Being a grandparent is a rite of passage enjoyed in the golden years of one’s life. It is a role considered a blessing for the joy and the new understanding of love that it brings. But as times change with each generation, it also delivers God’s blessings in the form of new challenges that bring us deeper teachings and cause for self-reflection.
We talk to a Catholic couple who reflect on their roles as grandparents within the Catholic Church.
Ignatius and Florence are proud grandparents to three grandchildren and see this part of their life’s journey as a blessing from God. Ignatius gets to spend more time with his grandchildren as he is retired and has slipped into the grandfather role with ease. Florence looks ahead to retiring to be able to join her husband in spending more time with the grandchildren as well.
We sat down with the couple to discover some insights into being a grandparent in the Church.
How do you make sure you spend time with your family?
Ignatius: We see our grandchildren in planned visits twice a week. We see our daughter’s children every Friday. We also look forward especially to Saturday mornings, which we get to spend at the market with our son and his child; and to Sundays, where we join our daughter’s family for mass. We also enjoy trips that we go on as a large family once a year. We are happy to do this while we are still here, and see it as an advance on their inheritance!
Florence: We also try to get in as much family time as we can. We make it a point to have family meals twice a month, which includes extended family. Every birthday is to be celebrated and this allows us to spend extra time with our extended family and of course the grandchildren as well. We miss them when they are on holiday, but we stay in touch through Facetime. And we have a WhatsApp group, so we are really in constant contact.
How do you support your children in their parenting?
Florence: Of course, it’s a role we share with our grandchildren’s other grandparents and we are guided by common goals and our shared love for our grandchildren. Our daughter’s and son’s in-laws help to babysit daily as both parents work, but we often share the other babysitting responsibilities. For instance, our daughter is going on a trip to Japan later this month and leaving one child with us and the other with her husband’s parents. We basically jump at every request to babysit as we value the precious time we get to spend with the grandchildren, and they teach us so much. Even if we have other commitments, we will drop them to make time for our grandchildren.
Ignatius: When it comes to grand-parenting, there are invisible boundaries in terms of where we can go and where we can’t. We leave the parenting and discipline to our children. We see our role as providing the extra resources and emotional support when needed. For example, our daughter took a while and needed a change conceiving her first child and we fully supported her decision to take an extended year off work to manage her stress and to make a pilgrimage to Lourdes with us. We prayed daily for her and within six months, she conceived. It was a miracle from God. And today she’s endowed with two children.
How is parenting different this time around?
Florence: In our day, we listened to our parents’ advice on parenting while our children have Google to turn to. We don’t get involved in dictating how they raise their children. There are different challenges in parenting today that we didn’t deal with. On one hand they have a lot more of everything like better healthcare, seeking specialist advice rather than just the GP; extra classes and activities; and minimal hand-me-down clothes! But with these opportunities come additional parenting challenges and pressure.
Ignatius: We are in the romance stage of grandparenting. For us, it’s enough to lend our time when we are needed. We are blessed and so are our grandchildren. Love expressed as grandparents is more lifegiving and has more vitality than when we were parents. They bring us such joy. Our children ask us why we didn’t treat them the same way when they were kids and I wish now that we had been more expressive with them.
What is grandparenting like as a member of the Church?
Ignatius: Our role as grandparents is a gift from God and Jesus provides the role model. For example, Matthew 19 v14: “Let the children come to me”. We are not alone and have the support of fellow Marriage Encounter (ME) couples who are grandparents. However, we discern there is a gap in the Church community to support grandparents in particular.
What advice would you give to new grandparents?
Ignatius: Enjoy your grandchildren to the full. They are a blessing from God that keeps growing each day. They will help you discover your capacity to love. I would die for any of them, if Florence would concur. We also need to keep ourselves healthy so we can enjoy them longer and heartily.
Florence: Know your limits too. As you age, there are things you can’t do that you could before. So, make the grandchildren aware that what they can expect from their parents is different from what they can expect of their grandparents. For example, their parents may be able to carry them for a long time while the grandparents may not. Also be careful not to over commit your time. Be grandparents as a couple and it will help to strengthen your relationship.