caring for a grandchild, Caring for a parent, family caregiving

Learning to be a Grandparent

Parents—and I’m just going to say it here, especially mothers—are jugglers. Unless they grew up in the circus, they have to learn the skill on the job. Because this post is inspired by my day today with my three-month-old grandson, I’m talking parenting babies here.

  1. There’s the care and feeding of the baby part: changing diapers; feeding; trying to make him happy when he’s not, trying to keep him happy when he is; going for walks because sometimes that’s the best way to make him happy; helping him fall asleep then hoping the tip switch is off when you put him down; playing and snuggling and delighting when he laughs. Repeat.
  2. As if that isn’t more than a day’s work, there’s cleaning and laundry and shopping and cooking. Repeat.
  3. If you have a partner, you have to nurture that relationship, and it takes time.
  4. For many (most these days) there’s a paying job. And days are still only 24 hours.
  5. And, sadly too often at the bottom of the list, there are the things you want to do just for you. For me right now that’s reading and writing and digging in dirt.

I have two grandsons who have always lived far away. Even when they weren’t far-far away as they are now, they were too far away to spend much time with. Now I have one close by and I am learning how to be an active grandparent. I’m spending whole days with him once a week while his moms are at work. And what I discovered today was I can let go of all the above list except #1. And that is the difference between being a parent and being a grandparent.

I have the utmost respect for grandparents who return to (nearly) full time parenting on behalf of their working children—and my other two grandsons’ other grandmother does that. Hats off! There was a time I considered the possibility with my new grandson—albeit with misgivings. It didn’t work out to be possible, which is a good thing. I’ve been a parent—and a juggler—and I’ve moved on. Now don’t get me wrong, I love my children and my grandchildren, but I don’t want to go back there.

But once a week there is not one thing I would rather be doing, or that I need to be doing, than tending to the care and nurturing of Elliot. Today I had my book, I had my writing project, I had my computer. I picked them up during Elliot’s cat naps, and didn’t feel a bit cheated when they went right back into my bag, nearly unaddressed, when he woke up. The only thing I had to juggle was the baby, the bottle, and the burp cloth: complete baby focus. Sometimes I just held him while he napped, because it’s just so darned sweet.

I’m learning to let balls drop; I’m learning to be a grandparent. The learning period is a whole lot shorter than that of my other caregiving role. I have heard caring for an elderly parent referred to as parenting your parent. I believe it is disrespectful of my mother, and not helpful to me, to think of our roles as reversed. I am supporting her; I hope I am helping her hold on to the integrity of her life as an adult until the end of her days. That last is hard, because she has not let go of her role as my parent—at least it doesn’t feel like it to me—so I’m having to fight for my own identity, which might feel disrespectful to her. Perhaps it is her own attempt to hold on to the integrity of her adulthood.

Yep, I’m done with being a parent. My children are adults. My mother is an adult. And I am a grandparent. How sweet it is.

And who knew Amtrak had free WiFi?




4 thoughts on “Learning to be a Grandparent”

  1. Yes yes yes on all counts! It is truly a joy and a juggle to nurture g-kids! Do you know the song, Hush little baby, dont say a word? i have found it delightful and effective my whole life, with kin and other kids, too! Cohen, 10, says something nice about my cooking and i say, o, i am not such a good cook. Then we talk about how everyone says that. But a good cook usually says they Love to cook. Fun conversation with an interested 10-yr-old!


  2. I live with my daughter & her two little ones. I am not their caregiver but I help out as I can and I feel privileged to do so. I have older grandkids that I knew, but not in their lives a lot. These two are my joy and my learning experience about life as it is now. Some don’t understand how I want to do this, but it has been a gift to me for seven years now…the little ones in my life! I have only lived with them between one and two years.


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