We love having guests give us their thoughts on parenting and motherhood and all things family. So when Jen from Renovating Thoughts approached us, we jumped at the chance. She’s a mother of two and takes care of her grandmother, who has early onset Dementia, full time. (While also working outside the house, too!) We love her perspective on life and know you will, too.
The number of children being raised by their grandparents in the United States is 2.7 million. There are probably 2.7 million different reasons, and none of them are easy for the child or the grandparent. But the grandparent steps up when they see a need, and the child’s life is most often drastically improved. The reasons aren’t important. It’s not the reason that’s important. It’s the fact that they don’t have to do it. My grandmother didn’t need to take care of me. But she did. I was better off as a child and am now a better adult because a woman decided to act selflessly and be my source of stability.
I spent a lot of my childhood with my grandmother. She was always the constant in my life. If I’m being honest, she never really knew what she was doing with me. Times had changed and so had raising kids. But she never gave up, and she never dug her heels in on how parenting was supposed to be; that remarkable woman adapted. When she was raising me she had to adjust to all these new parenting rules and regulations. (*gasp* You mean you don’t just smack the kid’s hands with a ruler in school anymore?!)
She always made the best out of everything. I remember her always telling me I couldn’t do something and always yelling back at her, “But all my friends are doing it!” She always stood her ground on everything. One of my fondest memories of her is roller blades. When I was 9 or 10 years old, roller blades were the big thing. All the kids in the neighborhood had them; all the kids at school had them; I absolutely needed them! But being raised by a older woman who lived through the end of the Great Depression meant we didn’t spend money frivolously. I begged for weeks to no avail.
But one day, I went outside to play with the neighborhood kids and she came with me. All the kids had either a bike, or roller blades. And I had none. My grandmother stood on the stoop and watched me as I just ran behind them as they skated. (Here may be a good time to point out that I was raised as a Jehovah’s Witness. We were used to not “fitting in” all the time.) The next day we got up and, because it was a weekend, we went door to door preaching. (Remember; Jehovah’s Witnesses.) After about 2 hours, we went to Woolworth and she led me directly to the one place all parents steer their children away from: The toy aisle. She picked out size after size until we found the right one and held me up because I couldn’t stay up straight.
Despite knowing that it wasn’t a necessary purchase; despite “not fitting in” being ingrained into our very souls – she spent money we probably couldn’t spare on something we didn’t need. To make me happy.
I spent the next 2 hours trying to ride those roller blades down the long hallway of our apartment and fell a dozen or more times, easily. I came stomping back in, kicked them off and fell on the couch, frustrated. She asked what was wrong and I explained how disappointing it was to look forward to something for so long and when I finally got them, I wasn’t able to do it. But she looked directly at me and told me with absolute certainty that I was going to do it and she was going to teach me. And she did. Without even knowing how herself. I thought she was insane. But she walked in front of me holding my hands and within the hour I was roller blading on my own up-and-down the hallway.
The next day she took me outside and she made sure to grab my roller blades for me. She showed me off like I was a trophy and made sure to tell to all the other parents that those were my first pair of roller blades and that I learned how to do it in one day. By learning so quickly, I had made her genuinely proud. I didn’t know it then but I do now.
She was proud of me.
There are a dozen more moments like this where she comes out of her shell and does something I never knew she could or would do. That’s the thing; when you’re raised by someone who isn’t your parent, you have somewhere in the back of your head that you’re not really owed anything. You tell your mom “You have to say that, you’re my mom” when she tells you you’re beautiful. But your grandma isn’t your mom. And the things that she gives you aren’t expected. They’re cherished. And you don’t take them for granted.
My grandmother was diagnosed with early onset Dementia a few years ago and I immediately moved her into my home. There was no question in my mind. She took care of me when she didn’t have to, how could I do any less? When people say “Oh, that’s so generous of you, keeping your grandmother” or “She must be a big help to you with the kids” I say thank you and yes she is a huge help.
But the truth is she doesn’t need me nearly as much as I need her.
I always need to know that she is okay; that she’s eaten and is sleeping enough; that she went for a walk for exercise.
Your parent sacrifices their life for you every day but when a grandparent steps in and does it, it means so much more when you look back on it as an adult. It makes you feel so much more loved and special. Because they chose to care for you, even if you were unplanned. My grandmother decided to give up her life plans to raise children. Twice. And she did it even when she didn’t have to. She did that for me.
So to you Paula, thank you for giving me your time. For keeping me humble and teaching me about Los Menudos and Eydie Gorme. Thank you for showing me how to use a record player and for having dance parties for just the two of us. Thank you for being my grandma!