"My experience of being a grandma has underscored how we can have all the plans in the world about what our grandparenting journey will be, but we need to be willing to pivot as life throws us new challenges."
One of the things we encourage at More Than Grand is creating a formal Grand Vision as the first step to becoming the grandparent you want to be. But as today’s guest writer shares, no matter what your vision of grandparenting is, you have to be ready to abandon Plan A and embrace Plan B—and possibly more of the alphabet.
by Marilee Whiting Woodfield
I had a vision in my mind about what grandparenting was like from watching my own grandparents, and then my parents and in-laws as they grandparented my children. I thought I knew what grandparenting was all about, or at least what it would look like.
Our life was 1200 miles from both sets of grandparents in a pre-internet and cellphone era, so we did not have the advantage of having them in our lives regularly. We supplemented with videos, letters and phone calls, but realistically, Grandparenting looked like long-distance relationships and occasional visits for my children.
My father once remarked, “You shouldn’t have to be introduced to your grandchildren.” I felt the same regret at not having those close relationships. To complicate matters, my first child took a while to warm to having semi-strangers in her space —strangers that desperately wanted to spend their time and attention on her. More than once she’d finally let them befriend her on the last day of their visit, only to have them leave again. And we would repeat the whole process the next time they arrived.
When my first grandson was born, he lived far away. Fortunately, I had access to Skymiles and took advantage of the opportunity that my circumstances allowed by visiting often. The blessing of technology allowed me to be “there” nearly daily (and some days more than once) through FaceTime calls which filled in as the next best thing when I couldn’t be there in person.
I would spend a few days and then return to my life at home which was quiet. Other than regular FaceTime calls, and an occasional visit, my life and my grandparenting life were separated. The toys were tucked away, there were no goldfish crackers and applesauce pouches in my pantry, and the Pack ’n Play grew dust on the top shelf of the closet.
Recently, job change opportunities for my kids brought all my grandkids close to home and that meant a series of new grandparenting pivots. One of my grandkids and his parents moved in with us for a short time while they were navigating housing, which meant I got to grandparent full time. The quiet house was filled with a new level of activity that all revolved around a 1-year-old grandchild. Safety gates went up, the toys took a central stage, diapers piled up in the trash bin, and the basket of children’s books grew. Mealtimes, naptimes, and bedtimes all became a part of the daily rhythm of life. My other grandchild lived a short drive away, and we wore a steady path on the road between our homes. Weekends were full of family and grandkids and the resulting chaos of clamoring cousins and a home full of family. Now, instead of being separated from grandparenting, my life revolved around my grandparenting.
My experience of being a grandma has underscored how we can have all the plans in the world about what our grandparenting journey will be, but we need to be willing to pivot as life throws us new challenges. Just when I was settling into a new rhythm of having grandchildren close by, life handed us another drastic change. The pandemic brought new challenges: first total separation, and then a return of grandchildren into my home full time while we were in lockdown.
Late spring also brought a new little one to our extended family, and with his birth, came a diagnosis of PLO (Pregnancy and Lactation Osteoporosis) for his mother. This diagnosis confirmed that multiple back fractures were the source of excruciating and debilitating postpartum back pain that my daughter had endured for months.
This diagnosis meant more months in a full back brace, and restrictions on lifting of any kind. This impacted the everyday work of mothercare including household chores, meal prep, and anything that required physical exertion of any kind. Lifting and holding her infant son also became an impossibility which was devastating both physically and emotionally for her.
Fortunately, because of the pandemic, I was no longer working, and had lots of flexibility in being able to be in their home as I took on most of the physical functions of mothercare that her body could not tolerate. Her pain and the activity restrictions doctors imposed so that she could heal allowed me to steal the naptime cuddles, laptime stories, and the everyday physicality that being a mom of a young baby and preschooler would have afforded her. For a time, I became a full time grandma in a way I had never anticipated, but allowed me full access to the lives of my grandchildren.
Each one of these grandparenting chapters in my life have brought new challenges, but also overwhelming satisfaction. I count it all for joy, and am so grateful for the circumstances in my life that have allowed me the flexibility to pivot and change course as needed. My daughter’s back is healing, and while she will continue to have restrictions and challenges, she has made great strides in finding accommodations that will help her function more normally, and as such, she won’t be needing me as much anymore.
When discussing grandparenting with my cohort of grandparent friends and family, every one of them has related stories of having to re-invent themselves as grandparents – often doing things they never thought they would do, and loving it all the same. My life has been richly blessed, and I have a relationship with my grandkids that would not have been possible without these changing winds. Any sacrifice I have made has been returned ten-fold, and I don’t even recognize that grandma who bounced between home and grandkids via an airplane anymore. Who knows what the next pivot will be?
Marilee Whiting Woodfield is a grandmother to three adorable little boys and contributes to PlayDateBox.com as a creative content curator. Marilee has spent 30 years in the childcare field, teaching preschool and authoring over 20 resource books for preschool teachers. Her recent completion of an MS in Family Studies has solidified the importance of grandparents, play, and family connections and how each plays a role in healthy, happy connections.