A few weeks ago, my father and I built a fence to make a play area safe from a potential fall down a bank. The first post was easy, and the second as well. No problem… The third post, however, was the one that made all the difference. It was the one that created a line; a pattern, a prediction of where the next post was supposed to be… Or not… Given that we were building a curved fence, lets just say it took a while to get it right!
This reminded me of something I have been thinking about, with families.
We live apart from both sets of parents, and live 90% of our lives as a small family unit, just like we did overseas. Just us parents, and our children.
In the Middle East (Abu Dhabi and Dubai), one of the realities of life there, is that the families are only two generations strong. Every expat family is parents and children only… something was missing. The third generation. And we all felt it.
It was a privilege recently when my parents arrived for a long stay with us. For the first time as a father, my father was with me, and my children. My mother was here, alongside my wife and my children. And we were together long enough to remember old rhythms, old jokes, and old routines, and pick up old habits like we never forgot them.
3 generations in one house, for just a little while.
My dad and I fell quickly into an easy rhythm – working in the garage together, building a workbench and a woodworking area. Putting up a fence together. Having a few beers in the evening. Talking about all sorts. Woodworking, sports, marriage, family, South Africa, New Zealand. This time, though, my four year old boy was there at my side, asking his usual machine-gun like questions, changing topics and constantly and asking “Why?” “How?” etc.
My wife’s parents also have visited us often and the same dynamic is there. My son loves working with Poppa, asking questions, carrying tools, sprouting 4-year-old theories about life, the universe and everything. One of my favourite pictures is of him wearing an adult tool-belt just like Poppa’s (even though it was more like a full length suit of armour!)
The beauty has lain in being able to say “Boompa (our children’s name for my dad) and I did this when I was your age too”; and in watching my father teach my son the same things he taught me… telling the same stories, giving the same pointers. I could see my son connecting the dots and, well, becoming the third pole in the ground. Realising that Dad came from somewhere, and dad’s dad came from somewhere too.
All of a sudden, the world got older, richer, bigger and deeper, and his limited exposure to family, became far more profound and meaningful. His place in the world just got a whole new context.
It was also awesome seeing my young children run for hugs; proudly show new toys, and play hide and seek with the awesome familiarity of family. Completely secure, happy and at ease. With some sadness behind my smiles, the only words I could think of were “This is what family is meant to be like”.
Grandparents are just parents, to us. But to our children they are a mysterious mixture of family and history. They are a window into a time in OUR lives that is not often discussed. The time when we were their age. When we had parents just like they do now.
I don’t now how many of you out there have children who could – but don’t – spend quality time with their grandparents. Maybe it’s a distance thing, like for us. And there’s not much you can do about that.
But maybe its something else, and its your choice, or your parents choice. Or just laziness or busyness, or the old classic “in-law” dynamic.
If the longing in my heart for closer connection between my parents and my children is true for you, lets get those relationships going. Grandparents are awesome. And grandchildren are so very good for grandparents too. There is something so special about what has gone before, reaching out and touching what is coming after.