Be a Thoughtful and Caring Grandparent

Physician's Money Digest, February29 2004, Volume 11, Issue 4

I had stopped to pick up my morning coffee anddonut when I ran into my old doctor friendGraham Paah. I hadn't seen him for a while andfound myself eager to catch up. I asked him howhe had been and he was all too happy to tell me. Heinformed me that his daughter, Susie, just had a baby,and that he was now a grandpa. At that point, he executedthe universal gesture of new grandparents. Hereached for his wallet, extracted a photograph, andstarted telling me all about his "great offspring."

I was stunned. My buddy Graham was a grandfather.My mind raced. I suddenly saw myself back atthe time when I had my first child and I had put hisphotograph in my wallet. It had seemed so natural toput the photo in my wallet, the place where I kept allmy other valuables.

Parental Satisfaction

I had worked my hardest to be a good parent. I hadprovided a comfortable home, enough money so hecould have everything he needed, and the opportunitiesto live life to the fullest. I hadn't wanted to hand himeverything on a silver platter, but I hadn't wanted a lackof money to be an issue that would prevent him frombecoming what he had the potential to be. I believed inmy heart of hearts that I had struck the perfect balanceand provided him with the perfect childhood.

I snapped out of it with a start and realized I wasstill in the donut shop with Graham. Looking at hisbeaming face, I recognized that grandchildren werethe next big step in my life. Both my children werenow married, working on careers, and seemed happy.My practice was going well. Retirement seemed to bethe next stage in my life, though I was never interestedin thinking about it very much. But I was suddenlyintensely interested in the subject of grandchildren.

Unobtrusive Support

After a nod or two to Graham, to indicate I knewhe was still there, I slipped again into my reverie aboutmy children and potential grandchildren. What is myrole in this next stage of life? My wife and I had madethe decision to have children, but the decision to havegrandchildren wasn't ours at all. It was up to our childrenand their spouses. We couldn't pressure them tohave children. We knew friends who nagged their childrenabout giving them grandchildren, and that didn'tseem right at all.

It seemed to me that I must have a role to playhere. I had already partly prepared them for this nextstage of their lives. I had modeled being a good parent.I had made it clear to them that I enjoyed havingthem around, that I treasured our relationship, andthat they were vitally important to me. I had modeledbeing a loving spouse, demonstrating that happy familiesstart with a healthy and loving husband-and-wiferelationship and a desire to share that love.

What more could I do? I thought back to the difficulttimes I had as a young parent. I thought about the financialworries, the unexpected expenses, and the difficultand scary times when they were sick or injured. I had notthought about these potential problems when I made thedecision to have children. But my kids are smarter thanI was. Where I had blindly accepted the idea that wewere all meant to have children, my own children wouldnaturally question that assumption. We had taught themto question everything.

Were they scared of taking that next step? Werethey worrying about paying for insurance, schools,clothes, transportation, college, etc? Were these worriesholding them back from the decision to have theirown children? In fact, as I thought about it, I rememberedthat this is exactly what they had expressed duringour last family gathering. Both had been thinkingabout having children, but were worried about all thethings they couldn't control.

Sage Parental Advice

Now I knew how I could help. There were threevery powerful things I could do:

  • I could give them my perspective. I had beenthrough the fire myself. I could reassure them thatwhen you have children, it helps to focus on theimportant things in life: your loved ones. The moneyissues then become less significant. What do you doabout those high college costs? Just remember, thechild is the most important thing here. They exist andare valuable solely because of their existence, whetherthey go to an expensive private school or a state university.No need for you to worry unnecessarily.
  • I could help them financially, if truly needed. Irealized the danger of imposing my values by usingmy pocketbook. They needed, of course, to strugglewith their own major life decisions, like where to live,where to work, and where to spend their money on aday-to-day basis. But there would surely be timeswhen they needed a little help from their parents. Ifthey did not have to worry about anticipating everypossible expense, it seemed to me that they might bemore confident in stepping out and taking on theseemingly endless responsibilities of parenthood.
  • I could show that I was interested in contributing,to the extent they desired, in the babysitting chores. Atthis stage in my career, my wife and I had more freedomto plan how to spend our time. Of course, it would meandelaying final plans for retirement until we found outwhere my children and potential grandchildren wouldbe living, and how much help they needed.

Donut Shop Epiphany

I had a goal and a plan. Now all I had to do wasimplement the plan and wait patiently for it to come tofruition. I'm a patient man, and I knew I could handle it.

Back in the donut shop, I looked up at Graham.He was still holding up the photo of his little princess.Amazingly, he hadn't noticed that I was lost in myown thoughts. He was still expounding on the goodqualities of his grandchild. I looked at him and said,"Graham, old buddy, thanks so much. You'vechanged my life." I ignored his shocked expression.My mind was racing ahead in time. Suddenly, I waslooking at my own face, holding a photo of my owngrandchild. I had never seen myself so happy.

Louis L. Constan, a family practice physician inSaginaw, Mich, is the editor of the Saginaw CountyMedical Society Bulletin and Michigan FamilyPractice. He welcomes questions or comments at3350 Shattuck Road, Saginaw, MI 48603; 989-792-1899; or louisconstan@hotmail.com.