Can grandchildren help our parents age well?
The short answer: Yes! Especially when they are adorable and lovable (and don’t almost all grandchildren seem that way to grandparents?)
The next question is why and how. Their energy, curiosity, and eagerness create a mood of vitality, discovery, hope. While they’re the future, their youthful ways are uplifting and contagious. They make grandparents proud and can ignite grandparents’ feelings of being young again.
Around holiday time in December each year I ask aging parents (grandparents) what they’d most like as a gift. Before I even ask the question I know the answer of many. Grandmothers say their greatest joy is being with grandchildren. (So much for the many hours we devote to being good sons and daughters!)
My 6-year-old niece liked to visit Mrs. M, who lived in an “elevator building.” She had no grandchildren and treated me like a daughter. My niece could barely reach the button for Mrs. M’s floor, but she’d stretch her little body high enough and when she hit the button it was exciting.
On one occasion my niece was dancing around like little girls do when Mrs. M. (age 100) rose from her chair, grabbed my niece’s little hands and started dancing with her–that is until she began to lose her balance. Only by the grace of God did a male friend, standing near, steady Mrs. M. and help her sit down. Mrs. M’s remark, while showing a bit of embarrassment, was something like “Watching her I forgot my age and felt like a girl again.”
The other day I watched a youngster, carrying an oversized stuffed rabbit with over-long ears come into a restaurant–obviously with her grandmother. Wearing the ubiquitous pink, little-girl clothing, she hopped up on the banquette, settled her rabbit snugly next to her, and sat like a little lady, coloring the children’s menu. She looked like her grandmother’s pride and joy. Her grandmother’s face–looking at this child and beaming– confirmed it.
It took me back to my youth and my birthdays. Every year my grandmother and I went downtown and followed the same routine: lunch, going to the department stores where I met ladies my grandmother knew and they gave me perfume samples. And lastly we visited one of her friends in their home or apartment–more fun for me!
As I look back, from my adult vantage point, she must have loved it also and tailored the day to suit my age. Our last outing was on my 16th birthday. We no longer collected perfume samples. I got to pick out my present at the jewelry store–a pearl ring. But I couldn’t understand why it took so long to wrap it and finally get it—-until we got to my home and I opened the door to my friends yelling “Surprise.” My grandmother–long gone now–was in on it. She must have had as much fun as I.
Grandchildren provide the jump-start, the shot-in-the-arm, the entertainment. They engender pride and a perspective that shouts “future.” I think we can understand why so many grandmothers say being with grandchildren is what they want most.
Yet with the distance between many far-away-living children and their parents, bringing grandparents and grandchildren together is no doubt more difficult. So as we do with many other things, we must weigh priorities.
That said, when we know our aging parents really need a lift, a jump-start, something to make them feel better, to help them age well, should we think more than once about whether or not we could/should contribute a grandchild to the cause? We’ll know when that time comes, I’m certain.