Car seats crowd the back of my van and toys spill from baskets and chests in the TV room adjacent to the kitchen. These are the artifacts of my non-professional interests, proof that my life has transitioned seamlessly from raising children to helping these now-grown children with their own. For this I thank God every day.
"Girls at Halloween," I’ll text a handful of close friends, and the photo that accompanies this caption features my adorable (of course) granddaughters in various stages of costume discomfort.
I also share photographs of dance recitals and birthday parties, hoping others might revel in my own sweet joy. Yet, sometimes I worry I gloat. Many of my friends are patiently waiting, and waiting, and waiting, for that singular experience of seeing the third generation born. Are my texts and posts rubbing it in?
A couple of months ago I visited with a friend who is one of the recipients of my photographic chronicles. Her eldest doesn’t want children and the three youngest are in no hurry to shop for diapers.
"At times I think I’ll be too old to enjoy grandkids— or too dead!" she said.
Frankly, this yearning surprises me, especially coming from the women I know. While in the thick of child-rearing and van-chauffeuring, we dreamed of a time when we could travel without worries, work without guilt, sleep until mid-morning and enjoy a tidy home free of bookbags, sports equipment and teen angst.
But the launch of adult children, while encouraged and welcomed, isn’t always what we expect. Not only do we struggle to remain relevant in their lives once they’re gone, but we also amaze ourselves with this deep, deep hope for a chubby little hand to hold in our own. So trusting, so innocent, so life-affirming, that warmth.
Few of us doubt the blessing of grandchildren. My Facebook is testament to that. I’m also convinced that we, as the older generation, play an important role in their lives: as standard bearers of tradition and culture, as limitless providers of unconditional love, as haven from the inevitable conflict with parents. So, yes, I understand my friends’ longing to become grandparents.
But if, as the old witticism goes, grandchildren are the reward God gives us for not killing our children, it doesn’t seem fair that good, loving people have to wait so long for their recompense. By the same token, if my friends pressure and hint and outright demand, they threaten to alienate the very people who can provide that bonus in their lives.
As our adult children delay marriage and parenthood, some well into their 30s, many observers are publicly wondering what this means for intergenerational relationships. One British ethicist has gone on the record saying that, all factors being equal, today’s prospective parents shouldn’t deny their unborn children of meaningful interaction with their grandparents. Other publications, including The Wall Street Journal, have looked at what some view as a math problem: As older parents ourselves, it’s only logical that some baby boomers will have to wait until their 70s for this life passage, and even then health problems might short-circuit the experience, not a pleasant thought.
Fret not. As I tell my friends, there is much to do in the meantime. Travel. Work. Learn a new skill. And when you’re at a baby shower, take copious notes. You will be super-prepared for that grandchild’s first cry, which could potentially encourage the parents to hurry up and try for another.