The Safe Haven

When life feels most difficult, grandparents are always there

By Josseline Charas

I have seen it sustain my daughter and her cousins. I have experienced it myself, and have seen family members of my age group avail themselves of it. The greatest gift that we have received from those two generations ahead of us is the unwavering comfort of people with profound perspective and often, even deeper wisdom than our parents. When all seems lost, grandparents are the safe haven of last resort.

When I was a child, I frequently overheard my parents arguing, sometimes vigorously, and feeling the warm security of my home become shaky. My grandmother was the one to put her arms around me and tell me that this was a passing thing, that my parents would soon patch things up, assuring me that none of the discord was my fault and that everything would be all right. When I had bad news to deliver, it was my grandmother who heard it first, and who often broke it to my parents on my behalf. And I remember feeling profoundly grateful when my daughter, having fallen on the wrong side of my hot temper, would reach out to my mother for the same assurances. When my daughter had trouble staying asleep and knew that it was courting danger to come wake her father and me yet again, it was her grandmother she would call, even at two in the morning, to assuage her fear and anxiety.

A few years ago, tragedy struck our family in the form of a car accident that left one of ours, a beautiful girl just 16 years old, in a state beyond our understanding, unable to execute even the simplest of human activities like sitting or speaking. It was her grandmother who kept the family focused on Elana’s needs, and it is she who continues to provide the wisdom and financial resources to permit the family to cope with the enormous loss. Elana spends her days with caregivers who make the unbearable … well, it’s still not bearable. But the family gets through the days, one by one, almost entirely because of the strength of Elana’s grandmother. At the age of 81, Omama Lya is the pillar of the family. And, beyond material support, she is, to her six grandchildren, the go-to person for opinions and inspiration, for comfort, for advice, for the solution of problems large and small. Her approach to grandparenting? “I try to stay as positive as I can while still helping them come to terms with reality,” she tells me from across the country. “I encourage them to do their best and be true to their goals. I tell them about my experiences and share the lessons I learned from those experiences. And I try to be sincere, even if it is not very pleasant for them to hear. Most importantly, all my grandchildren know that if they need something, I am here for them.”

How do they do it, these wonderful guardians of the peace of our children’s hearts? The answer is clear. They have the advantage of a longer perspective, the accumulation of years of experience on life and love, work and relationships, and an understanding of what it takes to make it through difficult times. Most important, because it is not their primary responsibility, generally, to be the disciplinarians of our kids, they can be completely on their side, being cushions and sounding boards with nothing to accomplish other than making the children feel important, and providing them with the solace that things always have a way of working out. And who among us would not benefit from that?

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