Guest Contributor: In the Beginning: The Supporting Cast (to be a Grandparent)

This post is from a guest contributor who plays a very important role in her family… the role of a grandmother!

I am having such a blast as a grandmother! All the perks of parenthood, without the responsibility. I am in my third childhood (the second, of course, occurring with my own children) and relish the opportunity to play and be silly once again with my grandchildren. Their innocence and ‘joie de vie’ is energizing. I have been reacquainted with Uno and Sorry, playgrounds and giant bubbles. Together, we have constructed Marshmallow Shooters, and assembled S’mores in celebration of summer. Every season brings its own pleasures and opportunities to play. Fall and leaf battles. Winter and snow painting and snowman building. Spring and puddle jumping. What is not to love?! And when my energy dwindles (long before the grandkids’ does), I take great pleasure in stepping aside and observing Pappa teasing the grandkids and our children parent and play with their kids. It is an amazing and privileged role I get to play as grandmother…

We have both biological and adopted grandchildren. They are all precious to us. We do not make distinctions – no need to – there is plenty of love to go ’round. Nevertheless, it would be dishonest of me and most naïve to suggest to you that there are no differences in the ways in which we grandparent each.

Particularly at the outset, the journey begins quite differently. This is not something I would have anticipated initially. Adopted or biological – they are all kids – right?! Just love them all, big hugs and kisses, lots of sugar treats, spoil them like crazy (a grandparent’s prerogative :), and then send them home to Mommy and Daddy, end of story. Sound right? Well, not quite. (I must confess I am not the ‘spoiling’ type, with any of our grandchildren. A few treats here and there – certainly. More important, though, Pappa and I prefer to spoil our grandkids with love and affection, with time and experiences, rather than with too many treats or things. We are (and always were) just too darn pragmatic!)

The hugs and cuddles are a very natural beginning for a biological grandchild. Along with Mom and Dad, the bonding for us began long before baby was born. It was a natural greeting into the real world.

For our adopted grandchildren, however, because they were no longer babies when they entered our family, the rules were quite different. Fortunately for us, our own daughter and son-in-law took the time to educate us prior to the arrival of their adopted children. They offered us reading material. They provided a list of things they wanted us to know as we embarked on this adoption journey together. This education had many benefits and should not be understated here. Because of it, we did not take it personally when they opted out of family events for the first while; they explained to us that they needed time to bond as a family unit, prior to introducing other family members into their circle. While we missed our own children hugely and were beyond excited to celebrate this incredible event with them (the creation of a family), we were able to step back because we could appreciate that developing this primary bond with Mom and Dad was of utmost importance to our grandchildren and would only come ‘in time’. Attachment is a huge challenge, not one often discussed or appreciated and we had to be patient – not my strong suit! Was it tough to be on ‘the outside’ in the early phase? So incredibly tough. But thanks to our kids (daughter and son-in-law), the conversation had begun.

When Pappa and I finally met our grandchildren, it was love at first sight! (Can I gush for a moment here to tell you how precious they are? 🙂 We were desperate to pick them up in our arms, give them big squishy hugs and tell them how lucky we were to meet them. Instead, we had to check all our instincts to cuddle and nurture at the door. We could love them, certainly, but we were cautioned to move slowly and follow Mom and Dad’s prompts. Good advice, I promise, as our primary role is and should be to support Mom and Dad. However, that is translated into specifics: we refrained from physical contact for the most part. We held back instead of rushing to a grandchild’s rescue when he/she scraped a knee or bumped a toe. We even deferred from offering a drink or snack when our grandchildren were hungry. Pretty tricky! And completely counter-intuitive!! Nevertheless, we understood the reasoning behind the request to ‘step back’ and allow Mommy and Daddy to move in to provide those basic needs, that comfort and sympathy; these children needed to learn to lean on Mom and Dad – to trust that Mom and Dad would be there for them. It can be a huge hurdle/challenge for an adopted child to learn to trust those around them to take care of them; they have spent critical developmental years learning that they can depend on none, other than themselves. Hence, initially, instead of being a hands-on grandparents, jumping in with both feet, Pappa and I hovered around the periphery of this blossoming family, becoming the ‘cheering section’ and celebrating all the small, but monumental milestones of our grandchildren – as when a child sought out Mom or Dad of their own accord when they were hurt, as when a child stepped between his/her parents to hold both Mom and Dad’s hands.

The exciting news is that we have moved past those first tenuous meetings as the bonds in this new ‘forever family’ strengthen. Pappa and I continue to work hard to follow Mommy and Daddy’s lead, but there are now ample opportunities to engage with our grandchildren, to love and nurture them. And as I watch and play with these amazing grandchildren, I register how far they have come in their own journey. There is new confidence emerging alongside their sense of belonging. There is a sense of humor revealing itself as they remember how to play. They are children first and foremost-the path to creating those family bonds is just different for an adoptive family.

I am so grateful that our children had the wisdom and the courage to advise us as to how we could best support them in their role as adoptive parents, even when, at times, it must have been extremely hard to do so… I feel even more blessed that the dialogue is ongoing, for it is because of that dialogue that we are able to work together, parents and grandparents together, to ultimately provide what is best for our children/grandchildren and to celebrate ‘family’.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a game of Uno to play… 🙂

2 thoughts on “Guest Contributor: In the Beginning: The Supporting Cast (to be a Grandparent)

  1. I can see where you get your gift of words from Cara- very heartfelt and touching words. Thank you for sharing these personal moments with everyone- your grandchildren- all of them- are very lucky to have such loving people in their lives.

  2. This is a really fantastic post! I am going to make sure that I provide my family with the tips and education they’ll need to support me in my adoption. Thank you for sharing your wisdom on our blog, and I really (really, really) hope you will consider contributing again!

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