Grandparents ~ the stabilizing influence for a young family, in ideal circumstances.
When I was small, my grandmothers were the poles upon which our own little world depended. Dodo, grandmother-in-town (all of two miles away, but a different world with its houses close together and its stores and churches and schools), worked some distance away and was not accessible to us except by car, and thus was the grandmother of weekly occasions. We would gather for dinner around the small formica table in her living room, she would pay me a dime to wash the dishes afterward, and then we would re-gather around the television to watch The Lawrence Welk Show. My plan was to grow up, style my hair in short curls, re-name myself “Peggy,” and sing on Lawrence Welk. I have absolutely straight hair and can’t sing two notes in a row without wandering off key, so that was quite an ambitious plan.
Nana, grandmother-next-door, placed herself entirely at our disposal, and lived a quick walk from our own house, so was the grandmother of everyday routine. She would read to us for hours and play endlessly-running games of Old Maid and Go Fish, but she also permitted us the freedom that several acres of grass and woods and creek afforded. If she ever worried about our safety, she did not let on. We ran in and out of her house all day as if it were our own, and on summer evenings the adults would relax on her back porch while we children chased fireflies across the top of the hill.
Decades later, when I had three small children of my own in a city far from extended family, I would understand what it might mean to have two sets of grandparents nearby. Kids sick, mom sick, too many places to be at once, errands to run, house to clean, time with each other? My own parents had theirs, eager to participate and to be of assistance, and all desiring relationships with their grandchildren. When I was a young mother and the debate over quality versus quantity parental time erupted, I knew from experience that quality was in part dependent upon quantity and the presence during the ordinary that it provides. The grandmother who is right there, listening, even as she bakes a loaf of bread or sweeps a porch, and has the time to put everything aside for an hour of games, is the grandmother who builds a wall of security around a child and her family.