The grandparent-grandchild relationship is one most people cherish.
The influence of grandparents on a child depends on their level of involvement, from essential to nonexistent.
A child knows the difference. A child with loving grandparents gains wisdom and an emotional foundation that one without involved grandparents can hardly imagine.
Residents of The Villages reflected on their family memories ahead of National Grandparents Day, which will be celebrated Sunday, Sept. 8.
“My grandparents were incredibly important to me,” says Faith Walton, a resident of the Village of Country Club Hills. “They enriched my life without measure. Their presence was such a huge influence on me and all my 28 cousins that we each thought we were their favorite grandchild. We still hold a cousins’ picnic every year for the past 40 years in memory of them. That’s how important they were to all of us.”
Grandchildren come in all colors, shapes, sizes, and ages, but usually elicit the same feelings: enjoyment, pride, even a sense of accomplishment.
“I am excited to see them,” says Donald Lewis, regarding his four grandchildren who range in ages from 6 to 22. “I feel a pride in my kids watching how they raise their own children.”
“Our oldest granddaughter, Marissa, is in the Navy Medical Corps,” adds his wife, Alison. “In the beginning of her career, Marissa was stationed at the same hospital where she was born in San Diego when her father was in the Navy. Now, she’s serving on a ship in the Mediterranean. We couldn’t be prouder of her.”
The Lewises, residents of the Village of Piedmont, vow they have no favorite grandchild.
“Each one is special,” Alison says.
“I like watching them grow and feel confident in the decisions they’re making,” Donald adds.
These same sentiments are echoed by other grandparents cheerleading from the sidelines of life as the younger generation raises future parents of their own.
“Grandchildren remind me that I did something right in parenting my children,” says Phyllis Walters, of the Village of Springhill. “It’s wonderful to see they’ve become responsible parents themselves.”
She and her husband, Dan, have six grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, and 12 step-grandchildren between them with past marriages and blended families.
The couple are of Greek descent, so their grandchildren call them “YaYa” and “PaPu” from the traditional Greek language.
“Passing on traditions is a joy to me,” Phyllis says. “My 11-year-old identical twin granddaughters in Michigan have learned that every August, we buy school shoes together. My own mother took me shoe shopping and loved red shoes. So, shoe-buying is important to her. I want the twins to have a memory of YaYa buying shoes with them.”
Phyllis loves her grandies “unconditionally, because they don’t live with me.”
But many grandchildren do live with their grandparents. Nearly 2.5 million U.S. grandparents are responsible for grandchildren who live with them, according to the American Association of Retired Persons. In other cultures, grandparents have traditionally raised their grandchildren for centuries. Whether by circumstance or design, grandparents are life’s fallback plan.
Adults who take care of grandchildren seem to have better cognitive functions, according to a 2016 study from Boston University. “Emotional closeness between adult grandchildren and their grandparents protects against depression for both,” says a report published in U.S. News & World Report.
Yes, grandparents and grandchildren definitely can help each other.
A grandparent gives a child another chance at understanding the world in which they are trying to grow, to understand the values expected of him or her. No one came with a rulebook, but everyone came with a grandparent. How lucky the child who has a grandparent in his or her life.
Likewise, grandchildren give riches of their own. To some grandparents, they represent a second chance at being a good parent, even if once removed, or simply an opportunity for a new viewpoint.
“My grandchildren give me a new perspective on looking at the world,” says Diane Dean, a resident of the Village of Buttonwood Heights. “It’s much more positive than the one I grew up with. It’s beautiful.”
Does she see her grandchildren often?
“Not often enough,” Diane says. That’s because families are spread out across the country in this modern day. The opportunity lies in traveling to see them, which makes visits even more special.
However, there is no longer an excuse not to visit grandchildren in these days of high technology. Phone and computer applications such as Skype and texting now can take a grandparent right into children’s lives no matter where they live.
“I’ve watched my granddaughter unwrap Christmas gifts via Skype,” says Claire Rahn, a resident of the Village of Gilchrist. “A high-tech visit is the next-best thing to being there. It beats never seeing or hearing from far-flung grandchildren, especially during important moments to share.”
On another branch of the family tree, great-grandparenting involves more people as older generations continue to live longer.
In my own family, my daughter is a mother, stepmother, and step-grandmother, which makes me a step-great-grandmother to four beautiful children. Since they live in Anchorage, Alaska, admittedly it becomes more difficult to visit, but I watch them growing up via Facebook and phone videos, modern marvels for family dynamics.
When one step-granddaughter, Kristi, was 15 years old, I remember washing dishes with her at the kitchen sink on one of my Alaskan visits. The memory of giving her sage advice on opportunities that still laid ahead for her stays in my mind, as do her responses for positive encouragement from her step-grandmother.
Since then, I’ve watched her grow up, marry, and give birth to four children. My step-great-grandchildren and I have not personally met yet, but with the use of high-tech, we will one day soon.
Hologram visits may be on the horizon, offering a chance to interact “in person” with grandchildren who live near or far away. And if recording a hologram becomes routine, grandparents could transcend space and time to visually and audibly meet their future generations.
But the most irreplaceable gift that grandchildren can give grandparents is simply telling them “I love you, Grandma” and “I love you, Grandpa.”