When I was expecting my first grandchild, a colleague’s eyes opened wide.
‘You’ll love it. It’s the best thing,’ she enthused. ‘It’s better than having your own children.’
I thought she might have been exaggerating, but now four and a half years and four grandchildren later, I can confirm she was absolutely right. It is, indeed, the best.
I was always looking forward to being a grandma, but it still surprised me how good it is. All the benefits without the strain of being the actual parent. All the joy and cuddles and fun and ridiculous pride without the sleepless nights, the frenzy, the washing, the juggling of work and childcare, the witching hour before dinner (or is it after, or both?), the complete inability to take a pee in private, or even at all, and that constant, aching exhaustion …
Is it all starting to come back to you?
But now as a grandparent, I don’t have to suffer those horrors and instead get all the benefits of little bubbas without the downsides. Well, mostly without the downsides. How crazily special is that?
And now, just days ago, we have welcomed another little bubba into the fold: the fourth for us, the first for them, the one that launches them into a whole new world, that of being a parent, the one that melts their hearts and changes their lives indelibly forever.
And while Mum and Dad absorb the newness of parenthood and the wonder of that tiny being, and count his fingers and his toes over and over and gaze for hours at his little face, so I contemplate the things I love most about being a grandmother.
It’s a gift
Being a grandparent is a bit like magic. Unconditional love is thrust upon you by adoring small people. There is little like the joy of a baby’s face erupting into a smile when they see you, or toddlers racing to give you a hug or tell you the latest tale.
It’s a privilege, and one that doesn’t happen to everyone, which makes it even more special. Not all want to become parents, and not all who want to become parents get to do so, and I’m cognisant of that. I am grateful to be blessed with two children of my own and now a growing tribe in the next generation I also call my own.
Photo: Mel Hill Photography
Doing it over again
Being a grandparent allows you to do relive your favourite bits of parenthood. Do you remember the last time your child held your hand walking along the street? Somehow that stopped happening, without you even realising it had stopped. Now I get another chance to experience those special things one more time, and soak them in: a small warm hand gripping mine, a little body snuggling up on the couch for a cuddle, or a warm, jiggly leg wrapped over mine when someone sneaks into my bed on a sleepover.
“I like to be the big spoon,’ Miss 5 announces as she envelopes my thigh with her whole leg and snuggles in tighter.
As grandparent, I get to be a support person. The challenges of raising babies is forever etched in my mind. Our first born seemed averse to sleep from the start and for years she slept little and sporadically, and even in the maternity hospital, the nurses passed her from one to another to cajole sleep. 30 years on and the sound of a crying baby still stresses me and thrusts me back to those long days and even longer nights, seeking snatches of sleep.
Now I witness that grown baby experiencing similar challenges herself. We share that common ground, and I know the value of sharing the stress and the value of an extra pair of hands, or ears, as well as the fun times.
Sometimes our role is to provide support, relief, applause or maybe a glass of wine, and we do that willingly. The parents do the hard yakka and we get to marvel at the job they’re doing and hold them up a bit when needed, even if that’s just hanging out together to make the day easier all round.
How difficult it must be for young parents without parental support, or even worse, to be a single parent. Hats off to those who manage a relentless job solo. And how difficult too when grandparents have to step in to replace the parents.
Good for them, good for us
We all benefit from this relationship. It’s well documented that spending time with grandkids is beneficial: it can energise you and keep you fitter, physically and mentally. Research also shows caring for grandchildren extends longevity. Those games of memory and draughts and chess will keep our brains active too, and all that lifting and chasing them is keeping us fit. I do rue the day, though, that I taught them to play ‘Red Rover’ (essentially a chasing game) as now I have created two river monsters who thrive on running across imaginary waterways and who never tire and who have no regard for the effects of heatwaves and unrelenting chants on grandparents.
Conversely, we teach them about the world in our own special way. I’m the puzzle queen and theatre-taker, while Grandude teaches them about gardening and spends long periods at building sites to watch diggers in action.
We each put joy in the others’ lives, and joy is good for the body and the soul.
The same sense of pride
Again, we get to burst with genetic pride. That powerful and perhaps irrational conditioning (fog?) that convinces you your kids are the cleverest, most spectacular, most advanced in all the land applies just as strongly with grandchildren. Remember that chest-crushing pride you felt watching them on stage in those truly dreadful performances, and the tears of pride that came with it? Well, it’s the same with the next generation. The thrill you get when they intentionally hit that dangling rattle for the first time or take a wobbly first step is every bit as intense. Somehow though, because they’re your children once removed, we feel we can be freer in our boasting of their outrageous talents and glorious looks.
The gift of time
But for me, the best thing about being a grandparent is the gift of time. When we had our own kids, life was busier and more stressful. Actually, it was manic. Although we played and had fun, there’s some regret l I didn’t give them one more go on the carousel or couldn’t spend more time just sitting or reading to the kids or telling them a long story.
Now I have the space and time to take things slowly and gently breathe in the little moments. We can dedicate entire mornings to games or books if we want, or slow, leisurely walks looking for treasures, like feathers or pretty leaves, with which to make artworks. No pressure to finish up so we can race off to do something else. Of course, our own list of house jobs remains largely undone, but there’s always next week.
We’re especially fortunate that most of our grandchildren live nearby and we see an awful lot of them. Many times a week, (sometimes many times a day!), so our home is their second one. Miss 5 even says she wants to move in. (Perhaps not. The serenity when they leave is also something to be much appreciated.) Now the new addition in another state makes visitation more complex and so we will begin to wear a path up and down the long highway between us.
It’s not bad at all.