Prompted by my sister's joy at meeting her newest grandchild yesterday, I've been thinking off and on all day about the differences between parenting and grandparenting and how much easier the latter is. I don't know whether the difference lies in an increase of patience as we grow older or a decrease in responsibility. After all, we grandparents can hand the kids back at the end of the day.
One specific Saturday with my granddaughter stands out. She was eight years old. She'd stayed with me the night before, and we were headed to the movies to see Beethoven, a Disney movie about a St. Bernard. She had her picture taken at the movie theater that day, her head resting on the back of a live St. Bernard that was there for just that purpose. I wish I had that picture to prove my point, but I'm sure she took it home with her that evening.
Up until that day, if she stayed with me, she'd let me do her hair before we went out. That time, though, she told me she could do it herself. She opened her suitcase to show me she'd brought all the necessary equipment. I loved her beautiful hair, blond and hanging to the middle of her back. All it needed, I thought, was a good brushing, and she could certainly do that.
Wrong! She stepped out of the bathroom with her hair looking as bad as I'd ever seen it. She had teased the front into the most atrocious pile of mall bangs you can imagine and sprayed them to stand about five inches high above her forehead. The thing was, though, when I was finally able to tear my eyes away from those bangs and look at her face below them, I saw a beautiful child who was positively beaming with pride. She thought she looked wonderful. That was all I needed to know. The bangs stayed. I told her how proud I was of her that she could fix her hair herself, and we went to the movies.
If either of my own daughters had botched a hairdo at that same age, I'm sure I'd have stepped in to redo it before I let them out in public. They might have messed it up later, but by golly, they were going to walk out the door looking good. I wonder now if I did that for them, or if I did it because their appearance might reflect on my motherhood credentials.
By the time my granddaughter came along, how she felt about herself was way more important to me than what strangers at the movie theater might think of either of us. I wouldn't have burst her bubble of pride for anything in the world.
In my own childhood, my mother was the critical one who pushed me to do better, and my grandmother was the one who just loved me the way I was. I preferred the unconditional approval, of course, but the things my mother taught me were important to my becoming a civilized human being with a modicum of socially acceptable behavioral skills.
If I came to any conclusion today, it was this: mothers and grandmothers have different roles to fulfill. Working together, we provide a pretty good balance.
Five generations in 1984: L-R, my mother, my grandmother, my granddaughter, me (speaking of big hair), my younger daughter.