Listen, not all grandparents are created equal. Some are almost too hands on, and some are like Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, making everyone feel like a failure, and constantly bitching whenever someone gets on their lawn. And yes, no matter how much you love the grandparents in your life, you are still going to complain about them a little bit. That’s just family.
But I must tip my hat to my in-laws. When Mel and I had our son, we were both 24. I was in college and working close to full time, and Mel was working full time. I was waiting tables, and she was working at a hardware store. It just wasn’t in the cards for us to afford daycare, and so Grandma stepped up.
She watched Tristan almost daily until he was two. She never asked for payment. She didn’t ask for thanks, although we said it regularly. She just loved the heck out of that auburn-headed rascal. She changed his bum, bought him clothing, fed him good meals (and few too many Happy Meals), and helped him develop a healthy addiction to The Wiggles.
When we moved from Utah to Minnesota for graduate school, my in-laws road with us, helping us pack, unpack, and get settled. And when they left to go home, my mother-in-law cried as if she were leaving her own son because of all the time she’d spent with our boy. With each transition, they have been there. With each move, with each baptism, with each diploma, they were at the ready. They watched our three wild, honey badger-like children so Mel and I could take a cruise for our 11th anniversary.
I didn’t have a very good home life as a child. My father died from drug addiction when I was young. He was in and out of jail. My mother had serious depression. Both my parents were married multiple times. We didn’t get along, and I ran away when I was 14 and ended up living with my own grandmother. The reason I bring this up is because when I got married 13 years ago, I suppose I didn’t really understand what “family” meant. It all seemed temporary. I had a difficult time getting to close to people because I assumed they’d just leave, like everyone else had.
At first, I felt a little suffocated by my in-laws. I felt like they were spending too much time with us. I wondered why they were always trying to help fix this or help us afford that. But now, after witnessing the way they interact with Mel and me, and the way they truly care for my children in a wonderful and non-judgmental way, I have to say that it’s taught me a lot about what family really means.
I know for a fact that were it not for Mel’s parents, I never would’ve finished college. But more importantly, I don’t know if I ever would’ve learned to really — and I mean really — love family. I’d never have learned what real sacrifices means, nor would I have learned how to be 100% invested and consistent with the ones you love.
I know I’m not alone here. I know there are many parents out their with amazing grandparents, who accompany you on family vacations to give you that extra set of hands you so desperately need. They are the ones you call when you can’t fix this or that, or can’t figure out what’s going on with your mortgage. They are the ones you call for family advice, and are always happy to take your kids in, feed them full of junk food and screen time so you and your partner can have a break, and then deliver them back a little jacked up on sugar, but otherwise fine.
If you have rock star grandparents in your life, if they are there for you in a non-judgmental and supportive way, give them a shout out. Let them know how much you appreciate their patience and dedication to one of the hardest things in the history of ever — raising a family.