I can’t speak for other people, but I know that when the oldest of my three children was in his mid-30s, and was seriously involved with the woman who’d become his wife, I began to feel the need to have a grandchild. I was in my mid-50s, and few of my friends had grandchildren at this point; but for the same kinds of inexplicable reasons one wants to have child, I wanted to have a grandchild.
As the years went by, and though my son got married (as my middle son did two years later), I was still grandchildless. But now my friends were beginning to have grandchildren, and would either e-mail or talk about them with great excitement. I couldn’t stand it. One friend often e-mailed me about the wonderful achievements of his granddaughter. As nicely as I could, I let him know that it was hard for me to hear talk of grandchildren when I so much wanted one. I think it helped; his prideful comments became less frequent.
At a party, when a couple of friends started talking excitedly about their grandchildren, I couldn’t stand it. I simply walked out of the room.
And then in August 2005, when I was 62, my oldest son and his wife made me a grandfather. (It was a scheduled C-section, across the country, and as soon as the plane landed, I turned on my cell phone, and got the news. “I’m a grandfather!” I said to my seatmate. “You’re the first to know.”) I already knew that it was going to be a boy, and soon after my middle son and his wife had two more boys. With the exception of the fact that after having three sons, I would love to have a granddaughter, I couldn’t be happier.
While all three of my grandsons live on the other side of the country from my wife and me, we see them as often as we can, which is not often enough. That’s because with grandchildren you have the closest thing you can have to unconditional positive regard. You have the baggage-free relationship.
I’m a humorist, and I have written pieces on the relationship between grown children and their parents. As usual, the humor is there to deal with genuine issues (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/real-men-dont-write-blogs/201...). I am not aware of anyone in my age-group that has tension-free relationships with their adult children. In fact, one friend is estranged from two of his three children. And, of course, I know from my younger years, and those of my peers, that adult children have all kinds of issues with their parents.
So there can be quite a bit of stress when you are an adult anticipating the arrival of your parents or when you are visiting them. Yes, it’s great to see them; but who knows what tensions will develop? I loved my mother, but when I saw her in Florida, I will painfully and guiltily confess that at times I counted the hours until I could go back home and be with my wife and children.
I hope it’s not that bad with my adult children, but I am sure that after we have been with them for a few days, they are beginning to think about how good it would be to get back to their own lives.
But it’s not at all that way with grandchildren. They are absolutely joyful to see me (Grandpa) and my wife, aka Grandma; and they really hate to see us leave. My six-year-old middle grandson is the most outspoken about this. Our visits typically last a week or so, and when we are ready to go, he is tearful.
“I wish you could stay for 100 days,” he says, while his dad, my son, looks on, panic-stricken at the thought of even one more day with us hanging around.
Aside from the sheer joy that grandchildren can bring, they may also bring other benefits to older people, including the physical exercise of play, a stimulant to creativity, and leaving a legacy (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/minding-the-body/201009/the-g...). It saddens me that some of my peers, now in their 70s, have – for good reason -- all but given up on having grandchildren. And others, well into their 60s, are waiting and hoping. Profiting from my own experience before I got the gift of grandchildren, I am careful not to say much about them to these friends.
I know others who have been given the joy of grandkids at the age of 70 or after. This is great, but not as good as it would have been to have them in their 50s or 60s, the way it used to be. However, this is one of the effects of young people not getting married until they are well into their 20s, if then; and not having children until they are well into their 30s, if not later. Or perhaps not having them at all.
But just as parents in the 1960s could do nothing when they watched their children purposely take drugs that induced hallucinations, so today parents can do nothing to satisfy what becomes, as years go by, a more and more pressing wish to become a grandparent. They are equally powerless. For their children, living the child-free life at least until 40, if not permanently, has become common. And I respect people’s right to choose – especially with the world the way it is.
So I feel blessed. To have three delightful people so genuinely and completely happy to see me is something I haven’t felt since their dads were little boys. I never tired of hearing “Daddy!” And hearing “Grandpa” never gets old, even as I do.
An earlier version of this piece recently appeared on the Good Men Project (www.goodmenproject.com).