Every month, Birthing From Within sends a letter to our membership and the public, containing our reflections on happenings in birth, in the world at large, and in our organization. See a collection of our monthly letters on the blog here; sign up to receive our newsletters directly in your inbox.
I just found out that I am going to be a great-grandmother.
When my granddaughter called to share the news, I screeched with delight! That reaction was a big contrast with the reluctance I felt the first time I found out that I was becoming a grandmother.
At the time, I was thirty-eight. I had just remarried, bought a new house, and was planning to get pregnant myself. I didn’t feel as though I looked or acted “like a grandparent” at all. I joked that this new baby was going to have to call me “Auntie.” Now, even though I don’t feel as though I’m old enough to be a great-grandparent, I feel different. Now I understand that becoming a grandparent is becoming an ancestor.
What does it mean to be a grandparent, to be an ancestor? Becoming a grandparent can be hard. Folks may struggle with what their role will be with their adult children and their new grandchild. Some are far away and worry about how often they can visit. Others saw or heard strained relationships between their own parents and grandparents, and don’t want to repeat those mistakes. But no matter how far away they are or how often they interact with their grandchild, a grandparent will always be their grandchild’s ancestor, a person from whom the grandchild descended.
Focusing on being a good ancestor will make the job of being a good grandparent much easier. Let’s consider… what makes a good ancestor? In my opinion, the answer is simple: good stories.
Have you ever heard people tell stories of a favorite grandparent, or great aunt, or aging mentor? What are the qualities mentioned, the events recalled, the words remembered? When people tell these stories, they are often describing what that person taught them, how they lived, what legacy they left behind. Not a legacy in terms of money or property, but one based on words, values, actions, and guidance. They demonstrated these things in their lives, and shared them with others. As an ancestor, what legacy will you leave to your descendants?
My mom modeled good grandparent support when my children were born. She lived nearby, so she would stop in once a day to bring a meal. She’d take away the dirty laundry and bring it back the next day washed and folded. She did this for about two weeks. If I wanted her to hold the baby, she would (willingly!). If I was holding or feeding him, she wouldn’t hover or behave as if I owed her “baby time”; she knew her opportunity would come. She would share a few stories from when she was a brand new parent, and not stay too long. When my grandbabies started arriving, I copied her.
As my grandchildren got older, they would ask me questions about their dads and I would tell them many stories. I shared my interest in books, art, movies, music, and dance with them. I made them the same meals when they came to visit, and brought the same foods to holiday dinners every year. I shared my love of in-the-wild car camping with my sons, and then with my grandkids, and now we gather from around the country every summer for our annual camping trip. Having a pregnant granddaughter this year will be a first!
I have shared my legacy with my grandchildren, and now they will pass down the stories and the foods and the camping trips with their families, adding in their own legacies. One day I will be a long-dead ancestor, and I hope parts of my story will be alive and well around the campfire.
Sunday, September 13, 2020, is National Grandparents Day in the United States. You could send a card or flowers (forget-me-nots is the official Grandparents Day flower), or you could thank your grandparents for the legacy they have left you. And whether or not you will ever have children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren of your own, you can always start crafting the legacy you want to leave for generations in the future.
Thank you to all the ancestors who have left great legacies, and the current generation who have picked up their stories to carry on.