Grandparents are magical beings, part parent, part play mate, with a warmth hard to find elsewhere. Grandparents are a safe place to land.
Ten years ago, when my (then) boyfriend and I began to look for our first home, I sat down with a map and drew a circle around my parents house. The circle encompassed a 15 minute radius and I informed my boyfriend that radius was where I would consider buying a home. In our mid 20s at the time, children were just a twinkle in
our eyes his eyes and my (now) husband pushed back a little. “Is there really a difference between being 15 minutes away or being a half an hour away?” he wondered. But I was unwavering. “I work with families,” I argued. “I talk to mothers every single day of my life and by and large, the ones who live close to their parents are happier and saner. You know what you’re getting into. I am a codependent extrovert with plans to pop out babies the second you give me the green light. I need my parents.”
I won that argument, and ten years and three children later, I am grateful for my stubbornness. I was right. I knew that they would help us. I knew that they would babysit our children. I knew that my father would feed us endless meals. I knew that being nearby would mean my children would have a close relationship with their grandparents. I knew that my mom would keep me company during long days at home with my young children. I knew how much I would need that. I even knew that my father would occasionally have to come save me from having locked myself out of my house (something that happens at least quarterly).
What I did not know was how much my parents would continue to parent me. And in doing so, it would allow me to be so much better of a parent to my own children.
When I was in college, I would come home and my mother would immediately try to feed me. She would start by asking if she could make me anything, and if I declined she would proceed to bustle about, detailing the contents of the refrigerator and the pantry for the next 15 minutes. It annoyed me to no end. “What does she think that I do when she’s not around?” my cocky young adult self bristled. “I’ve been living on my own for five years. I obviously know how to feed myself.”
These days, I enter my parents’ house and often have to immediately sit down and nurse a baby. My mother bustles about. She brings me a glass of water, offers to make me something to eat, and details the contents of her refrigerator and pantry. I am filled with gratitude. I allow her to make me an egg. I allow her to cook grilled cheese for the children. I allow her to put away the dishes and sweep up the mess the kids have made. Meanwhile, my father entertains the boys. I am filled with a measure of guilt over all of this, but then I finish nursing the baby and there is nothing left to be done. With nothing left to be done, I am free to sit on the floor and play Magna Tiles with my five-year-old. I am free to snuggle on the couch with my three-year-old and read him a book. I am free to lie on the ground, stare at the baby, and try desperately to teach her to say ‘mama’ before she says ‘dada.’ Without all of the tasks to do, I am free to enjoy my children.
My in-laws live farther away, but we visit often, and when we do, the same scenario plays out. I begin to mentally prepare myself to tackle one of the million things that need to be done to keep my children fed and clothed, when a baby cries, a diaper needs to be changed, or a boo boo kissed. As I tend to what needs to be tended to, my mother-in-law bustles about. And when I emerge from whatever mothering has had to be done, I find that the dishwasher has been unloaded, the meal has been started, and the toys picked up. Again, guilt washes over me, but even more so, appreciation. So often I feel utterly spent. Spent from the long days and long nights and long weeks of nurturing. It is uncomfortable for me to allow someone else to take on that role. It goes against my stubborn, prideful, independent spirit, but I think I owe it to my family and myself to take a breath every now and then.
I don’t know how any of them do it. They are 30 years older than me, and yet when they are with my children they seem to have boundless energy, patience, and love. It’s astounding and humbling. I am taking notes; I am continuing to learn from them. And in my dark moments of mothering when I question my abilities, when worry that I am not enough, I console myself with the knowledge that I do not need to be enough. My children have not two, but six parents. And four of them are undoubtedly grand.
Grandparents Day is Sunday, September 10th. Make sure to say ‘thanks’ to the grandparents in your life.