Kristin Armstrong Considers the Accepting Nature of Grandparent Love
“Grandparent love is the culmination of years of experience, knowing what behavior is worth correcting and when to just laugh.”
My parents are the kind of parents and grandparents you would choose if you could handpick your lot in life before you ever arrived on the planet. Who knows, maybe I did just that. However it happened, I totally scored, and so did my kids.
My parents moved to Austin right after my twin girls were born, intentionally crafting a life where they would be involved with their three grandchildren on a regular and consistent basis. They knew every sport, friend, schedule, food preference, interest, clothing and shoe size all the years of their lives. I could leave the kids with them when I left town without leaving them any instructions, because they already knew everything. Today they have a relationship with each of my children that does not need to be brokered or influenced by me. They are chosen and included because they spent all these years choosing and including. Never was there a finer example of sowing and reaping. The life they have created is a garden and a legacy of love.
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My parents are big on tradition. They are the matriarch and patriarch of holidays and birthdays, and part of how they love is in the incredible food they prepare. The other part is the way it feels to share in the feast. If you are loved by someone they love, they love you automatically, and therefore you belong. My mom, who sets a gorgeous table days before a celebration, can always add an extra table leaf and place settings to welcome last minute guest requests. There is always enough food, enough room and more than enough love to go around.
My daughter recently said something that stopped me in my tracks. I have been mulling this over ever since. She said, “Mom, I know you love me beyond and I love you too. But I have to say that there is something totally different about the way Nani and Papa love me. It’s literally the best feeling in the whole world.”
The life they have created is a garden and a legacy of love.
I considered the fundamental differences between parent love and grandparent love. Grandparent love is the culmination of years of experience, knowing what behavior is worth correcting and when to just laugh. Grandparent love is all about acceptance, because your grandkids are basically perfect just the way they are. They don’t have to win the game, get a good report card, or get into a certain college because just watching their life unfold is amazing enough. Grandparents remember the days when fun was simple, connection was always in person, and being a regular kid was just fine. Grandparents have already done all the fretting and realize that most of it was probably unnecessary. They are wise enough to enjoy the moment, right here and now.
My kids are 22, 20 and 20. I am done with the foundational seasons of parenting, and am more like a consultant, here when they need me but mostly enjoying whatever time I get in their fine company. I asked myself, why do I have to wait for grandchildren to start practicing loving with grandparent love? The answer is, I don’t. I can start now. The decisions they make going forward are the ones that create their own destiny, not mine. Even though we are intertwined, we are separate. I can be a supportive witness, a celebrator, a helper, a sounding board or a comfort as needed.
This is an epiphany for the woman who used to drive up to their elementary school to hang puffy coats on the little racks outside their classrooms when there was a crazy temperature drop and they went to school in shorts and short sleeves. If I didn’t do that, I would freeze all day thinking of them on the windy playground. It was a primal thing for me — if ever they were cold, I was frozen. If they were sad, I was bereft. If they were happy, I was elated.
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This is not what they need now (or maybe ever needed). They need me to be strong, happy, warm and living my best life so I can be a lighthouse when their lives have stormy seas — holding steady and shining the way back home. I don’t need to do or fix — just be. I don’t need to make teachable moments; I need to be with them in the moment. They are brilliant, beautiful, loving people, and they have everything they need to figure life out as they go. I can better communicate that to them by believing in them, in the art and alchemy of letting go and showing up.
I am changing the way I love, my children and everyone else – including myself. I am choosing to love people with grandparent love. I am hoping it will feel more satisfying than any love offered by me so far. I hope it feels more accepting, more unconditional, more curious, more playful, more present, more available, more generous, more trusting and more pure.
Grandparent love is stronger and softer, all at once.
And hopefully by now, so am I.