So I’m at this dinner party recently, engaged in pleasant conversation with a fellow I just met when, out of the blue, he asks whether I’d like to see a picture of his grandchild.  “Sure” – what else can you say?  He pulls out his Iphone, summons forth an image of this cute six month old and of course I tell him how proud he must be.  He beams.

What’s going on here?’  Why can’t grandparents restrain themselves?  Why must they always steer the conversation around to their grandkids, then quickly follow up with pictures?  Why is there such sheer unadulterated joy when they recount the talents and accomplishments of these little geniuses?  Had they ever lavished such praise on their own children?

One answer simply involves numbers.  Never before in human history have so many grandparents been around at one time.  With people living longer that population has mushroomed.  No doubt grandparents have always abandoned objectivity when it came to their grandkids.  Now that there are so many of them the rising chorus of adulation resounds ever more mightily.

Grandparenting is an ongoing joy ride they’ll tell you.  Not that you’ll find them especially reflective, but it must have something to do with the idea of renewal, of fulfillment and legacy, together with the pleasures of parenting light, i. e., being engaged with the kids only at selected times and under favorable circumstances.  Visiting with the kids, babysitting if need be, taking them places, buying them clothes and gifts, offering them their favorite treats – it’s all a sheer delight.  It’s parenting without pressure.  Grandparents, often retired, have time to spare, time to read to them and tell stories, assist with homework, watch them perform.  If the kids begin to misbehave grandparents can, without guilt, back off, avoid confrontation, impose no discipline.  That’s best left to the parents.  Instead they simply can leave

Too idyllic a picture, you say.  You’re right.  There are “issues” here.  (Of course, all along we’ve been talking about “volunteer” grandparents, not those who, out of necessity, are recruited to provide child care, school pickup, meals, etc., while parents are out working.)  Parents sometimes complain that their kids are being spoiled by all the attention and unbounded generosity and that grandparents sometimes convey messages and attitudes at odds with parental preferences.  Then, too, grandparents sometime question and criticize how the kids are being raised.  All this is usually forgotten when grandparents arrive to babysit, feed the kids and put them to bed.  What parents don’t enjoy a relaxing night out, minus the babysitting costs?

Back at home now, amidst peace and quiet most welcome, an afterglow from having been with the kids remains.  Moreover, their presence is still felt by virtue of the numerous photos of the grandchildren all about, together with displays of their “beautiful” pieces of artwork.  Who, therefore, can doubt that the grandkids enjoy a privileged and precious place in their home and in their hearts.

Leave a Reply