This spring, my son and his wife announced that they’re expecting their first child, a baby boy, at the end of the year. I was thrilled, of course.
My son and daughter-in-law are gainfully employed, and both will be 34 by the time the baby arrives. I have never doubted their ability to be responsible, loving parents.
But I can’t help but wonder as our small family begins to expand: Do I have what it takes to be a grandma? Will holding my new grandson feel as natural as cradling my son when he was a tiny baby? Will the little guy grow to love me? Will I strike the right balance between hovering and supporting?
I know better than to meddle, of course. When my son and his wife were planning their wedding a few years ago, my girlfriends half-jokingly offered the standard advice given to every mother of the groom: “Wear beige and keep your mouth shut.” I’m guessing the same adage applies to paternal grandmothers.
Learning from the experts
It’s not that I’m totally clueless when it comes to childcare. I worked as a family newspaper columnist throughout my son’s childhood, covering every topic from separation anxiety to facing the empty nest. In those days, I referenced dozens of parenting guides for advice and reassurance. I freely shared my findings – along with my own child-rearing mistakes – with my readers.
But as far as I know today, there are few official guides or manuals offering instructions for novice grandparents. Every family is different, of course, which means you have to learn the rules and expectations of grandparenting along the way.
In serious need of a reality check last week, I turned to my old family photo albums, where I finally found the guidance I’d been looking for.
Browsing through my collection of vintage photos, I pulled yellowed images of my much-loved maternal and paternal grandparents – and my step grandparents. My mother’s folks had divorced and remarried early on, so I was lucky enough to have three sets of doting grandparents.
I recalled the traits and memorable qualities that rendered them so dear to my heart. Though their styles were vastly different — and they had little in common — there was one thing that secured my relationship with each one. And that was love. Pure, unconditional love.
I don’t remember many of the toys or presents my grandparents bought for me when I was a kid. (An exception: the boring box of underpants I unwrapped one Christmas Eve.)
But I vividly recall baking apple pies in my Scottish grandmother’s kitchen, for instance, and singing show tunes in the back seat of the car with my step-granny when we drove home one hot August night. And I still remember the beautiful, illustrated letters I received almost weekly from my maternal grandmother in Indiana.
All of my grandparents are gone now, and I miss them. But the memorable times we spent together wove an invisible blanket of influence around my entire life. That is the gift I want to share with my grandson.
The family future
As soon as I learned that my first grandchild is on his way, the nebulous “future” began to shimmer with new meaning. A small part of me will live on when I’m gone.
From now on, I hope to leave everything – including our planet – in better shape than I found it. I’ve started taking better care of my own health, too, because I don’t want to miss anything.
One of my best friends became a grandmother three years ago, and she’s eager to share what she’s learned from experience. For my birthday this summer, she gave me a pocket-sized icon of Santa Ana, the patron saint of grandmothers.
The icon includes a short but handy little devotion that I’ll always want to keep in mind after my grandbaby arrives: “May the deep and profound love I feel for my children and grandchildren help me overcome and heal any and all mistakes I have made.”
Amen to that.