The Gift of a Grandmother
- Jill Bartlett Crosswalk.com Family Living Editor
- 2001 31 Oct
Jill: Well, tell me a little bit about your book Quiet Moments for Grandmothers.
Kay: Well, it's actually a funny story. I had written for Servant Publications before and my daughter and I wrote a book together called Putting Together the Wedding of Your Dreams at a Price You Can Afford. So, a couple of years had passed, and the editor called me and said, "Since you and your daughter did this book and I know your daughter's been married, do you have any grandchildren? We need a book called Quiet Moments for Grandmothers. I said, "No, I'm sorry. We don't have any grandchildren." And she said, "Are you sure?" I responded, "Yes, Lisa doesn't have any children." So she said, "Oh, too bad because we really need a book for grandmothers. We hung up the phone, and I my husband of one month about the conversation (my first husband had died five years before and I had just been remarried), and he said, "What about my grandchildren?" And I thought "Gosh, I have known these children my whole life because we've been family friends forever and our kids have grown up together. I had known these children, but I had never thought of them as my grandchildren.
So I called my editor back and said, "You know what? Come to think of it, I do have grandchildren!" She said, "How many?" I responded, "Well, I have a six-year old, a four-year old and twin two-year olds." And she said, "Hmm, some people will do anything for a book contract!" But, that's actually how it came about, and it was really kind of neat because that Easter, just maybe a month later, we were having a family dinner at our house, and Phoenix, the oldest child, was sitting there looking at me and she says, "You know what, Kay? You used to be my best friend and now you're my Grandma." So it's been a very, very pleasant and easy integration, and I love having grandchildren. I just love it!
Jill: What are the three most important lessons your grandchildren have taught you?
Kay: Number one, you cannot expect your children to raise children the same way you raised yours. Number two, you can spoil grandchildren in ways you never, ever could spoil your own children because you get to send them home again. And, number three, grandmothers and grandchildren are allies like no other!
Jill: What are some things that you want your grandchildren to learn from you?
Kay: Most importantly, I want them to learn to love God. They are not being raised in a Christian family. As a matter of fact, we took the children to church with us and every time we prayed, Phoenix said, "Papa Dan's falling asleep." And I said, "No, no. His eyes are closed because he's praying." She didn't know. So, having them come to know God, that's the very first thing. Second thing, I would like for them to learn a type of unconditional love that parents are not able to give because they have to be the disciplinarians. And I think the third thing I would like my grandchildren to learn from me is what I consider ... okay this is kind of selfish ... but what I consider to be appropriate priorities.
Jill: Hmm, that's a great one. And how do you teach that to them?
Kay: Well, you sure don't teach it by lecturing. You teach it by modeling. My daughter-in-law and her husband live about seven hours north of us in California. They've always lived right close to us, but they moved away maybe three months ago. He's a firefighter and he's got a job up there. And, she is always harried because she's got the four children, including the twins, who have been diagnosed as autistic, so she has got her hands full. She has no church to have a church family that a lot of us would fall back on. She's new to the community. And so I told my husband, "It's so important every couple of months for us to drive up seven hours and pick up the older children and bring them home with us so that they have time that's focused just on them, not on the little guys who demand all of the attention, but that we just have that time alone with the older ones. We just did this last week. They came with lists of what they wanted to do. And it was everything from go to the zoo, to have good meals with yummy desserts (because their mother hardly has time to cook). It's interesting ... you get some real insights when you see their little list of what they want to do!
Jill: What has being a grandmother taught you about yourself and how has it impacted your relationship with the Lord?
Kay: I am a person who tends to think that I can do what needs to be done myself. If something needs to be done, I can buckle down and do it. And I look at my grandchildren and see my top priorities. I can't do that. I cannot do one thing to make that happen and I think that this has taught me to really have to commit them to the Lord. I say, "Lord, you love these children more than I do. You have got to do this. I cannot do this." I think it has brought my husband and me closer, and it's taught us that we need to be a united front with the children. We've got to be a unit. But we also have learned to bow to their parents. Their parents don't say, "Don't take them to church." They say, "Oh, that's good. That's good. I'm glad they're going. That's nice." But, it's . . . They don't say anything like that, but if there's something that's important to their parents; their parents don't want them to eat any sugar. Well, I don't think that some sugar's going to hurt them, but that's not for me to say. I don't argue. I just comply with wishes.
Jill: That's good advice. What have your grandchildren taught you that your children haven't?
Kay: My grandchildren have taught me flexibility. If I had it to do over again, I would be more flexible with my children. Of course, part of that is being a grandmother as opposed to being a mother too.
Kay: But, with my grandchildren, they have taught me that if you eat popcorn in the afternoon and are not so hungry for dinner one time, it is not going to make that much difference. If they sleep with me and Dan sleeps in the guest room, it is not going to make that much difference. They love to sleep with me in the waterbed.
Jill: What are some of your ideas for "long-distance" grandparenting? I know that just recently became an issue for you.
Kay: Yes, it has. What I have started doing is making a tape for each of the four children, asking such things as "How, how, how is school?," "How are your chickens?," "How big are they now?," "Can you measure them for me?," "Did that bruise on your knee get well?" I ask them about the things that are important to them. I call them. We call them probably twice a week and I tell them things like, "Guess what? A quail made a nest in the garden here and we've got fifteen quail eggs." And then when something happens with the quail eggs, I'll call them. "A snake got into the quail eggs today. But the mother quail got them out." And the children are just intrigued ... it's like a soap opera. The other thing I've done is I've given Phoenix, the oldest one, a lined notebook with little kitty cats on it. And anything important that she wants to remember to tell me, she writes down. So, when I call her, she goes and gets her book and goes down the list.
Jill: That's very creative! How does a grandmother stay involved with her grandchildren when divorce affects the child?
Kay: That's fortunately something we haven't faced, but that's a big one. The tendency is to side with your child, but what you have to do is stay neutral. You should never let a mean thing about that other family come from your tongue. Most of the time that a divorced parent would keep the child from seeing the other person's parents, the other grandparents, is because they bad mouth them or they're afraid they will. If you can say to them, "I know ... I mean I have ideas and thoughts about this whole thing, but I'm going to keep them to myself. Because if you want to know what I think, then ask me, but I am not going to share anything in front of your children or with your children. I just want them to have another person to love them." Nobody can have too many people love them and I think if you can come with that approach and be more helpful than critical, that will make a big difference.
Jill: Is it okay to spoil your grandchildren?
Kay: Yes! In fact, grandparents should spoil their grandchildren because they get the other side from their parents, who need to raise them, and they need to have, they need to have someone to just hug them and give them what they can never have at home. I always told my children, "Just understand, I'm going to be a spoiling grandmother. Get it in your mind."
Jill: You have multiple grandchildren. How do you keep from playing favorites?
Kay: You know, it's hard because for awhile, the oldest, Phoenix, was a sweet, little blonde, and her brother was just a troublemaker, just always in trouble and it was so hard, and the other grandmothers started only having Phoenix over and never having Sage over. I told my husband, "We're going to have Sage over one-on-one." And I think what you need to do is really get to know alone that one child and you'll be surprised at how you fall in love with him and how he changes. Come to find out, in my psychological opinion, Sage is a middle child and he was just battling for attention. So, if you singled him out and give him attention alone, he doesn't have to fight for it like that. The two little twins that are autistic are snugly and sweet, but they're not the same as ten-year olds are.
Jill: What do you think is your most important role as a grandmother?
Kay: I think loving the children in a way that they feel they can always can depend on me. And I love it when the eight-year old will call me and say, "I'm having a bad day today, Grandma." I love that because that's what a grandmother should be to her grandchildren ... a fortress and a refuge who's always there and ready to love. And I say, "Oh, Phoenix, I wish I was there to make you a cup of hot chocolate."
Jill: What has been your most difficult lesson in being a grandmother?
Kay: I think my daughter-in-law's philosophy of raising children is not to put up any boundaries and let them do what they want to do when they want to do it. And adapting that ... I can quietly give suggestions to her once in a great while. She receives it, but she has her own feelings on the best way to raise children. That's her decision and I have to accept that.
Jill: Who has had the greatest mentoring effect on you?
Kay: My grandmother. She loved me. She wasn't a spoiling grandmother. She was very poor. She wasn't able to do anything to financially spoil us, but she loved me and she was always there for me and she told me her . . . the stories that revealed who she really was, which my mother never did. So, I have a real bond to my grandmother.
Jill: Finally, what has been your most precious moment as a grandmother?
Kay: I think my most precious moment was when I had Phoenix over night. She just needed some special spoiling and she slept in bed with me. It was a real chilly day, so I had a blanket wrapped around her as I took her to school and made her a special lunch. She just sat in the car and she didn't want to get out and she said, "I want to be an only child." And I said, "Yeah, that would be fun sometimes, but then it's not all good either, you know? You'd miss your brothers." She said, "Grandma, I love you more than anybody in the world." After that, I said, "You know, Phoenix, you love me better now, but then there are other times you're gonna love other people better, but I'll always, always love you. So you don't have to love me more than anybody. I'll always love you." She was just so sweet.
Kay Marshall Strom is the grandmother of four, a popular speaker at writer's conferences, and the author of more than twenty books, including A Caregiver's Survival Guide: How to Stay Healthy When Your Loved One is Sick. She and her husband, Dan Kline, make their home in Santa Barbara, California.