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I didn’t get to be the grandparent I wanted to be, and that’s OK

It happened suddenly. My daughter looked at me across the lunch table: “I don’t know what to do. I can’t stay with him one more day.” She didn’t. We welcomed her home, along with our two young granddaughters, because we all agreed that the best solution was to create as much stability as possible.

To be honest, I was excited about it. Don’t misunderstand — it’s not what I wanted. I had so wanted their home to be a safe, happy one, and I was devastated by the reasons for the impending divorce. Still, despite circumstances, there is nobody on planet Earth I enjoy more than my girls. I had this “Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice!” vision of my clean, quiet empty nest filling with giggles and cookies and playtime and snuggles.

Aren’t fantasies lovely?

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The reality was a depressed daughter and traumatized children who:

  1. Couldn’t sleep
  2. Engaged in ongoing temper tantrums
  3. Agonized with worry every time the schedule changed

They screamed when they had to leave, and upon returning would only go to Mom. They didn’t want me to read, rock or put on their socks.

I understood the psychology, but it’s still heart-wrenching to hear, “No, Emmy, I don’t want you!”

Then there was the house. Oh. My. Goodness. My three-bedroom ranch became a multi-family dwelling. Two households merging: toys, furniture, clothes, dishes and all the accoutrement that comes with small children. Not only was life in chaos, so was the house.

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It took us quite a while to find our groove. I put my life on hiatus to become Donna Reed. I managed the minutiae: shopping, meals, housework, diapers, snacks, carpooling, picking up toys and making appointments so that my daughter could be free to be the mom she wanted and needed to be during this transition.

I no longer spoiled the little ones, but rather morphed into somewhat of a co-parent — a feeder of healthy foods, enforcer of rules and promoter of responsibility. “You made the mess, you clean it up,” adapting to my daughter’s parenting style.

Ugh. This was nowhere close to the role I wanted or expected as a young grandmother. I wanted to be “Fun Emmy!” who showed up a couple of times a week with theater tickets or hot chocolate or new books to be read. I had to remind myself daily that I was choosing not to be “Fun Emmy” so my daughter — who worked full-time from home — could be “Awesome Mommy!”

I bit my tongue. I did my best not to have an attitude of: “If they were my girls, I would do it this way,” with my daughter. Their being in my house didn’t mean I got to take over. In fact, I even let go of “my house,” and we converted one room into a den for their family time together and another so the little ones could have their very own room, fortifying their sense of belonging.

In addition, I stopped saying “goodbye” to them. Leaving became something they did twice a week. When they left for supervised visits with their father or paternal grandparents, instead of, “Goodbye. I’ll miss you soooo much,” which added to the trauma, I chose instead to be upbeat, smile, “Have fun! I’ll see you later!”

After 14 months with us, my daughter got her house back. The girls transitioned slowly, and I — both happily and reluctantly — got my empty nest back just like before.

My grandparenting style, however, will never be like before. They rarely get to spend the night at my house. My daughter has to share them two nights a week with her ex, and she can’t bear another night without them. Instead, I go spend the night with them.

I rarely spoil them (even though everything in me wants to ease the trauma with lots of goodies), but instead continue to function as an extension of my daughter’s parenting.

It took a lot of adjusting, patience and communication, but the results have paid off. The sacrifices of the last year have caused the girls to bond with me in a way they never would have bonded with “Fun Emmy” — it’s deeper, richer and more secure. They are once again confident, happy little girls who know that they are safe and loved.

And isn’t that really so much more important than theater tickets and hot chocolate?

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