As parents, we want to give our children everything. We do our best to provide them with every opportunity and every precious moment of our time. And while perhaps not wishing to give them every possession, we never want them to go without, either. For our family, the one thing we can’t provide are grandparents. As our children grow older and more aware, we know they will soon recognize those special people who are missing from their lives, the ones that most of their friends have.
As parents without parents of our own, and raising children without grandparents, there are certainly times we feel an acute sense of absence, but what I have begun to realize are actually the unique benefits of our position.
For other mothers who have lost their parents, or if they are unable (or unwilling, like estranged family) to be present in your children’s lives, I hope you can take comfort in some of the silver linings our independence affords us.
Here are 5 benefits I’ve found to raising children without grandparents:
1. We have no expectations of grandparents, and therefore we never feel let down
Though there are days (and nights) when it would feel easier if I could call on my own mother for help, that’s actually far from the reality for many families who do still have their parents around. With the retirement age increasing, many grandparents are still working and are not on-call to help. And for others, they actually don’t want to.
As frequently as I hear my friends say things like, “My mom has taken the boys for the night,”I also hear, “Our parents are never willing to babysit.”
Although it’s easy to imagine all of our parents being hands-on and available, that’s not the case for many families, and I think it could actually be harder to feel let down by uninvolved grandparents than to not have them around in the first place.
2. We make our own rules, and nobody questions them
As mothers in general (and as new mothers in particular), there is no shortage of advice. For the most part, it is well meaning and supportive—but it can also feel ubiquitous, overwhelming and conflicting. It begins in pregnancy, accelerates from the moment your baby takes their first feed, and (so far as I can see) never really slows down.
Thankfully, when the advice is from friends or strangers, we can nod and smile politely, safe in the knowledge that we know best for our babies. But when mothers and mothers-in-law come to stay, help and share their infinite wisdom, it’s not so easy to ignore.
Though they too want what’s best for their grandchildren, grandparents do have a tendency to “know best”and that can both knock our confidence as new parents and cause strain between couples at an already-heightened emotional time.
Of course, sometimes it devastates me that my mother will never meet her grandchildren and can’t give me advice when I need it. My daughter looks so much like her as a child and has such a love for music and dancing (like my mom). I feel a huge sadness that they never coexisted, but my mother is still a part of our lives in other ways.
Before she died, she wrote a book of stories about her life (which I can’t wait to read and pass down to my children), and it has even inspired me to create a grandparents journal to encourage others to do so as well. However, though I love that she wrote me parenting advice, it’s very much up to us to choose whether to follow it or not.
3. We don’t fear the grief of losing them
As both our mothers died from cancer in the last decade, one silver lining to their early departures is that they occurred before we had our own children, to whom I can’t even imagine explaining death to— let alone grieving while also caring for others.
My mother’s diagnosis and subsequent death affected me for well over a year. I barely ate, had trouble with work and also struggled with my relationship with my husband. I can only imagine how much harder that would have been while also raising young children.
We know how special grandparents are. We also know only too well the heartbreak of losing them. Both my husband and I lost our own grandparents as children, and I remember the devastating loss and the hole left behind in my own family. In a way, I see it is a benefit that our children will not suffer the pain of losing their grandparents.
4. We choose the people who impact and influence our children’s lives
Though our children are growing up without grandparents, they have no shortage of people around them to look up to, be loved by and to hopefully go to for advice one day. Just because our parents raised us, doesn’t necessarily mean we think they know best about raising our children.
For many, family can cause more stress than anything else. I often see online stories of parents disagreeing with the views and decisions of grandparents, while those grandparents have a sense of entitlement over their grandchildren’s lives.
For our children, there is nobody else who feels an entitlement or a “right” to see, influence or raise them—yet they are surrounded by kind, caring and thoughtful people who have become the family we have chosen.
5. Holiday celebrations are designed around our children’s happiness, not our parents’ requests.
The holidays are a time for family, but hopefully also a time that parents can take a break from work and the pressures of the year. All too often it seems that it’s just one kind of pressure exchanged with another, as young families spend much of the holidays travelling between grandparents (often not just two sets, but four if their own parents are separated).
While we don’t always have a full table for Christmas dinner, the silver lining is that we have nowhere we need to be. There’s no rushing around, no flights to catch, no car to pack, and as much as I love buying presents, I personally find it a lot more rewarding choosing for children than trying to think of yet another thing to buy for people who have everything.
We usually take our children to the park and then all have a nap at home in the afternoon. It’s a very relaxed, low-key kind of celebration—and it’s perfect. We don’t have any family traditions to follow, but have started little family ones of our own. I record in our Christmas memory book the family recipes followed, passing down how my mum taught me to make the crispiest baked potatoes, and often think back and reflect on my own childhood Christmases. It’s as full of love as any family’s, just on a much smaller scale.
Sometimes I wonder to myself how life would be different if we had still our parents around, but I’m not actually convinced it would be better. My mother was never upset that she wouldn’t be a grandparent. She said she’d done her best job as a parent and that was enough. I think she’s right, and now it’s up to us to do the same. We make the rules, we choose the people who will influence our children and the only expectations we have are of ourselves and each other—and that’s enough.
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