Mormon Blog -
Gracious Grandmothering
Loretta Derrick
By Loretta Derrick
Published on 09/25/2008
Each of us must find for ourselves the way we can be a meaningful part of our individual grandchild’s life. Whether we have two or twenty, there is a need to bond to the generation before us and to transmit the heritage of the past. Grandmothers have the privilege and the responsibility to shower their charges with love, strengthen sound principles, illuminate the past, and point their grandchildren to a productive future.  Each of us is uniquely qualified for the job.

Having 33 grandchildren is the natural consequence of having a large brood of my own. The eight children Paul and I raised seem to remember their childhood with nostalgia and joyful memories. Perhaps this is why they were open, once out the gate, to have families of their own. I watch each family as they deal with a myriad of common problems, some vexing problems and many challenging problems, raising healthy, responsible children in a perilous world.

My own mother has caused my greatest problem as I approach the issue of grandmothering. She was the perfect example and I am in a constant state of failure trying to measure up to her level on the bar. Mother had only two daughters . . . advantage number one. She had less than half of my grandchildren . . . advantage number two. She had boundless energy, a perennially youthful outlook and a heart big enough for us all . . . advantage numbers three through ten. My sister and I have commiserated for years about the fact that we are not our mother when it comes to being the type of grandmother our children enjoyed.

Each of us must find for ourselves the way we can be a meaningful part of our individual grandchild’s life. Whether we have two or twenty, there is a need to bond to the generation before us and with the heritage of the past. I have always had a respect for the rights and responsibilities of parents to guide their families: counseling together, coordinating their efforts to lead little children home to that Father who trusted them in their care. It is a constant puzzle to see how Grandma, Nana or Oma fit into that mix.

My mother painted porcelain. She took each child into the paint room. They chose a piece of white china and she taught them to mix the paint, grinding it on a glass bar with the oils and showed them how to make shaded strokes with a brush. Paul used to interest the grandkids with his coin collection, his model planes, his stamp collection or his fishing gear. Grandmothers need a medium to mix little children and teen agers into a malleable situation of trust and love. It could be butter and flour on a pastry liner. It could be stories in a picture book. It could be nubby yarn and a crochet hook. It could be seeds and a trowel in a square foot garden. It could be scrapbooking the pictures from the prom. The project produces the memories. The memories produce the bond.

I have found that little children love their grandmother without much prompting. It is my challenge to nurture that natural affection into something pure and lasting. Tessa’s mom told her many times that her Grandma was coming for a visit. The excitement grew along with the rest of the children until at the airport there was a stranger giving a hug. “Where is the brown grandma?” Tessa asked her mother. I reserved my concern until that night when I was helping her into bed and saw my picture on the dresser. It was taken years ago when I had dark hair and a more youthful countenance. There was the brown grandma she had expected. By the end of my visit, we were confidants and she danced for me and let me hold her, a rare thing for that busy, independent 4 year old. It is a needful thing to keep close contact, even with those far away, to remind them of your abiding love and faith in them.

I see my duty to my grandchildren as a memory giver. I remind them of who they are by exemplifying how they should live. I remind them of their history and who has gone before, what trials and triumphs they had. Grandfather Derrick had a tragic auto accident. He was incapacitated for months but kept his charming sense of humor throughout it all. Grandfather Bunker would get you out of bed the morning after the prom saying, “He who dances the night away, the morning after, the fiddler must pay.” I always felt his expectation to be a responsible person. We pass the torch of our expectations, our ethics, our humor, our principles and traditions. Without us, where is the grounding?

We hold a mirror to the future. You may have a child who has lost his or her eternal identity for a season. Grandparents can bridge the gap between struggling parents and children, to offer hope and patience. You may be the peaceful place it takes to regain the vision of who they are and what they are meant to accomplish. Never let them stray so far that you can’t hold them close to your heart and let them know that you love them without condition. Someday they may need to rely on that trust that you have placed in them to make a U-turn in their life.

I have a long prayer roll every morning. Going through eight children, their spouses and 33 grandchildren is a daunting task. Bless our missionary. Bless Rachael and the baby due in November. Bless Sadie in her test at the University. Bless Jasmine with wisdom and courage. Bless Morgan with uplifting companions. Bless Lindsey’s school teacher. I am thankful for blessing Devin and Braeden with safety through the hurricane. I rely on the power of prayer to work miracles in their lives. It is good to know them well enough to know what to pray for.

I sat at my grandmother’s knee while she braided my hair for school. She would sing me a little song she learned in Holland as a child. She would tell me stories of life on a primitive Nevada farm, cooking on a wood burning stove for 12 farm hands. I could smell the loaves of bread and see the pies as she spoke. I can feel her presence still and her love flowing over my soul like a patchwork quilt from her bed. Being a great grandmother is a gift to a child that lasts forever.