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On becoming a grandparent (part 4)

In this final article, I’m exploring the wisdom of the Bible  i'm going to be a grandma

to find out what it has to say to grandparents.

One of the greatest privileges of grandparents is to pray for their grandchildren (and they can start  this well before they are born), but they also have a responsibility to teach their grandchildren what they have learned from God. I love this practical advice from Moses to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 4:

‘Just make sure you stay alert. Keep close watch over yourselves. Don’t forget anything of what you’ve seen. Don’t let your heart wander off. Stay vigilant as long as you live. Teach what you’ve seen and heard to your children and grandchildren.’

I can’t help but think this is what Timothy’s grandmother did, for Paul writes to him in II Timothy 1:5 :  ‘I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.’ 

The Bible describes grandchildren as a blessing, as we see in passages like this one in Psalm 128:5&6: ‘Enjoy the good life in Jerusalem every day of your life. And enjoy your grandchildren. Peace to Israel!’.

And in the book of Ruth, we see a picture of the blessing which grandchildren are to their grandparents, when Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth has her baby:

Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without a redeemer, and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age, for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse.

But the Bible also illustrates how grandparents can bless their grandchildren. In Genesis 48, Joseph brings his two sons to the deathbed of his father, Jacob, who blesses them with this blessing:

“May the God before whom my fathers
    Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully,
the God who has been my shepherd
    all my life to this day,
the Angel who has delivered me from all harm
    —may he bless these boys.
May they be called by my name
    and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac,
and may they increase greatly
    on the earth.”

If you are a grandparent, how can you bless your grandchildren?
If you are a parent, how can you see that your children are a blessing to your parents?

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On becoming a grandparent (part 3)

The BBC recently ran an article entitled “Indulgent grandparents ‘bad for children’s health’.” i'm going to be a grandma

The article looked at the areas of diet and weight; physical exercise; and smoking.

Grandparents were accused of using food as an emotional tool; their grandchildren were perceived to be getting too little exercise while under their care; and smoking around the grandchildren became an area of conflict between grandparents and parents.

To be fair, the report focused on the potential influence of grandparents who were ‘significant – but not primary – caregivers’ in a child’s early years, so these are not grandparents like my friend in my previous blog who sees his grandchildren now and again and feels free to give them a treat (and who of us wouldn’t?).

Grandparents who are significant caregivers obviously have a greater involvement in their grandchildren’s lives – and therefore the potential to influence them more, whether for good or for bad.

In the article, actress Maureen Lipman said that being a mother could be “quite challenging”, but being a grandmother was “just pure pleasure”.

Which reminds me of an old saying that grandparents love grandparenting because they get to do all the fun things – and then hand the kids back to their parents.

How do you view this if you are a parent? or a grandparent?

On becoming a grandparent (part 2)

In June 2016, ‘The Guardian’ ran an article entitled ‘Ten Ways to be a Fabulous Grandparent’ – here is a summary of what it came up with:

  1. Don’t admit your fears                                 i'm going to be a grandma
  2. Don’t project
  3. Avoid jealousy
  4. Only offer what you can give
  5. Brush up on your skills
  6. Be clear about cash
  7. Break the rules – a bit
  8. Don’t spend a fortune
  9. Manage long distance
  10. Accept that you have no control

No. 7 reminds me of a friend who is a grandparent who looks after grandchildren from time to time. From my observation, grandparents in this category think that part of their role is to spoil the kids – to give them treats that they are not allowed at home. My friend’s philosophy is that, if the kids have ‘sweetie day’ once a week, he can decide to have a extra sweetie day when the kids are with him.

Fair enough? What do other grandparents think of these top ten tips?

And what do you think if you are a parent?

 

On becoming a grandparent (part 1)

When does a granny become a granny – at conception of the baby or on delivery of the baby?     i'm going to be a grandma

I feel like I am already a gran. (You will notice the name-changing here – my exact title has yet to be finally decided. Maybe ‘nana’ sounds best, after all.)

I already care fiercely for the new lives which are growing in the wombs of both my daughters.

I feel protective of my daughters in a different way than I have ever done before.

I can’t wait to meet these two little babies.

But, as I wait, I’m wondering: what is a grandparent? And what kind of a grandparent will I be? And what kind of a grandparent should I be?

For it is becoming clear to me that there are several different kinds of grandparents. And what kind I will be depends on several things: what kind of a person I am; what the needs of my grandchildren will be; what the needs of their parents are; and the time and energy and other resources which I have available at the time.

The dictionary defines a grandparent simply as ‘a parent of one’s father or mother’. That’s not awfully helpful.

‘Psychology Todaysuggests there are 5 types of grandparents. This is a summary of them:

1. Formal grandparent: follows what are believed to be the appropriate guidelines for the grandparenting role, which includes providing occasional services and maintaining an interest in the grandchild, but not becoming overly involved.

2. Fun seeker: emphasizes the leisure aspects of the role and primarily provides entertainment for the grandchild.

3. Surrogate parent: takes over the caretaking role with the child.

4. Reservoir of family wisdom (usually a grandfather): the head of the family who dispenses advice and resources but also controls the parent generation.

5. Distant figure: has infrequent contact with the grandchildren, appearing only on holidays and special occasions.

There are more and more grandparents who fall into category 3, due to things like illness, death and divorce.

So, if you are a grandparent, how do you see this? where do you fit in?

If you are a parent, what about your perspective? where do your parents fit in?

 

On becoming a grandparent

It’s November 2017 and both our daughters are pregnant.i'm going to be a grandma

As we look ahead to becoming grandparents, we are filled with joy and anticipation. This is such a blessing – and one which we don’t take for granted. We are excited – and nervous.

For we are also aware that this is brand new territory for us. What will it be like? What can we expect? I have been doing a little bit of thinking….

Three P’s….

There were lots of really kind tributes paid to my dad when he passedadd away on 5 August:

A gentle giant who impacted my life….

A true elder and a man of God. To know him was an honour….

A true friend, counsellor and encourager….

We all were blessed as a result of knowing him….

There was healing for us as people shared their memories of the man dad was – because in the midst of the dementia of the past few years, we had almost forgotten that man.

We heard from people who remembered him as a bible teacher; others who shared memories of his care for them when they lived in the home for missionaries’ children which my parents had for several years in Belfast; others who described dad as their mentor.

But for me, he was my dad. Simply my dad. But completely my dad.

Someone reminded me today that there is a special bond between a father and a daughter.

Here’s why the bond between my dad and me was special.

He was a Provider

(Of course I have to start each one with a ‘P’ – dad was famous for the Seven P’s of Bible Study which he taught to all of us who studied with him at El-Nathan!)

Growing up, I took it for granted. Whatever I needed, dad would provide for me. Not always what I wanted – but certainly always what I needed. Sometimes I wondered how much he earned, but I never asked – probably because I knew better and probably also because it didn’t concern me – I knew that, whatever I needed, he would provide. That could range from everyday needs of food and drink to special needs like pots and potions when I was sick (how he loved to prescribe home remedies for us all!) to more exciting things like Christmas or birthday presents.

I have very fond memories of Christmas morning growing up. Dad would make us all breakfast, which we had to eat before anything else happened; then he would line us up according to age (I was number three!); then we could all go into the room where the presents were and start opening them.

He was a Protector

The instinct to protect their offspring is powerful to more than the human species – but I saw it beautifully lived out in my dad.Image 006

One vivid memory is when I was a schoolgirl of about 8 or 9 years old and suffered from hives which were all over my body, including the soles of my feet. They were incredibly itchy and grew into blisters, necessitating bandages to cover them up. I remember my dad carrying me into school so that I wouldn’t have to walk on those itchy feet.

He was a Pastor

Dad had a few different jobs but one of them involved him working as a salesman for an animal feeds company.Image 037.jpg

That meant he travelled all over N.Ireland, visiting farmers and getting to know them and their animals. He loved animals and I remember him taking us to the zoo as well as to farms, encouraging us to touch and feed the animals. Here are my 3 siblings and my mum – I’m not sure where I was!

 

dad and lamb

This photograph was taken during the last stages of dad’s life when he was practically unable to communicate in any meaningful way because of the dementia. The nursing home had very creatively introduced animal therapy to the residents. They told us later that dad caressed the lamb for a long time and when eventually they took it away, he patted his chest as if to say he had felt its heartbeat.

I wonder if that experience evoked memories for my dad of times when he would have held a lamb for a farmer? For me, the photo evokes the nurturing side of dad – the fact that so many people have talked about how he cared for them, nurtured them, counselled them and encouraged them. He cared for many sheep – not just the 4 in his own little flock.

The Pain of Losing a Baby

Following my blog about miscarriage, I have heard from several friends who have very courageously shared their stories with me. I’m sharing parts of them here, to help us all learn more about this whole topic. It’s clear that the loss of a baby – at whatever stage – is a profound experience which these mums recall today as if it were yesterday.

What helped you through your experience?

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A 12-week old fetus

At first, what helped me was encouragement and care from my friends, most of whom were church friends.

The thing that was most helpful was the encouragement I received from other moms who had experienced miscarriages. Most of them had lost the babies early in the pregnancy and not as late as I did. But their empathy was precious.

One nurse helped just by rubbing my back as my body shook from shock.

It was helpful to have friends around.

My sister’s words “I just wish I was there to give you a hug” brought comfort and validated my experience.  That was the key…. I just wanted someone to say it was ok to feel sad.  I wanted my pain to be recognised and validated.

The knowledge that many people were praying for me gave me great comfort.

The experience of feeling that God was in control. Theologically I had always believed this, but this time I also experienced it in my feelings. I knew I was dying (they later confirmed this, saying that it was a miracle I was still alive) and yet I began to look forward very much to being with the Lord.

Previous to (this experience) I had been very ill and had had to lie in bed a lot. During that time I filled my mind with the Word of God and listened to quite a few sermons. I recommend filling your mind with the Word of God …. In crises like this He will bring it back to your thoughts. It helped me in bearing the pain.

Visits from dear Christian friends who came and prayed. Some just sat quietly by my side. Helped to make me comfortable, plumped up pillows, adjusted the blinds, asked me where they would like me to sit so that I would not have to turn my head uncomfortably to see them. Didn’t talk too much…. just came and sat quietly, a comforting presence. Not asking too many questions.

I was in a lot of pain and after the major abdominal surgery I wasn’t allowed painkillers because my liver couldn’t take them. Every cough, every movement, every visit to the bathroom was agony. Some of these friends were a great help with all of that, especially the trained nurses, and other sensitive people.

It was a great help that (my husband) kept so calm throughout the ordeal.

The…surgeon was quite a compassionate man. He visited me briefly every day to check on progress, and had just the right kind of reassuring touch, which helped to heal me further. The staff around you can heal you or hinder you. There is no doubt about it.

What helped me was eventually sharing what I had gone through with someone I trusted as I had kept it a secret initially. She encouraged me to grieve for my baby. I found this helped me to release all the pent up feelings I had kept hidden.

 

What was not a help to you?

A …nurse took it upon herself to pronounce that I must have sinned greatly for God to put me through such an ordeal. I responded that while I certainly wasn’t without sin, I wasn’t aware of any great deliberate disobedience. Needless to say I didn’t find her contribution to my recovery in any way helpful.

What did not help was when I told someone about losing my baby who had also had a miscarriage they said my loss was not the same as theirs as I had lost my baby at an earlier stage. This made me feel that my loss was not as significant.

Were there things that the medical professionals could have done differently?

Been more sympathetic, they were very matter of fact and clinical. They actually told me it was a good thing as it showed I could get pregnant as we had been trying to have a baby for three years. Even though I miscarried they said I should be pleased I had been pregnant.

When I lost the baby, I felt betrayed by the medical staff who couldn’t anticipate what was happening and didn’t prevent my miscarriage. Also, they had no answers….ever for WHY I lost the baby, and what I could do to prevent it happening again.

The medical staff were not attentive duing 12 hours of labor and delivery….Finally, after 12 hours, the baby was born … into a bedpan. And that is how she was presented to me a few minutes later….in a bedpan. When I returned to my room, the nurse aid walked in to give me a bath. She cheerfully asked me “Is this your first baby”? I told her I had lost my baby. She apologised. I was on the Obstetric ward with all the new mothers and babies…in a room with another woman who had miscarried. It would have been helpful to put us in private rooms isolated from the crying babies and happy mothers and guests.

The medical staff …. were really good. They kept me living in hope. Which in a sense was good but really not good. I think being real in love and truth would have been better for me. You see I knew by my loss of blood that it was really not going to be. It broke my heart lying in there for six days and then the following day I was taken to theatre for a D&C.

I was put into a side room – a kind gesture, but unfortunately it was in the maternity suite.  The nurses were more used to dealing with happy outcomes and, sadly I felt, ill-equipped when things did not go well.  Comments such as: “Sure you’re young, you have plenty of time to try again” , while maybe true, did not help. I couldn’t wait to get home.

Were there things that your friends and family could have done differently?

One thing that was NOT helpful was a comment from (someone who warned) me that ‘others would be watching’ me and how I handled grief…. that I should take care to keep it in check! Or that I should consider the effect my behavior might have on others.

I only had one visitor who wasn’t helpful. She immediately launched into all the medical problems of lots of other people she knew, her own medical problems, on and on she gabbled, couldn’t enter into my situation at all, and I wasn’t sorry to see her leave. But she was the one and only visitor in all that time who affected me like that, thankfully. Most were brilliant.

I kept it a secret which I now regret. Only my husband knew but I think he found it hard to really identify with how I felt. Perhaps I should have been more open so people understood why I was acting differently. It was my way of coping but I don’t feel it was the right way.

A church member, on my return to church after the miscarriage, quoted a verse to me: ‘Be thankful in all circumstances’. That was clearly not the time to quote a verse like that!

I hesitate to say this but some of the deepest hurts came from family.  I know my mum struggled to see me distressed but her comment “well I’ve had (x) miscarriages; you just have to get over it” didn’t help, in fact it made me feel that my feelings of deep anguish were abnormal.  This, together with a comment from another family member, “I’ll come and see you when you pull yourself together”, only made me withdraw and feel ashamed that I felt so bad.

What was the hardest part for you personally?

At the time I lost the baby I was one of 11 ladies in my circle of family and friends who were expecting babies. I was reminded, with each of their births, of my grief.

My hopes, expectations and plans I had already formed were all shattered. I had longed for this baby for three years and was ecstatic when I found out I was pregnant and subsequently devastated when my pregnancy ended.

Probably the hardest comment I heard/hear is that it was a miscarriage. It wasn’t. It was a baby at 36 weeks who should have lived. I think having a miscarriage must be way more painful than many people think, but carrying a chlid 8 months is a different experience (in the same way, losing a child after he is born must be still more excruciating.) Time is the healer, although I suspect the pain of loss is always there…

I feel the worst thing about losing my wee baby was the fact that I love children and she was mine. Emptiness. No grave to remember her by.  The worst thing was my sister who had a baby around the same time.

It was hard that my husband experienced grief much differently than me. Because he didn’t go to the funeral, he didn’t have any relationship with this baby and his own grieving was much quicker. Even today, it doesn’t affect him a lot, whereas I think of (the baby) when I see (a child of the same age)….. I felt quite alone through it all.

How did you deal with the loss from a spiritual point of view?

I felt that God had let me down.    I remember cooking supper in the kitchen and suddenly weeping. I put my head down on the counter top and was crying. My husband walked in and asked me what was wrong. I said, ‘I just lost a baby’!?! He said, ..’but that was 2 weeks ago’! I really was surprised how quickly he had moved on and how I was alone with this grief.

I did not know why the Lord had allowed this to happen. I knew that these things happen all the time. But 5 months into the pregnancy, the baby had personality for me. We named her. I am happy when my children, now, remember that they have a sister waiting to greet us in heaven.

I know my baby was a girl only cause I was so emotional one night and I prayed to God to show me what I’d lost  – a boy or girl. And in the dream that evening was a baby girl in a pink blanket on my knee.

I know my grief was compounded by the belief that it was not acceptable to feel so bad.  I had to hide my tears and pretend that I was ok.  I felt shame, for my tears but also for the thought that maybe I had inadvertently caused the miscarriage.  I found it difficult to pray.  I didn’t feel angry at God but I felt ashamed that I felt so bad.  I would have liked to to talk to someone who understood the mix of emotions and who could gently and sensitively direct me to God’s truth, love and acceptance.  I have learned so much from this experience and I hope it has made me more empathic.

I am grateful that all of that happened. I have understood better what others go through, I have understood what people suffer with anxiety and panic attacks as well as chronic pain. The whole experience has certainly not, in the goodness of God, been a wasted experience, and I have never regretted it. 

The only thing that helped me finally resolve the question ‘why’ was that I would be specially qualified to encourage others who would experience the loss of a baby through miscarriage.

A grave or burial?

I have one regret. It was not proposed to me that I could have had a private memorial service and arrange for a dignified way to bring this life episode to a close. I am sure my baby was incinerated without ceremony. But in my defense, I had never done this before. I wasn’t prepared for the decisions I should have been making. And the medical staff never offered me an option.

The fact back then there was no burial services left me with no grave. They just D&C you. Family went silent on me, except for my mum who said it wasn’t meant to be. My husband felt it but it is different for a man; we women carry everything and never forget dates and times; men think differently.

The surgeon came with a little jar holding the foetus. I was sleeping at the time, and I wish I had taken a better look when he woke me up. I especially wish I had asked if it was a boy or a girl. Even so, it helped it to sink in that we had just lost a wee baby, and I often thought back to that afterwards. He told me there had been ‘a lot of infection’ which they had now removed. That is quite a clear memory which has remained with me afterwards, even though I was dozy at the time. I think that is a helpful thing to do.

Memories

Going through it 20 years ago seems like yesterday.

I remember my experience of my miscarriage as if it were yesterday.  In reality it was 25 years ago.

Memories of this time of my life don’t preoccupy me unduly or define me. But it certainly was an extremely difficult time for me. It is difficult to revisit it, but I am quite happy to share my experience. I am fairly certain my experience is being repeated many times. If what I share of how I lived my experience can be helpful, that pleases me.

You can see how 25 years later it is still all so vivid in my mind. I still cry when I hear of miscarriages, and i still cry when I hear of abortions. Though I think I am over the grief of losing this little one.

Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on this Pauline.  The tears are close to the surface as I write this but as I read your experience it has helped me to know that that is ok.

We need to be there for one another, to let each other know that our grief is OK.

I would just like to thank all of these friends who have shared their stories so courageously. This is holy ground. And it demonstrates what a profound experience the loss of a baby is, as well as how personal a thing it is to each mum. Just as there is no ‘right’ way to grieve any loss, there is no right way to grieve the loss of a baby. And one thing is sure: the passing of time does not erase the memory of the loss. 

Jacque Watkins, a nurse who works with newborns and their parents, has written very sensitively about the experience of sitting with a woman who is losing her child through miscarriage. Jacque says this:

To grieve with another in the silence of their presence, THIS is holy work.