How beautiful is the encouragement an elderly person manages to pass on to a young person who is seeking the meaning of faith and of life! It is truly the mission of grandparents, the vocation of the elderly. The words of grandparents have special value for the young. And the young know it. (Pope Francis)
In a series of General Audiences in 2015, Pope Francis considered the value and importance of grandparents to modern families, challenging the secular notion that the word family refers to a small, isolated unit which excludes extended family members. As the öld African proverb reminds us, “it takes a community to raise a child”.
While it’s true that children thrive when nurtured by their primary caretakers, attachments to grandparents enhance the process. By offering a helping hand in caring for the children, grandparents provide their adult children with much-needed support. Grandparents can be great role models, encouraging healthy development simply because they have the time and patience to spend playing, reading, and sharing family stories with their grandchildren.
Unfortunately, secular society seems to believe that nuclear families should raise their children independently, even when both parents work full-time and have afterschool activities to manage. Conditioned in this way, families in need of help may hesitate to ask for it from anyone.
However, grandparents have a wonderful way of establishing consistency in the lives of their grandchildren. They provide a sense of security, particularly for children whose parents are separated, live in poverty, have mental health issues, or struggle with addictions. Although articles on attachment parenting seem to address ideal families, I have witnessed families striving to maintain an image of perfection, eventually falling apart behind closed doors under the pressures of modern-day stress. It was grandparents who saw behind the masks.
Grandparents Connect Kids to Their Family History
The Catholic Grandparents Association explains their view of the role of grandparents:
What could be greater or more important than our vital task of handing on to future generations the values, skills, accomplishments of the past, enhanced by the additions and improvements of our own time? When, as believing Christian grandparents, we talk of our special role in the handing on of the faith, it becomes a calling, a calling from God a vocation. It’s the vocation that gives meaning to our later years, when our strength starts to wane and our powers to decline. As well as being great and important, this is a happy vocation, something to be welcomed and celebrated, something which lights up both our own later life and the early lives of our grandchildren. (The Arlington Cahtolic Herald)
Grandparents offer a sense of cultural heritage and family history, giving their grandchildren a sense of belonging to something bigger than their nuclear family. Of course, grandparents usually share similar values with their adult kids, so they can provide great parenting tips. They are natural babysitters who do not simply take care of their grandchildren’s physical needs, but lavish love on them. When my adult children have attended weddings or other overnight commitments, they only trusted me to babysit their little ones because they knew I had a heart-to-heart attachment with their kids.
The Bathing Grandmother
One of my daughters-in-law calls me The Bathing Grandmother. For months, she actually timed bath days with my visits because I knew how to bathe newborns without making them cry. For my grandson’s first immersion bath, my son tried bathing him efficiently, whipping him in the air from back to front just like the nurse had done in the hospital. Of course, the baby cried just like he cried in the hospital. Babies do not like efficient baths. When my daughter-in-law asked me to help her with the next bath, she was thrilled that my grandson did not cry. I had to laugh as she literally ran downstairs to tell my son how to bathe a newborn. It took time to build up my daughter-in-law’s confidence, but I was delighted to pass on all the little tips I learned while raising nine children.
Encourage a Relationship with Grandparents
Even though modern families are often separated by distance and busy schedules, parents can encourage kids to develop relationships with their grandparents through the telephone, email, Skype, letters, and pictures. However, an attachment with grandparents is deeper than mere physical relationships because children are connected to their grandparents through strong inherited bonds.
A Startling Encounter with My Granddaughter
I learned first-hand that grandparents and grandchildren are connected to each other when meeting one of my newborn granddaughters, Lila, in the hospital. She quickly turned her head at the sound of my voice and her eyes actually opened wide when she saw me. Her look was not blank, but wise as she looked deeply into my eyes. It was if she thought, “Ah, so this is what you look like; I remember your voice.” She remembered the sound of my voice in the womb, and at six hours old, finally, put a face to my voice. My granddaughter connected with my spirit when we looked at each other. I was taken aback for a moment, and the experience would have been completely unnerving if it had not been so profoundly sweet. There was a bond, an attachment between us, even before birth.
A Grandfather’s Prayers
These generational connections are powerful. In fact, a grandparent’s prayers bless grandchildren, even if they never meet each other.
A friend of mine was given up for adoption at birth. However, her birth grandfather, Anthony, was a man of prayer who understood the painful sacrifice his daughter had made and prayed for his granddaughter and great-granddaughter for decades. When my friend’s daughter, Sarah, finally met her grandmother, they connected instantly; it was as if they had known each other all their lives. Sarah looked just like her grandmother, had a similar personality, sense of humour, and even a similar taste in clothes. When Sarah gave birth to a son, she announced, “I am going to call my baby ‘Anthony’.”
Sarah did not know it at the time, but Anthony was the name of her great-grandfather, the man who had prayed for her before she was even born.
Grandparents: Our Link to the Past
If you are a young parent, honour your own parents and invite them to connect with your kids’ lives even if it’s through technology. Grandparents are our kids’ link to the past, just as our kids are their grandparents’ hope for the future. The generations above and below us are irrevocably linked through bloodlines, but more importantly, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
We are able to remind ambitious young people that a life without love is a barren life. We are able say to young people who are afraid that anxiety about the future can be overcome. We are able to teach the young who are overly self-absorbed that there is more joy in giving than in receiving. Grandfathers and grandmothers form the enduring “chorus” of a great spiritual sanctuary, where prayers of supplication and songs of praise sustain the community which toils and struggles in the field of life. (Pope Francis)