With the exception of losing my dad when I was ten years old, I’ve really always felt like I had a charmed childhood. And while I know that it probably sounds odd to say, in spite of such a big loss, it’s actually the truth. Ironically, the way I feel about my childhood isn’t even related to how many friends I had growing up. Or that I was an only child who never had to jockey for my parent’s attention with other siblings. Or because I had a dog, two hamsters, and a guinea pig. I felt blessed as a kid because I always had family around me—in particular, my grandmother.
That was because she was my person. She came to live with my mom and me a few years after my dad passed away, when I was barely a teenager. And let me tell you, even though my grandmother wasn’t especially mobile or in the best physical health, her presence and her humbleness and her unwavering support and affection for me made indelible marks on my life and on my personality. It absolutely helped shape the mother that I am to my own two daughters today.
The Power of Grandma
Having my grandmother there, in the bedroom right next to mine all those years, was the greatest gift anyone could ever have given me. And the funny thing is, I knew it as much then as I do now as an adult. That’s because my grandmother always drew from a deep pool of wisdom and was always deeply intentional about everything she said and did. She knew just what to say, when to say it, and when not to say anything at all.
Gram was my biggest fan, my staunchest ally, and my favorite partner to watch endless hours of Saturday-morning wrestling and candlepin bowling. It was deep under her covers, lying next to her in her bed all those years, that I learned everything there was to know about what life was like when my mom and aunts and uncles were young. I learned lesson after lesson in humility and selflessness and kindness, hearing stories of my sixteen-year-old mom contributing most of her part-time job salary back to the family. I got to visualize her shoveling coal in their basement or getting her tonsils out on their kitchen table. I even learned to understand Yiddish before I was old enough to drive. She had a quiet wisdom, my grandmother, like most grandparents, I think. And she lived her life by very simple rules—rules that she unknowingly passed down to me.
They were simply:
- Never speak badly of anyone, ever,
- Do everything to the best of your ability,
- Love fiercely and unapologetically,
- Take pride in your home and your family,
- Say I love you every chance you get, and
- Laugh as often and as hard as you can.
Grandparents the Original Influencers
Let’s just say that my grandmother’s influence shaped my personality almost as much as my mother’s guidance did. This is why, when I really sit back and think about the things that matter most in my kids’ lives, one of the things that I always circle back to is the relationship they have with their grandparents. Because since the day my kids were born, my mom and her partner, Ron, along with my in-laws, have acted more like a second set of parents to my kids than anything else.
They talk and text and FaceTime about everything and about nothing, just to stay connected. And, even though none of us live under the same roof, the bond my girls have with them reminds me of what my grandmother and I shared when I was their age. Because whether it was learning how to sift flour or how to find the best bargains at the mall or how to be gentle and kind and unassuming as a person, the life lessons they’ve learned from their grandparents are invaluable and will last them a lifetime.
The Greatest Gift
The truth is, I’m pretty sure I can never adequately put into words what my relationship with my grandmother meant to me or what the relationship my girls have with their grandparents means to them, but I know it’s unlike any other relationship we have. So, let’s just say that as far as I’m concerned, there’s no greater gift our kids can have than a close bond with their grandparents. The love our kids get from them is so rare and so pure and so uncompromising that it’s a total one-of-a-kind.
See, in most cases, that unconditional grandparent-type love is different from a mom or a dad’s love because most grandparents don’t wear the same parenting hats we do with our kids. They just always have a gleaming rep and can literally do no wrong. So, while we’re the nurturer and the disciplinarian and the drill sergeant and the therapist and the a-holes, their grandparents are just the cuddly, fun people who love everything they do, never yell, and love to hang out in malls. Somehow it seems a little unfair, though, that they always get the best of our kids. Although I guess after having to put up with all our crap growing up, our parents do deserve to have something to balance the scales.
Getting Enough Granparent Time
So how do we ensure that our kids get the time they need to grow these beautiful bonds with their grandparents? Well, it’s easier than you might think to carve out some meaningful opportunities for everyone to spend time together. Like, if your parents live nearby, consider having a family dinner once a week where everyone can cook and eat together under the same roof. Or invite them to your kid’s extracurricular activities like football games or little league or dance recitals so they can share those special moments in person. And if they don’t live close by, schedule a weekly FaceTime or Zoom call so everyone can stay connected and in touch. You can also encourage a pen pal relationship where everyone exchanges letters every week as a way of filling each other in on the day-to-day. Because who doesn’t love getting old-fashioned mail these days?
So, where there’s a will, there are definitely some easy ways to help strengthen those family ties between grandparent and child. And there’s no greater joy than watching your parents cultivate a meaningful relationship with your kids that will last everyone a lifetime.
Lisa Sugarman lives just north of Boston, Massachusetts. She writes the nationally syndicated opinion column It Is What It Is and is the author of How to Raise Perfectly Imperfect Kids And Be Ok With It, Untying Parent Anxiety, and LIFE: It Is What It Is, available on Amazon, at Barnes & Noble, and everywhere books are sold. Sugarman is also the co-host of LIFE Unfiltered on Northshore 104.9FM Boston; a parenting expert at SocialMama, the networking app for moms; and a contributor on GrownAndFlown, Healthline Parenthood, Thrive Global, Care.com, LittleThings, More Content Now, and Today.com. Visit her at lisasugarman.com.