Before becoming a grandparent, I could not really fathom what others said about the wonderful state of “grandparenting”. After years of raising toddlers, school age children and then adolescents (so many gray hairs), I had welcomed the relative calm of having young adult children who took care of themselves. But after a time, there was an emptiness and desire to have a baby in my arms, a child to cook for and play with, and the chaos that only children can bring. Along came grandchildren and, with their arrival, a new sense of purpose. When people of my age get together, the conversation inevitably turns to their grandchildren. The lives of grandparents often revolve around their grandchildren. Many older adults move across the country to be near their grandchildren or the young adults move to be closer their parents once grandchildren arrive. Grandparents often alter their work schedules or retire to help care for the grandchildren. Weekends revolve around family time with “the kids”— the actual kids who are adults and grandkids. In mid-March of 2020, most of that stopped or at least changed dramatically.
Those of us who are grandparents most likely fall in the “at risk” age group for being negatively impacted by COVID-19. We have been advised by the CDC to be extremely cautious. Our children are protective of us and want us to stay safe. We are worried about each other — our spouses and friends. And we know that our grandchildren may be non-symptomatic carriers of the coronavirus, especially if they are going to daycares or interacting with others who may have been exposed to the coronavirus. All of this has caused our roles as grandparents to be called into question. For many, the “shelter in place” policies caused us to limit our interactions with grandchildren. Of course, we are all ready to re-establish some contact. But how do we do that? A recent New York Times article provides some guidance in how to think about re-establishing interactions with our grandchildren.
On a personal note, my husband and I are lucky enough to have two grandchildren who live nearby. We share them with another set of grandparents who are wonderful and supportive to them, as well. Our grandchildren, Liam (age 7) and Rosie (age 3 ½), spend a great deal of time with both sets of grandparents and have been surrounded by doting aunts and an uncle. All four grandparents were planning to attend grandparents’ day at Oak Trace Elementary on March 13. That was cancelled, and Liam was sorely disappointed, as were we. Our interactions have changed significantly since then. As grandparents we mourn for the loss of hugs, laughter, reading of books, and just hanging out time. But we also need to consider the loss for our grandchildren. When the impact of COVID-19 became apparent in mid-March, I decided I wanted to be here for the future and to see Liam and Rosie grow up. This has caused me to have some pretty strict policies around social distancing and my “rules of engagement”. Is this the right way to navigate this uncertain time? I don’t know. What I do know is that each of us needs to determine what is best for our family and our situation, but we also need be aware of the impact of our behaviors on others.
After 45 years of working with children and families, I believe in the strength of families and the resilience of children. We need to remain connected with our families and friends, and we are fortunate to live in a virtual world that allows us multiple ways to stay connected. We need to be flexible in our problem-solving as we address family concerns. We need to be supportive of our children and grandchildren in a way that is safe for all of us.
And here are some thoughts from other grandparents at CRG:
As a grandparent of a 5-year old and 1-year old, my heart ached when I was unable to hold them; especially when the younger one would walk toward me with her arms held out for me to pick her up. However, we all adapted by visiting each other on either side of a glass door or social distancing on the driveway wearing masks. I would occasionally buy online gifts for my grandchildren and leave them on the doorstep of their house or bake them cookies. We FaceTime almost daily and have a family Zoom call with everyone including aunts and uncles once a week with a theme such as “crazy quarantine hair,” everyone tells a joke, or sharing something creative that you did during the week. As time has gone on and everyone has been isolated for over several weeks, we are now seeing our grandchildren. This has been wonderful for everyone and gives the parents a well-deserved break.
When you’re gone
The pieces of my heart are missin’ you
When you’re gone
The face I came to know is missin’, too
When you’re gone
The words I need to hear
To always get me through the day
And make it okay
I miss you
When You’re Gone (2007)
Social distancing from grandkids means feeling removed from the easy laughter and warm hugs and hours of pretend play.
The days are still full – and contact is just a Zoom away. We’ve watched school presentations about stingrays, chuckled at MadLibs, and created a Sweet Safety Suite for distance visits.
Now, I find song lyrics have taken on new meanings. And I count my blessings even as I shed a few tears.