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The Unique Role of a Grandparent

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The Wonderful Opportunity to be “Grand” in a Child’s Life

I am fortunate to have had grandparents who were members of the “Greatest Generation.” My grandfather’s life seemed extraordinary to me and made the “grand” part of “grandfather” seem especially true. He was born in France in 1900 and was just old enough to fight in World War I. He then served in the French military in Africa, and in the diplomatic service in Vietnam and Laos. He came back to France right in time for World War II and fought for the Resistance. He and my Grandmother came to the United States after World War II for a short and needed vacation… and never left. My grandfather did not elaborate on what he had experienced during the Wars, but his passions and convictions were apparent. I can only guess they were the result of what he had seen. My Grandfather believed in human dignity. He believed that manners and certain formalities were extremely important. He believed in managing his household efficiently. Waste was a sin and he actively recycled long before the word “recycle” was understood. He believed in staying fit. He believed in family. He believed in loyalty. He believed in his church. He believed in love of country. He believed in gardening. Lastly, he believed in living in the moment.

When I was with my Grandparents, I felt safe. As a child of the 70’s when so many traditions were seen as passé or worse, I found comfort in the order of my grandparents’ home. I loved the seated meals, the routines, and the clear expectations of behavior. Perhaps if I had lived with my grandparents full-time, I would have found these things to be oppressive, but it was a treat to be with my grandparents. They spoiled me in small ways and in ways that were bigger than they knew. More than anything else, I loved to hear them talk. Their stories were of incredible events, coincidences and characters. They were stories from the extreme times during which they had lived. Listening to my grandparents gave me perspective and context for understanding my own world. I learned of the pain they had each experienced—family and friends lost—and of survival, of carrying on and of finding beauty in life despite it all.

Grandparents are “grand” in their grand-children’s eyes because of the unique ability a grandfather or grandmother has to give perspective, context and understanding. Grandparents can tell the story of facing adversity and prevailing in a different way than a parent can because of their place in a grandchild’s life. Unencumbered by the chaos and minutiae of parenting, a grandparent is uniquely positioned to communicate what is most important. My daughter’s school sent me an email after the first week of school that included a thought or quote from my 8th grade daughter. I learned that my daughter “most admires her grandfather because he got scholarships to take him all the way through college, and he always thinks of others before himself.” I had not known that she felt this way before I received the email, but I had recognized the special bond between my daughter and her grandfather. Now I appreciate it even more.

[AUTHOR: Hilary Doubleday]

August 28, 2015

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