With the exception of losing my dad when I was ten years old, I’ve really always felt like I had a charmed childhood.
And while I know that it probably seems odd to say, in spite of such a big loss, it’s actually the truth.
Ironically, the way I feel about my childhood isn’t even related to how many friends I had growing up or that I was an only child who never had to jockey for my parent’s attention with other siblings, or because I had a dog, two hamsters, and a guinea pig. I felt blessed as a kid because I always had family around me—in particular, my grandmother.
She came to live with my mom and me a few years after my dad passed away, when I was barely a teenager. And let me tell you, even though my grandmother wasn’t especially mobile or in the best physical health, her presence and her humbleness and her unwavering support and affection for me made indelible marks on my life and on my personality. And it absolutely helped shape the mother that I am to my own children today.
Having her there, in the bedroom right next to mine all those years, was the greatest gift anyone could ever have given me. And the funny thing is, I knew it as much then as I do now as an adult.
That’s because my grandmother always drew from a deep pool of wisdom and was always very deliberate in everything she said and did. She knew just what to say, when to say it, and when not to say anything at all.
Gram was my biggest fan, my staunchest ally, and my favorite partner to watch endless hours of Saturday-morning wrestling and Candlepin bowling. (It was our thing.)
And it was deep under her covers, lying next to her in her bed all those years, that I learned everything there was to know about what life was like when my mom and aunt and uncles were young.
I learned lesson after lesson in humility and selflessness and kindness, hearing stories of my sixteen-year-old mom contributing most of her part-time job salary back to the family.
I got to visualize her shoveling coal in their basement or getting her tonsils out on their kitchen table. I even learned to understand Yiddish before I was old enough to drive.
She had a quiet wisdom, my grandmother. Like most grandparents, I think. And she lived her life by very simple rules—rules that she unknowingly passed down to me. They were:
1. She never spoke badly of anyone, ever.
2. She did everything, including working and raising her children, to the best of her ability.
3. She loved her family and friends as fiercely as a person could.
4. She took immense pride in her home and her children and the way she cared for them reflected that pride.
5. She said, I love you every chance she got
6. And she laughed as often and as hard as she could.
Let’s just say that my grandmother’s influence shaped my personality almost as much as my mother’s guidance did growing up.
This is why, when I really sit back and think about the things that matter most in my kids’ lives, one of the things that I always circle back to is the relationship they have with their grandparents.
Since the day my kids were born, my mom and her partner Ron, along with my in-laws, have acted more like a second set of parents to my kids than anything else.
They talk and text and Facetime about everything and about nothing, just to stay connected.
And even though none of us live under the same roof—with the exception of my parents during the summertime and my husband’s mom and dad a few weeks throughout the year—the bond my girls have with them reminds me of what my grandmother and I shared when I was their age.
And whether it was learning how to sift flour or how to find the best bargains at the mall or how to be gentle and kind and unassuming as a person, the life lessons they’ve learned from their grandparents are invaluable and will last them a lifetime.
I’m not sure I can ever adequately put into words what my relationship with my grandmother meant to me or what the relationship my girls have with their grandparents means to them, but I know it’s unlike any other relationship we have. So let’s just say that as far as I’m concerned, there’s no greater gift our kids can have than a close bond with their grandparents. The love our kids get from them is so rare and so pure and so uncompromising that it’s totally one-of-a-kind.
See, in most cases, that unconditional grandparent-type love is different from a mom or a dad’s love because most grandparents don’t wear the same parenting hats we do with our kids. They just always have a gleaming rep and can literally do no wrong.
So while we’re the nurturer and the disciplinarian and the drill sergeant and the therapist and the a-holes, grandparents are just the cuddly, fun people who love everything they do, never yell, and love to hang out in malls.
Somehow it seems a little unfair, though, that they always get the best of our kids. Although, I guess after having to put up with all of our crap growing up, our parents do deserve to have something to balance the scales.
For more from Lisa Sugarman, visit LisaSugarman.com and Twitter and click here for an exclusive offer to pre-order her upcoming book Untying Parent Anxiety.