The essential awesomeness of devoted grandparents

This post is part of a two-part series sponsored by Yahoo! Mail which lets you connect with the people you lurve. You can read the first one about my mom’s awesome emails here.

Last week, I had the pleasure of speaking on a panel in New York moderated by the always inspiring  (and well-dressed) Samantha Ettus, about mommy guilt. Despite the topic–and an audience made up of nearly entirely senior citizens–it actually turned out to be one of the more fun, upbeat panel discussions I’ve been on.

One woman (of actual childbearing age) in the audience raised her hand to ask about the guilt of taking time for herself while her young kids are at home. Fortunately, that’s one thing I’ve never had an issue with. Without grown-up time, I would simply die.

Some of it is not optional–I work, I travel for work, I speak at conferences, I attend client dinners. Some of it is personal. Some of it is indulgent. Some of it is about keeping my relationship with Nate an actual relationship. But all of it is important.

My saving grace as I’ve said ohhhh, about a billion times, are my parents. All four of them are mercifully close by, and don’t hesitate for a moment to snatch the children for a night or a weekend or  longer. If my mother-in-law lived closer I’d imagine I could count her in too.

My parents don’t just help with the kids. They don’t just “see” the kids. They help us raise them.

I feel no shame in admitting it.

Although many parents do. Ugh, it’s such a 21st century White American thing, as Marisa Thalberg reminded me on the panel.

It’s not to say I’m without guilt entirely when I wave goodbye for a night or pack their cute little kids-size suitcase full of clean underwear for a weekend. But one thing that keeps me going are the email updates from my parents–the quick descriptions of who’s getting a face painted, who’s dancing on the “stage” at Barnes + Noble, who’s picking fat peas from the garden, who’s eating her seventh pancake, who’s the new Mayor of Central Park, who’s destined for a future in comedy.

My father is on Facebook. My mother is not. My stepfather…well, he still writes on a typewriter.

So we were eating dinner and quizzing the girls, again, about the name of the red Christmas flower on the table. We told them many times; in fact, Thalia seemed to remember it from years ago.

“What is the name of the red flower?” Chris asked.

“BOBBIE”, says Sage. And so it is that the poinsettia is now officially called BOBBIE in our house!


When the email comes through, the first thing I do is cross my fingers and hope for that little paper clip icon, the one that tells me that there’s a photo attached.

There’s something magical about those candid, spontaneous snapshots that show up in my inbox, generally sent from a cell phone mid-activity. It’s like a front row to the joy of childhood seen through a doting grandparent prism. Through the blur, the imperfections, I feel how complete unposed, unplanned the moments are.

I know my kids will never want for love.

It’s hard to feel guilty when I think of it that way.


25 thoughts on “The essential awesomeness of devoted grandparents”

  1. My parents live 20 minutes away and we can walk to my brothers' houses from ours. It is wonderful to see the relationships develop between grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. Like your brood, my little man will never.ever lack love. And I will never lack support and guidance. It is a wonderful thing.

  2. I'm not that into camping or Judaism, but my parents are, and so my kids know those things well. They live on a cul de sac where kids can actually walk outside without holding a hand. (We live on a 35 mile per hour street with stop lights.) I feel that sending them to the grandparents house for the weekend is the equivalent of sending me on a Wine Country vacation. A gift and an opportunity. (And not an “opportunity” like reviewing dried fruit snacks.) I also love that we can get pictures via email during those separations.

  3. Oh man. This leaves me in tears. We have three wonderful, smart, funny and amazing children and grandparents who are either disinterested or too far away to be involved with them.

  4. I have 3 parents in town AND the world's best Tia living in my house part time, so our little guy is surrounded by love. His paternal grandparents are also planning to move to town next year to be part of the action! I was raised in a different country from both of my grandparents and all of my cousins, with only once a year visits. The life my son will have is soooooo different.

  5. They are so blessed to have loving and active grandparents in their lives. That's what I DO know. Love all the spontaneous pics! 🙂

  6. I don't think you should feel guilty about it at all. Personally I think it's the way we need to go back to being in this world. That whole, village raising kids mentality.

    My mom and step-dad just moved to my state. They used to be super involved and have stayed that way by taking all of my kids for weeks at a time every summer. Now though, they can be more involved. They moved here for that and my kids and I are so thrilled.

    Grandparents add so much to your life. I know mine did. I had the most amazing, involved grandparents and I adored each one of them. They taught me so much more about life than I can even begin to tell you. Every day, I am thankful that I had them in my life and sad that they are all gone now.

  7. My dad and step-mom too help us raise our kids and we couldn't be luckier. My kids couldn't be luckier. They take them twice a month for one weekend night–if I travel for work they help out my husband. If we both want to get away to just be married, they will take them. They love it. The other grandparents aren't so interested–but one set who love them so much makes up for it.

    I have an aunt who loves them and takes them on occasion too. It is great and I refuse to let others make me feel guilty for having people love my kids. The more love the better. I welcome all love into our family, it can only lead to confident, well-adjusted children. Thank you dad and lori–my kids lives are richer for your involvement. The memories of you my kids will have. Priceless.

  8. I want to go on that Wine Country vacation with RookieMom Whitney!

    My mom has played a huge part in my kids lives. She was their caregiver about 2 days per week from the time they were babies until they were 3 years old. She visits often and we visit her often. This summer, she'll be caring for them overnight alone for the first time for a weekend and then later for five days. I really appreciate having her and love that she has a special relationship with my kids.

    Once the kids are a bit older, we'll likely also start sending them alone to the in-laws in Europe for several weeks each summer.

    In addition to the kids having time with their grandparents, I also want to ensure that they get quality 1-on-1 time with them too. I remember special trips that I took with my grandmother without my 3 siblings tagging along and I will cherish those memories forever.

  9. What a blessing! We have 2 boys and their grandparents play a huge roll in their lives. It's a love that grandparents can only give!

  10. I truly believe my kids get a lot of their confidence from being adored every waking moment by all the people in their lives who take care of them when we are working. They always had people who laughed at their jokes and thought they were the most creative, smart, amazing people on Earth.

    I think any “guilt” I've ever felt should really be ascribed to being envious that I couldn't take all the credit.

    I feel incredibly lucky, though. I know so many people who don't have the support system we take for granted.

  11. This made me cry. I've thought the same thing – I'm SO glad my 2 little ones have such love from their grandparents. It's such a gift. And yes, getting the grandparents an iPhone was the best thing ever!

  12. LOVE THIS! My parents used to send us to Mexico every summer for the entire summer to be with my grandparents. To date, we are the only grandchildren with real memories of them: playing, laughing, learning…loving. As you said, we never wanted for love, and we learned so much from them.

    Now it's my parents' turn. They live in Florida while we're in Chicago and the kids have already experienced a couple summer trips. I can't count on them for weekend trips, but I know that while I'm bombarded with work this summer, I can expect pictures of them at the beach, at Busch Gardens, on the couch, at the pool…never a dull moment and all of those awesome moments will be filled with the amazing love only a grandparent can give 🙂 My mom used to say that our trips to Mexico were her gift to us that nobody could take away. Now it's my turn to give that gift to my children (and my parents, who are chomping at the bit to come pick the kiddos up).

  13. What I wouldn't give to be closer to my parents…I'd take full advantage of their grandparent-dom.

  14. You are so very lucky. I can't get my parents to text or log onto a computer, and my Mom still uses a camera with – gasp – film. Even worse? Geography is a huge issue (6 hour flights to any grandparent). I wish that the family could embrace technology to become closer.

  15. I long for more of the adult time since both sets of grandparents live in Iowa — one set is three hours away, the other six. Despite the distance, we get babysitting from them probably once a month and an overnight a few times a year, and I look forward to those texts with pictures, too.

    I love how you positioned it as helping you raise them — I think of it that way, too, but I never gave voice to it. Brilliant.

  16. Golly. I'm so envious of your good fortune.

    My husband's parents, who live in our town, watched our kids…maybe a dozen times? They were always right there for us, and for my sister-in-law, in a pinch. But taking the kids so we could go out to dinner, or so I could have a lunch with a friend or go to a doctor's appointment child-free? No.

    They were in fine health, and my MIL didn't work outside the home. They just said they'd already raised one set of kids and it was up to us to raise ours.

  17. I agree, there is a guilt about this that is invalid. As you know, in previous eras, children were often raised as much by their grandparents and other elders as their parents. Sure there are parents who abandon their children to their own parents. But it needn't go this far. In fact, it's really quite healthy to let grandparents and other trusted elders care for children often. Children should have access to other family mentors beside their parents–it helps them grow, intellectually and spiritually, in a more balanced way.

  18. This brought such a huge smile to my face! You made me feel less guilty for being in a very similar situation. I work full time and my mom watches my daughter 4 days a week and my MIL watches her one day. Her baby sister is coming in Sept and they will continue to care for my girls, while the older one goes to preschool 3 mornings a week. I've often felt guilty having my parents and in-laws help “raise” our girls (as if I am too dependent on them) but couldn't feel luckier or happier. Your story about getting cell phone pics especially hit home, as I get the same thing daily! We are are all extremely lucky! Thanks for sharing this.

  19. I was raised by parents, grandparents and great-grandparents back in Mother Russia and in America I was often shipped off for the weekend (or longer) to my grandparents…I have so many wonderful memories of spending time with them! No guilt necessary.

  20. My daughters will never, ever lack love, DESPITE a serious lack of family. My mother died (of dementia-related causes and had been in a world of her own for years) when my elder daugther was 17 months, my dad lives in Scotland (and I'm in the south of France) and just turned 80, I've no brothers, sisters, aunts or uncles (and most of my cousins are totally unknown to me) and I'm newly single. My ex has a father living in Serbia that he's met 3 times in his life, no brothers or sisters, a sprinkling of cousins (4?) he barely knows and his mother (the now-thankfully-ex-MIL from hell) lives in Paris, about 600 miles away. So yeah, no family to speak of. And I am wildly jealous of large, close-knit families. And yes, I'm struggling to raise these girls as a single mother with occasional help from my ex. But these girls of mine, these sweet, beautiful girls of mine, will never, never lack love. Not as long as I live and breathe. Family would be nice, sure, but when that isn't an option, you make do without. If you do have the option, then go for it and don't feel guilty! I'd love to have the chance to go out in the evening, go away for a weekend, spend “me” time, but it's just not going to happen.

  21. My son has 8 grandparents and 6 of them are not a part of his life. He lost 2 to geography and 4 to personal choices (theirs, not ours), but the remaining 2 more than make up for it. My mother and I became so much closer when I had my son – she will take him anytime, under any conditions (even when he's sick as a dog!) and loves him as fiercely as she loves me. I think I love her husband more than my own father simply because he loves my son like he is his blood. I let them take my son anytime they want – I want him to have the best memories of his grandparents (like I do!) and to feel loved by as many people as possible. I used to spend spring breaks with my grandparents and have such good memories of my grandpa teaching me to swim in the ocean, do crossword puzzles and play poker. I'm the only grandchild who has those memories of him like that since he had a stroke that paralyzed his right side when I was in middle school. I wouldn't trade them for anything! You are giving a gift to your children that they will ALWAYS treasure! BRAVA!

  22. If my closest set of in-laws (who live less than an hour away) ever offered to take my son for an entire weekend so my husband and I could have married people time, I wouldn't get to enjoy it because I'd be too busy being dead of shock, given he has spent a night at their house only once in his lifetime. And my mother has crossed the very long distance between us to visit her grandson precisely twice in seven years.

    So, you know, this grandparents helping to raise the kids thing — it sounds marvelous to me. Not like a thing to feel guilty over. Actually I've felt guilty for a long time that my kid doesn't have better relationships with extended family. (Not that it's really MY personal fault that he doesn't, but you know, moms are sort of Olympic champions at feeling guilt.)

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