extreme is the interfering, bossy, take-charge, "I know what's right for you" stereotype. Becoming a grandparent is a defining moment, but you don't have to adopt a stereotypical role. You can still be you, but you need to grapple with what that means.
Your outlook on grandparenting probably came from your own grandparents, so it is helpful to think about them as you develop your philosophy. Did you know your grandparents? Were you close to them? How much time did you spend with them? What do you remember about those times? What kind of grandparents were your parents to your children?
Since my friend Jean became a grandmother, she's full of recollections. She remembers her father, John Lundstrom, who used to carry candy in his pocket. It got his grandsons to always ask, "Wha'cha got in your pocket?" He also kept it in a jar by his bed, in case he got a midnight craving.
Jean says, "Of course, my boys thought that must be another one of those 'for adults only' privileges, denied to them, which made them yearn to mature quickly."
Perhaps you might like to write a grandparenting mission statement. If you already have grandchildren, think about your relationship with them. Do you enjoy them? Do you look forward to being with them? How much time do you spend together? Is it enough or would you prefer more? Is there anything you can do to improve your relationship with the children or their parents? Because there are no classes on grandparenting, you'll have to chart your own course. Lynne and Mike agree: "In adjusting to this new role, we know all the things we don't want to do or be like, but we're not so clear on the 'what to do.'"
Your grandparenting philosophy is a reflection of your love and commitment to family in general and grandchildren in particular. Your philosophy will keep you focused on what is important to you in your relationship with your grandchildren. By putting your philosophy into practice, you take an active role in forming an alliance with your grandchild.
My seventy-five-year-old mother says that there are two ways to tell when you're getting older: (1) by looking in the mirror and (2) when you start putting rubber bands around everything. I know I'm fitting into the dignitary category because (1) when strangers learn my age they frequently say, "You don't look that old," or they nod in recognition as if they're thinking, Yep. I thought so and (2) I have a rubber band around my checkbook.
Recently, I've begun to notice advertisements in the Seattle Times for cosmetic surgery, promising that "you'll feel better if you look younger"—all it takes is a tummy tuck, a face peel, a lid reduction, or a facelift. If I'm willing to pay a small fortune and go under the knife, I can look better than I did at forty. I might be tempted to call a plastic surgeon if I looked in the mirror more than twice a day, but since I don't like anesthesia and recovery rooms, I've decided to keep busy instead. I have too much to do—there are classes to take, beaches to comb, back roads to explore, countries to visit. Besides, I'm starting to truly appreciate lines on my face.
All seasons are beautiful and so are all faces, whether fresh and smooth or weathered and wrinkled. An old person who has lived life fully is beautiful. It isn't beauty potions, liposuction, or hair replacement that gives an elder beauty—it's living life to the fullest. Trying to look young makes an older person look odd, artificial, and contrived. Our society's obsession with youth sends a contradictory message to our grandchildren: We say, "respect your elders," yet we elders strive desperately to look anything but.
Aging is as natural as the seasons. Wrinkles, graying hair, and a softer, sagging body show that you've had a long journey and have in many ways mastered the art of living. Now you're putting your energy into facing the challenges of aging with dignity. We all know that we live in a youth culture and that it is therefore hard to grow old gracefully. But there are hopeful signs that aging is becoming more socially acceptable. As baby boomers age, society is beginning to recognize the value that comes with life experience.
Our grandchildren can help us accept our aging, because children aren't easily fooled by looks. Rather, they see our inner beauty. Janet, a beauty consultant for more than thirty-five years and the proud grandmother of five-year-old Jacob, says, "Believe me, I know about beauty, and this face is out of its prime. But when Jacob pats my face and says, 'I kiss your beautiful face,' I'm not concerned about the fountain of youth because I'm getting unconditional love."
A person desperately clinging to some long-gone moment is a not a pretty sight. But when a man or woman accepts old age as natural, you can't find a more beautiful face than an old one— wrinkled through many seasons, seasoned through many experiences, matured and all grown up.
Prepare for Adjustments
Just when you thought you had parenting conquered, you become a grandparent and suddenly see your own child from a whole new perspective. My friend Jean describes it well:
When we landed in Helsinki, where my son Todd lives, I looked around for him while we were waiting in Customs. Finally, I saw him on the other side of the glass, waving. He was bundled up in a thick jacket with a hood, so I didn't see what he was holding in his arms until we got out in the lobby. Nestled down deep in his arms, amid the pile of blankets, was a tiny pink little face—that's all. I was speechless. I had been informed about everything from prenatal visits to the birth itself, and I repeatedly fantasized about all of this, but it wasn't until that moment that I understood what had taken place. It wasn't just the miracle of this baby, but the recognition that my baby—this six-foot-tall young man—had some how matured to a degree far beyond the point his little mother saw him. Coming to terms with that is something I'm still working on. I am totally fascinated with his relationship with his baby, Emma. Todd is a beautiful father. He comes by it so naturally and so easily. This touches me and gives me much joy.
I am in love with being a grandmother and having this beautiful being, Emma, in my life. Although Emma's existence is not for me, I am very thankful to Todd and Reija for her. I also miss my child, however. I miss being needed as a mother by him. I know that this part of my life is over, but it was so defining of who I was. It doesn't peel off easily.
Nothing prepares you for the breathtaking moment when you see your child—who in some ways is still your baby—holding, cuddling, and caring for a little human being. Once you took care of his every need; now he's doing the same for another. In a instant, you recognize that your role in your child's life is evolving, and it catches you off-guard. You're no longer the primary caregiver, and you're not sure who you are in relation to your child. You know you're needed, but you're not sure how or when. Learning to relate to this new image of your child can be more formidable than grandparenting. It will take a little time and that's okay.
"You're telling the grandparents to butt out of the child-rearing advice, aren't you?" Ginger asked me. She says, "I remember having to sit my mother down and tell her that just because I was raising my children differently didn't mean that I thought she was a bad mother. That one honest conversation alleviated a lot of problems between us."
The evolution of your relationship with your child doesn't negate the past or lessen the love. It just puts it in a different ball park. As Jean says, "I know this is where it belongs; I guess I'm getting there too."
Trust Yourself in Transition
If you're wondering how you fit into your family now that your kids are parents themselves; if you're feeling slightly out of step because your identity is changing and you're not sure where to put your energies; if you're thinking about selling the family home so you can travel more lightly—you're in the midst of a life passage, moving through one more developmental phase. When you're struggling to find a new direction, while reminiscing over the past, it's a bittersweet time; remember that it's not the first time you've been caught in momentary limbo.
Remember when your five-year-old daughter rode off on the school bus for the first time, waving good-bye as you cried at the curb? Walking home, you wondered if your little girl needed you anymore. The morning hours dragged; restless, you paced from room to room and drank too much coffee. You taught her to ride a trike and bought her first bicycle; then, seemingly overnight, she was driving your car. Where did the time go? Once she was your baby; now she's someone's mother.
Passing from one phase of life to another is the natural human cycle, yet when your transition is in midwinter, before the spring buds unfold, there are moments when life is at a standstill. The ground is frozen and you're retreating inward, less active, more quiet, whirling with memories of where you've been and wondering where life will take you next. You're looking back and also looking forward, perhaps anxious, agitated, yet surprisingly peaceful and still.
Excerpted from Wonderful Ways to LOVE a Grandchild by Judy Ford. Copyright © 1997 Judy Ford. Excerpted by permission of Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
With over half a million copies of her books in print, Judy Ford, M.S.W. is the best-selling author of Conari's Wonderful Ways books, which include Wonderful Ways to Love a Teen, Wonderful Ways to Love a Child, Wonderful Ways to Be a Family, Wonderful Ways to Love a Grandchild, and Wonderful Ways to Be a Stepparent. Co-author with her daughter Amanda of Between Mother&Daughter, she lives in Washington state.
Sue Patton Thoele is a licensed psychotherapist and the author of numerous books, including The Woman’s Book of Courage and The Woman’s Book of Soul. She lives with her husband Gene near their extended family.
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