THIS week, we are invited to reflect on the role of grandparents in a special way.
Family is all about ‘connection’ and grandparents are vital links in the chain. As Pope Francis says, grandparents help us to appreciate ‘the continuity of the generations’. Very often, it is grandparents who ensure that faith and the most important values are passed down to your grandchildren. Their words and affection help children and young people to realise that history did not begin with them, but that we are all part of an age-old pilgrimage. Grandparents bridge the generation gap.
Earlier this week, I did some research, asking a few people what it’s like being a grandparent. I heard about the joy that grandchildren can bring; how they can give you a new lease of life and help to keep you feeling young. Grandparents can have the time to give them that perhaps you didn’t have when your own children were growing up. Of course, one granny honestly admitted that while the grandchildren are great fun to be with, it’s sometimes a relief when they go home at the end of a tiring visit!
Bridging the generation gap as a grandparent isn’t always easy, especially knowing when to speak and what to say. Every new generation brings change, new challenges and different ways of thinking. Older people can be labelled as being ‘un-modern’, not ‘with-it’ and even accused of ‘interfering’. It can be difficult to connect with your children and grandchildren in their struggles to cope with the pressures of modern living.
One grandmother asked me recently to pray for her daughter’s marriage. The family lives in a lovely four-bedroomed house with all mod cons, but huge demands from work are putting pressure on their relationship. She looks after her grandchildren four times a week and often on Saturdays because the parents feel the need to relax with friends after the exhaustion of their busy week. She brings the children to Mass on Sundays and, last year, because mum and dad were caught up in other things, she attended the ‘Do this in Memory’ programme when her grandson was making his First Holy Communion. The children have their own rooms, TVs, iPads and headphones and she says she’s not sure what they’re watching or playing on their computers. “It was so different when we were growing up,” she says. Everyone seems so isolated today, even lonely.
Perhaps some of her story is familiar. I encouraged her to keep on loving and talking to her children and grandchildren, gently seeking moments to bring them together. Although family is all about relationships, it can still be difficult to make connections in a generation which can be so individualistic, emphasising ‘ME’ time – my space, my needs, my independence, my rights. What are needed, of course, are opportunities together as a couple and family to work on OUR needs, our future, our happiness. It is true heart-to-heart communication like this that builds and holds a family together.
As grandparents, sometimes you may wish to step in and say something, to point out gently and in love what you think is right and wrong. You want to offer the wisdom and even the pain of your own life experiences, especially when you are worried that your children and grandchildren could be putting the future of their family at risk. As grandparents, you are in a unique position to offer loving advice and correction. By word and example you can teach your children and grandchildren that families are built on mutual love, respect, loyalty, sincerity, trust and co-operation.
Grandparents are present at the happy and sad moments in the lives of your children and grandchildren. You share their joys, their fears and their worries. You are there for them during pregnancy as they experience the joy of motherhood and fatherhood, or perhaps when they are struggling to have children, or have a miscarriage, or tragically, at times on the death of a child. You help them to learn what it means to be a mother and a father, a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister. You teach them about the honour, sacrifices, responsibilities and generosity that hold family life together. You offer support and offer understanding to single mothers left to raise children, to families who struggle with addictions and those who experience financial problems or the special challenges of disability or illness. You look out for and intervene when you see the horrible signs of domestic violence or aggression. And you keep on caring, even when your children’s family situation may not be what you would have wanted for them.
Pope Francis has said: “The prayer of grandparents and of the elderly is a great gift for the Church. It is a treasure … a great injection of wisdom for the whole of human society and, above all, for one which is too busy, too taken up, too distracted.”
A prayer for grandparents
***Lord Jesus, you were born of the Virgin Mary
The daughter of Saints Joachim and Anne
Look with love on grandparents the world over.
Protect them! They are a source of enrichment for families, for the Church and for all of society.
Support them as they grow older.
May they continue to be for their families strong pillars of Gospel faith,
guardians of noble domestic ideals, living treasuries of sound religious traditions.
Make them teachers of wisdom and courage,
that they may pass on to future generations the fruits of their mature human and spiritual experience.
Lord Jesus, help families and society to value the presence and role of grandparents.
May they never be ignored or excluded, but always encounter respect and love.
Help them to live serenely and to feel welcomed in all the years of life which you give them.
Mary, Mother of all the living,
keep grandparents constantly in your care, accompany them on their earthly pilgrimage,
and by your prayers, grant that all families may one day be reunited in our heavenly homeland,
where you await all humanity for the great embrace of life without end.***