Last week, I read an article about Grandparents in the Correspondent, a subscription-based journalism outlet that prioritizes deep and thoughtful essays on complex topics over the latest clickbait of the moment.
As we’ve settled into the pandemic, we’ve cast grandparents into seclusion as “vulnerable” and lost sight of their essential value in our communities, to our future, and especially to our children. Even for grandparents who had close relationships with their children and grandchildren, many haven’t seen or spent time with their children and grandchildren for months but for video calls here and there.
At what cost, however, are we secluding them from our lives? We are in a historic moment of domestic and global crossroads with an opportunity to change course for the better. We need community and The Commons now more than ever, and grandparents are the first layer of our greater community outside ourselves and our nuclear families.
The Value Of Grandparents and Community
I consider myself lucky because my mother-in-law joined our “quaranteam” early on. She visits several days a week for 3-4 hours to spend time with our boys while my husband and I work. Her time spent caring for our boys reduces our stress immensely and lets us focus on work or other responsibilities while she is at our house. Also, the boys can’t wait for her to arrive every morning.
With the boys, she plays endless games of Scrabble, Words With Friends, and Monopoly Junior. The boys have become walking word games (… I’m 100% not kidding…). She has daily picnics with them in our front yard where she listens to them ramble on about everything they’ll never tell me.
She exposures them to so many great things I’d never think, nor have the patience, to teach my boys. I’m grateful for her time and energy dedicated to my boys and the constant reminder that parenting is a job to shared be among many.
Although my parents live far away, the same is true for them. My boys have frequent video calls with my parents while I mull away working or doing household chores or relaxing with a book. When my parents visit, they often do things with the boys without us, and they do so many things with the boys we never do as parents.
The boys jump for joy whenever an aunt or uncle is on the phone or visits. They can’t get enough of them. Time with an aunt or uncle is great for the boys and also a welcome reprieve from the weight of parenting for me and my husband.
My boys LOVE visits and calls from grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and I’m so happy to see my boys develop relationships with these adults in their life independent of me or their dad.
For me, all of these relationships reinforce the conclusions from the article that other adults in our communities, and grandparents, in particular, play a unique role in our children’s lives and in the evolutionary history of our society.
Disconnected and Dirilect Communities To Prioritize The Self
Our current social constructs, economic models, and lifestyles, however, revolve around the individual and the nuclear family. We have devalued the importance of the larger family network and the general community as integral parts of the well-being of our families and our children. More broadly, we have forgotten the real value in the collective, the community, The Commons. And it’s evident in many of our current communities and relationships.
In her book Doughnut Economics, Kate Raworth discusses this in-depth as well. She focuses more on the intellectual value of The Commons, but I think it’s all related. We all thrive more when we come together for the collective good of the group, help each other out, and appreciate both the positive and negative effects our actions and opinions have on others.
Whether it be with grandparents and extended family, the ecosystem of our community, the people of our town or city, or all living creatures on Earth, we are all connected. We will thrive when we adequately respect and empower those connections, not ignore and destroy them.
Focus On The Communities That Support Our Well-Being
As we move forward from and with the pandemic, racial justice movements, and environmental deterioration in hopes of a more just and prosperous society and planet, we cannot forget that we are part of something much bigger than ourselves. And we have an individual impact on that “something bigger”.
We are each but one of the billions of people on the planet and species around the world. Yet we also each are an integral part of the social and physical ecosystems of Earth. We each matter, but so does the community of which we are a part. And a well-connected community makes each of us stronger.
At home, our children benefit from love, energy, and perspective from their grandparents while we (as parents) benefit from the reprieve grandparents provide. We all live our best lives when we acknowledge the impact we have on others and make choices to create an impact that is as collectively beneficial as possible. Our society is better when we care for each other as much as we care for ourselves.
Over the last several months, our world had come crashing down on us. But like any big mess, I believe it will get bigger before it gets cleaned up. We must take everything out of the proverbial cluttered closet in order to clean it, clear out the old and outdated, and put back only those things that deserve to stay on their proper shelves.
As we sort through and put back together, hopefully we can remember that we are stronger as a community of diverse and valued perspectives learning from and relying on each other.
We have a great opportunity right now to change course on broken and limited capitalist and colonial economic models. Our current systems and structures perpetuate injustice, environmental destruction, greed, perceived scarcities, and worse.
When we give greater priority to principles of The Commons and remember that humanity has thrived for so long precisely because of our interconnectedness within communities, our ecosystems, and especially with our grandparents, we have a chance to right the ship that seems to have lost its course.