Opinion: Grandparents and grandchildren can be gifts to one another | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Opinion: Grandparents and grandchildren can be gifts to one another

My South African childhood routine included weekly Sunday visits to my beloved grandparents, Dora and David Katz, at their flat in Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. I remember sitting tightly wedged between my cousins in my uncle’s powder blue Chevrolet as we made the 45 minute trip from Johannesburg.

We eagerly anticipated seeing our adoring granny and zaida, which is what we called them. Each Sunday was like a holiday celebration with an abundance of food and treats served at brunch, lunch and, believe it or not, tea time too. I vividly recall the aromas of granny Dora’s delicious matzo ball soup, her foods always embellished with South African chutneys and spices.

I only have fond memories of my granny and zaida. Granny with her heavily powdered nose, thick-rimmed glasses, and neatly coifed silver hair, was a proper British Jewess raised in London. She told wonderful stories of her time spent playing in the Crystal Palace in London before it burned down. David, who grew up in a shtetel in Lithuania, resembled Tevye from Fiddler On The Roof.  His sentences were splattered with Yiddish and he loved his schnapps, snuff, and a long shloff (nap) in the afternoon.

Their love for their grandchildren was evident in how they regarded us; we were their diamonds to be marveled and admired. I felt especially adored when made to recite prose and poetry to visitors, and granny and zaida always applauded me in a most enthusiastic fashion.

Even then as a young child I had a keen awareness of zaida’s sadness and the tragedies he lived through, especially the despair and hopelessness of not being able to save his family from the Holocaust by not being able to sponsor them to come live in South Africa. Hearing their stories, my grandparents became my connection to the past. Dead relatives came alive in their vivid descriptions of their childhoods. Sadly, by the time I reached the age of 18 my grandparents had passed away. My happy memories of them are forever captured and frozen in a time and place that can never be revisited. When I remember my childhood in South Africa, my nostalgia is wrapped up with granny and zaida and for that I am eternally grateful.

I imagine that some readers can relate to their own special relationships with their grandparents. Indeed, grandparents and grandchildren can be a gift to each other. The light heartedness that comes from being a grandparent is perhaps a result of no longer feeling overly responsible for parenting and disciplining children, as one did with one’s own children. (Unless extenuating and difficult circumstance demand a more active and “parenting like” role.)

Nonetheless grandparenting is not without its own stresses. It requires collaboration with adult children to establish healthy boundaries and expectations. This at times is no easy task given every generation’s differing values, ideals and parenting styles.

It is not unusual for grandparents to feel left out or unimportant when their grandchildren are overly scheduled during the week and on weekends. Fortunately since most youngsters have cell phones, calling or texting to set up a future play date or lunch date is possible. Try to remember that children and teens can be egocentric; don’t take their lack of attention personally. Instead persist at nurturing the relationships between yourself and your grandchildren.

Even though my grandparents were not “hands on” such as doing babysitting or being a “chauffeur,” they did establish that precious weekly event which was “Sundays at granny and zaida.” I am not suggesting that each week grandparents host elaborate meals, but rather set aside a regular time and place to meet, which could become part of a pleasant and rewarding routine.

Being a grandparent offers a unique opportunity to leave a positive and permanent impression for future generations. Perhaps one day your great-grand-children will ask your grandchildren, “Who were your grandparents and what were they like?” and they will get the vastly rewarding and enriching replies like the ones I got from David and Dora.

Melanie Wasserman, MSW, LCSW, is a psychotherapist in private practice in Milwaukee.