“Who made the moon, Cammie?” her father asked her. After a moment’s careful deliberation, she replied, “Grandpa Glen.” Her father could have laughed, I suppose, but he is a serious man and is more often astonished than amused by his children, so he said instead, “Yes. Yes, I see what you mean.” I was washing dishes and eavesdropping from the open kitchen window that overlooked the backyard of my son’s home where we’d been picnicking. Being married to this Grandpa Glen, I didn’t immediately see what logic my son was following, but as I half-listened to them chatting while they cleared dishes off the picnic quilt, I began to remember how I had felt about my own grandparents.
They weren’t just ordinary adults, after all. They had a boxful of toys of their own that they would let us play with when we visited. On our birthdays they always sent us a real dollar that we could buy anything we wanted with. They had books we could borrow and popsicles we could eat. Sometimes we could talk Grandpa into showing us where Grandma had hidden some candy or cookies. They always knew a good present when they got it too, whether it was a black and orange potholder, a cigar box transformed into a jewelry box by macaroni flowers and gold paint, or a bag of green plastic army men. Although they had cross days and there were times when Grandpa threatened to cut a switch and tan our hides with it and Grandma promised to put us in the hoosegow, they were clearly a special breed of adults.
And though many of the particulars changed as I grew up, that basic feeling remained the same. Grandparents were different, perhaps even a little magic in ways. Even my own parents had acquired that status for me when they became grandparents to my children. They cared for us and our children in ways no one else could. So I guess Grandpa Glen is a moon-maker of sorts, even though he is my husband.
But reminiscing has made me sentimental as usual and I need to remind myself that along with the special magic of being a grandparent go very special responsibilities. Those of us who are grandparents realize that grandparents can help in the rearing of good families. Unfortunately they can also hinder. Undoubtedly most of us have done both.
One way I have found to help strengthen the family without interfering is to provide a time-out place for our grandchildren, a place where they can go to get away from things, to be pampered and listened to, or to find a sounding board for ideas they are afraid to voice at home. Of course, this doesn’t mean I simply agree with everything they say, but I do keep their confidences and they don’t feel threatened by me, so we can talk. Sometimes it’s disturbing to hear their strange philosophies, to note their fluctuating goals and their times of little faith, but I’m not responsible for disciplining them and besides, it’s not such a long step backwards to when my own children seemed to be full of scatterbrained ideas and precarious plans. The compensation is those other times when their youthful idealism restores my own.
But whether your grandchildren’s ideas raise your hackles or touch your heart, in a large family where parents have so little free time, listening may be one of the biggest contributions a grandparent can make. One of my younger friends told me one story about the difference Grandma had made to her family. “My brother Jack disappeared from the backyard where the six of us were playing, and Grandma was the first to notice. She tracked him to the basement where he was just getting his duffel bag packed to strike out on his own. He was sure nobody loved him because they never had time to listen to him tell of his problems.
“Grandma didn’t seem to notice the duffel bag at all, but asked Jack to get something for her to mend or to sew buttons on. She was at least good for that. As she worked, Jack loosened up and began to tell her why he was going. Grandma didn’t even seem too startled. He told her how angry Dad had been because he got a D in math, of all subjects. And the little kids drove him up a wall.
“In the course of finding someone to listen to him pour his troubles out, he forgot all about leaving and Grandma thought it the most natural thing in the world for him to just unpack the duffel bag and let her look over things to see if they needed fixing. They did and so did Jack’s heart. Grandma fixed both.”
As we all know, grandparents provide not only extra ears but extra hands. Today I visited my second daughter, mother of eight children. My small, food-bespattered namesake had scarcely eaten any of her lunch, so I took her on my lap and filled her mind with stories of Cinderella while I piled her mouth with chowder, string beans, and milk. “She won’t take her nap unless I lie by her and I can’t do that if the baby is up.” My daughter sounded harried, so I took little Carrie up to bed myself and lay down beside her until we both fell asleep. Meanwhile Grandpa was outside keeping the boys interested in the chores they had to do—feeding the chickens and the dogs and bringing in the vegetables. An occasional extra hand can be the same kind of unexpected treat for your children that popcorn balls are for the grandchildren. And besides, knowing you have someone to depend on if a crisis comes helps you fend off a crisis.
But there is an even more important way we support our children in raising their families. I remember how startled I was when one of my grandchildren begged, “Grandma, tell us how it was when you were young in the olden days.” Age, of course, is a relative matter, but the most important responsibility we have as grandparents is to support our families by recognizing our place in the patriarchal order. We assert the continuity of the family as an on-going unit by taking part in special family home evenings, by helping them with their books of remembrance, by taking the time to share pictures and tell stories, and simply by being a real part of their lives. At home, part of our standard living room decor is a large photograph album entitled “Our Family,” in which I have grouped pictures of grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, and each of our children with his or her family of children. Another “visual aid” is a “Family Tree,” embroidered by a daughter. Its eight branches are hung with small framed pictures of each child and grandchild. From these our .grandchildren learn who they are and how important they are in the context of this larger family.
As heads of this larger family we set examples for our children and our grandchildren. We are in a position to guide them in the gospel by our examples and our concern. The admonition in Deuteronomy 6:5–7, which begins “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might,” certainly applies to grandparents as well as parents. It continues:
“And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart:
“And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, … when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, and when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.” [Deut. 6:5–7]
The gospel should not be a secret, unacknowledged part of our lives, but basic to our relationships with our children and grandchildren. If the parents are willing, it is appropriate for us as grandparents to give the grandchildren their own personal copies of the scriptures for Christmas or birthdays. It is appropriate for us to explain the scriptures and talk about the gospel with them and to take them to the Hill Cumorah Pageant, to Temple Square, to visit Brigham Young’s birthplace, and other significant Church places. We like to take them with us to church, to conference, and then go with them to the temple when that time comes. It’s important to us that they understand that the Church must come first, and that it does with us.
But there is no reason why the gospel, and many other lessons, can’t be taught while grandparents and grandchildren enjoy each other’s special company in many activities together. For example, grandparents could take their grandchildren to the zoo so that they can see and learn about the animals they have looked at in their picture books.
Take the grandchildren to the store and teach them how to shop wisely. Teach them about the sizes of cans and prices that are best, about the sizes of eggs, the quality of cloth, the real “bargains.”
Teach them to cook, to sew, to mend, and to fix broken household articles.
Teach children how to work, to pick up after themselves and to put things away.
Talk with them about the scriptures. Provide pictures of their ancestors and help them start a book of remembrance.
Take walks with the children, taking time to observe plants and animals and birds.
Teach them about good music and buy them records for their very own.
Have a special time with each grandchild during the year or as often as you can. Do what he wants to do that day: bake a cake, make scrapbooks, or whatever.
Listen to them. Respect them, and when they are older they will respect you.
Have them read to you and you read to them. Visit public libraries. Buy them good books once in a while.
But in all that we do, we need to strengthen the individual family unit. We must not turn the hearts of the children to the grandparents if it means turning their hearts away from their parents. In fact, if we have concentrated on a good relationship with our children, they will spontaneously and joyously turn their children’s hearts to us.