Being Grandparent Figures

Last year, on this feast of SS Joachim and Anne, I blogged briefly about what Jesus owed to his grandparents (see here). I see, looking back, that grandparents are rather a common theme with me (see here). That tells you something about the role grandparents played in my own life, but perhaps it also raises a few questions about grandparent figures in general.

I am not a great fan of spiritual motherhood or fatherhood as such*, but I am increasingly drawn to the idea that, after a certain age, we can all be grandparent figures to others. The bond between grandparents and grandchildren is more relaxed than that between parent and child. There is more fun in it, more ‘equality’ somehow. Love and concern and wanting the best for the other are reciprocated without any of the complications that often exist in the immediate family. It is a curiously grown-up relationship, even if there is an age gap of many decades between the two. Perhaps our society would be kinder and more supportive of one another if more of us were willing to take on the role of grandparent figure: encouraging, loving, being approachable and taking a genuine and unselfish interest in the lives of others. It is surely worth thinking about, whatever age we may be.

*It is often misrepresented.

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Grandparents

The feast of SS Joachim and Anne, names traditionally assigned to the parents of Mary, mother of our Lord, reminds us that Jesus was a member of a family. His looks, his traits, his temperament, all were influenced by his genetic inheritance and the experience of belonging to that particular Jewish family. As with all families, his inheritance must have been a mixture of good and bad.

That means that Jesus was not necessarily ‘perfect’ by human standards: he was not necessarily the most handsome man who ever lived (could we even agree on what constitutes handsome?), the most intelligent, the most eloquent, the most gifted. His smile might have been crooked, his nose bent; he might have had difficulty learning Hebrew, an irritating way of clearing his throat before speaking, a thousand and one little habits we might think of as imperfections. And yet, as Son of God, he was perfect, perfect in all the ways that matter to God: in love, fidelity and obedience. These too he must have learned from his family, for he did not come into the world fully-formed, so to say. He came as a baby, with all a baby’s fragility and vulnerability. He had to learn how to be a man, and his first teachers were his family.

The man who showed such courage and determination in the face of opposition, such compassion and wisdom in his teaching; who was easy in the presence of women and small children and all those on the margins of society; who possessed in abundance the gift of friendship, was a grandson as well as son. What precisely he owed to Joachim and Anne we cannot say for certain, but today we should pray with gratitude for all grandparents, for they pass on to their grandchildren more than they know.

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In Praise of Grandparents

The feast of SS Joachim and Anne, (traditional names given to the parents of Our Lady and hence the maternal grandparents of Our Lord Jesus Christ), is an apt day on which to sing the praises of grandparents. You see them today doing the school run, providing out-of-hours childcare, often more engaged with the children than the children’s parents. It wasn’t always so. The grandparents of today are usually healthier, wealthier and more leisured than their own grandparents were. They are Baby Boomers turned Baby Buddies and have a very special place in their grandchildren’s hearts.

Because that is the point about grandparents, isn’t it? They can be so much less complicated about the love they have for their grandchildren, and grandchildren instinctively recognize the fact. Grandparents don’t have the 24/7 responsibility of parents; they can be indulgent; they can enjoy their grandchildren’s company in ways and at times that parents can’t. Their influence can be huge, and it is always the influence of love. Thank God for grandparents, living and dead.

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