Second in Command:
The Grandparents

Parenting with sincere devotion based purely on love

By Marylin Smith Carsley

When some of my friends would regale me with their endless and very detailed stories of those precious moments with their grandchildren, I would become completely bored. Occasionally I found it almost too painful to listen to, as I had no interest in this stage of life. Frequently I would tell my husband that I would never become so self-absorbed because I could not imagine how grandchildren could ever dominate my heart to that degree. Needless to say, I was so wrong!

The precise minute each one of my grandsons appeared, my life, as I have known it to be, was altered forever! This type of emotion was not a completely revolutionary experience as I have travelled a very similar route when my own three children were also born. Once their independence evolved, I sorrowfully waved good-bye to childhood and I would often reflect on their past through pictures and stories. I could never have predicted that I could be transformed right back to those feelings again.

Life is constantly teaching lessons and introducing new feelings especially when a grandchild presents him or herself.

Seven years ago my grandson William emerged with a shock of blond hair and big blue eyes, which was so uncharacteristic of our dark haired family. He was a big boy and I joyfully carried him around with immense pride even though he was absolutely the heaviest baby I had ever held. Today I suffer from back pain originating from those lifting movements from crib to the floor or in and out of that complicated car seat. Once I recovered, through extensive physiotherapy and eventually a cortisone shot, Henry appeared on the scene. He was and is a bundle of joy and personality. Henry monopolizes a room and everyone is attracted to him. As a former girlie girl mother who followed current doll trends, artwork, manicures and such, I have now graduated to playing soccer in the backyard, baseball, tennis and any sport of the season. My basement is a floor hockey rink and just the perfect place for running around. Fortuitously we never remodeled it so there are no restrictions on wild play. Residing in my backyard surrounded by my floral reverie of hydrangeas, and begonias, is a bucket of assorted toys and when these two guys come over, they race eagerly to their things. My husband and I spend many hours ensuring that they have everything that they need for those summer days outdoors.

Life is constantly teaching lessons and introducing new feelings especially when a grandchild presents him or herself. Suddenly this amazing second chance emerges for grandparents to parent better, to practice more patience, to spend more time in the moment, to talk and educate, and most of all, enjoy the privilege of children in their lives once more. Those anticipated visits from grandchildren are exciting, hectic and replete with joy and no matter how tired we may be when they leave, we want them back! While telling my daughter that it is time for them to go home after an exhausting play day, I am also making plans for their return.

Grandparents today certainly do not resemble grandparents from years ago. Good-bye aprons, those matronly dresses and the grandfather in the suit and tie. Grandparents parade to exercise classes in exercise gear and running shoes while also doing carpool or pushing swings in the park. They travel with their grandchildren and are more available for babysitting and sleepovers. My grandmother always appeared so much older than she actually was. I associated her with cooking and baking but I cannot ever recall playing many games with her except for cards. She was warm and embracing but survived in that older more emotionally removed world. Times were different and the role of a grandparent at that time was more of a family matriarch or patriarch.

It is a hope to impart wisdom and enrich their lives with stories and advice for what’s ahead.

My two little boys have become an integral part of my daily life. We speak before school, after school and before bed. We have sleepovers and dinners and sometimes just playing visits. We go to parks, shop, go to movies, have picnics and even travel. Recently we spent a few days up north swimming and playing on a beach. Watching them reminds me of the days when my own children were at this stage.

Grandchildren do enrich our lives. They are obviously brilliant, and yes, they go home when you are tired, and yes, they can become irritable, but there is so much more to this relationship… but what is it? Sincerely I now believe that this a grandparent’s chance to do it again… a chance to parent with sincere devotion based purely on love and patience as these children have parents for those tedious parts of their upbringing. It is a hope to impart wisdom and enrich their lives with stories and advice for what’s ahead. For many grandparents there is also this reawakened youth that surfaces as we play again with complete surrender.

When I was teaching, it was not uncommon for me to encounter grandparents parenting their grandchildren. Unfortunate and dire circumstances did not permit many parents the opportunity to care for their children. Where would those kids be if the grandparents didn’t rescue them? I would watch them carpool, come for interviews and even accompany us on field trips. The phrase, “It takes a village” certainly applied here. Many families recruit the grandparents for help in babysitting, and appointments, as a two parent working family with very little spare time is common.

So I have come full circle and now I have the opportunity to reenter childhood and enjoy it without the same pressure.

I have a very specific goal and that is to develop an enriching relationship between myself and the kids. My husband and I are remaining in our home so that our grandchildren have that backyard to run around in. The childhood years of our children have been so fleeting that we are fortunate to have another opportunity to be children with the children.

So I have come full circle and now I have the opportunity to reenter childhood and enjoy it without the same pressure. It is more about truly being in the moment with the kids but it is also nice to see them go to bed in their own home when they are tired and cranky. This is a true grandparent benefit and one in which my husband and I often appreciate.

Children remind us of life’s continuity. Their innocent eyes are the windows to the future and their youth keeps us informed with the novelties of life. I have even learned from my seven-year-old grandson about computers and sports so not only does he learn from me, I am learning from him… and so the cycle goes on.

Featured image: Donnie Ray Jones via

Marylin Smith Carsley is a Westmount writer whose work has appeared in several publications

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  1. Hetty

    As a grandma to two lovely boys, ages 4 and 1, it was a pleasure to read the same feelings we’ve experienced since these little beings came into our life. They have brought exhausting but wonderful times and, yes, thankfully we can also say “it’s time to go home now”. How very fortunate our generation knows how to “get down on the ground and play” and relive or recreate our own parenting days. Thanks for an enjoyable story!

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