As a grandmother of seven and a prolific reader, the title Unconditional Love, A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today by Jane Isay grabbed my attention. Ms. Isay is a former editor of Yale University Press and this is her fourth book. The book is well researched and draws heavily from Ms. Isay’s own experience, as well as from the hundreds of interviews she conducted with grandparents.
The book is written as a guide to help grandparents navigate their new role in a manner which keeps family conflicts to a minimum and strives for harmony. When I first started reading, I wasn’t sure it was for me. The beginning focused on “grandparent prep” with suggestions on how to get up-to-date on the mores of today. Since I no longer have any infant grandchildren, I have no reason to check out Websites and blogs discussing the pros and cons of babies sleeping with parents. Then I got to the section where the reader was asked to close their eyes and take themselves back in time to the months when their child was first born. The frustration of not knowing how to calm your baby, the panic when a feeding didn’t go right, no shower, no sleep and no end in sight. Even though it’s been decades, I could still feel the fatigue and isolation. And even though the baby days are long behind my daughters-in-law, I wanted to go hug them all and take them out for a cocktail. And while they are hopefully all getting to sleep through the night at this point, the challenges of parenting continue. No matter how many books or internet articles you read, parenting is still on the job training.
Ms. Isay acknowledges that when our children take on the responsibilities of parenthood, they also take on new power. They get to set the rules! With a grandparent’s years of experience and perspective of time, some of these rules may seem silly, but they are to be respected. And who doesn’t want respect?
Just as much of parenting is learn as you go, so is grandparenting. Isay doesn’t provide you with a definitive list of things to do to be the perfect grandparent. But she does provide oodles of real life experiences. I was inspired by stories from the different grandparents who were interviewed for the book. Many found grandparenting to be a second chance, an opportunity to provide grandchildren with the time and attention they couldn’t afford their own children. My grandchildren consist of a single child, a set a three brothers and a set of three sisters. It is normally quite hectic when we are visiting one of the sets of three. This book reminded me of the importance of carving out some time alone with each child, even if it’s simply a walk around the block. The benefits of a grandparents individual attention are priceless.
The book also addresses the issues of grandparents who become caregivers when their children are incapable of parenting, long-distance grandparenting and fairness with time, money and resources in a straight forward manner. Unconditional Love was worth my time. I picked up a few thoughts on how to maintain close relationships with my grandchildren as they grow older. What I most appreciated was the reassurance that grandparents can be a powerful influence on how grandchildren show up in the world and that our time and conversations with them will exist as “tiny shards of color in the great mosaic of understanding.”
I want my grandchildren to feel unconditionally loved. I grew up without grandparents, but I was extremely lucky to have my beloved Aunt Ruby who exemplified unconditional love. I can only remember one occasion when she even came close to being short with me. I was nine years old and my younger brother and I had been spending a week with her and my uncle during our summer vacation from school. We had cousins who lived in the same town and we spent hours playing together, running in and out of Aunt Ruby’s house. On the day my parents were coming to pick us up, she was busy cleaning house and preparing food for their arrival. We must have run into the house once too often. She told us to go outside and stay outside and not come back in unless the house was on fire. We did as we were told and were well rewarded. A neighbor started a fire in a burn barrel, an ember blew over into the yard and started a grass fire. We were full of smug self-righteousness as we marched back into the house to announce the yard was on fire! But being Aunt Ruby, she simply came out into the yard, put out the minor grass fire and went back to work. I am lucky she is a part of the mosaic of my life.
C’est la vie.