"Grandparents: The people who think your children are
wonderful even though they're sure you're not raising them
- Author unknown
About 150 years ago, people began to recognize that the tone
of one's skin does not make someone less of a person, and laws
were passed to protect people of color from abusive and unfair
treatment. This was, of course, a bitter struggle, which has
continued into the present, but most of us today understand that
people of all skin tones are entitled to the same rights and
freedom in our society.
About 100 years ago, people began to recognize that one's
gender did not make someone less of a person, and laws were
passed to protect women from abusive and unfair treatment. This
too has been a bitter struggle which has continued to the
present, but most of us today understand that all people, male
and female, are entitled to the same rights and freedoms in our
About 25 years ago, people began to recognize that the age of
one's body does not make someone less of a person, and that
seniors are entitled to the same rights and freedoms as everyone
else. Again, this is a bitter struggle which continues into the
present and will hopefully continue far into the future.
In recent years, we have finally begun to extend rights and
freedoms to children. What does our struggle for children's
rights mean for grandparents, who were raised in such different
times? One outcome is that children are no longer seen as
property, to be manipulated through threats and punishment to
meet the needs of their parents and grandparents. We are
beginning to see children as real persons with real feelings, to
be treated with the same dignity and respect as everyone else.
Fifty years ago, a grandchild was expected to show outward
respect and courtesy to a grandparent, with little regard to the
way the grandparent treated the child, and with little regard
for the child's true inner feelings. Respect and courtesy are
still highly valued today. The difference is that respect is now
seen to be a two-way street, and the child's feelings are to be
taken into account along with the feelings of the older members
of the family.
There is good news and bad news here for grandparents. The
bad news is that a grandparent can no longer expect to be shown
courtesy and respect simply by virtue of the fact that he
resides on that particular branch of the family tree, without
some effort on his part to respect the child, to earn the
child's respect, and to look at things from her point of view.
But the good news is wonderful! Grandparents are now in a
position to receive genuine respect based on the child's love
for them, and not merely an outward show of "manners"
based on the child's fear of punishment.
Freedom is always contagious. More freedom for a grandchild
means more freedom for the grandparent, who no longer needs to
take the thankless role of the "feared elder" waiting
passively for an empty show of respect. Grandma and Grandpa are
now free to play the more active role of close, loving
grandparents, with the emphasis on "grand"!
Today grandparents are called upon to listen carefully
("I can understand that you're feeling sad"), to judge
fairly ("When you're 4, you're entitled to act like a
4-year-old"), to share feelings honestly but gently (I'm so
sorry, but I'm too tired to play right now"), to share
one's own experiences ("That reminds me of something that
happened when I was 4"), and to believe in the child's good
intentions in all circumstances ("I know you threw the
pillow because you want to play with me. What else can we do
Because children of today are recognized as being real
persons with real feelings, more effort is expected of both
parents and grandparents, and that can seem unfair; after all,
they had to show respect to their own grandparents, regardless
of how they were treated by them. Children may have more freedom
today than grandparents had as children, but the consolation for
them is substantial. Grandparents of today are free to have real
interactions with real persons, rather than formal, meaningless
role-playing with a frightened child. Both grandparents and
grandchildren have gained an exquisite freedom: to love and get
to know someone real, and to be loved and known in return.