The Making of a Grandparent

Granny's off her meds again!

          It is Thursday in the CoupleDumb and we are talking about those odd, rumpled time travelers from an age gone by that we call grandparents. They may be lovable, senile, bitter or long gone but we all have some aspiration of being a grandparent, even if we do not want to deal with that whole messy childrearing thing.

          Paul says:  Way back when, a psychologist named Piaget came up with the idea that children go through developmental stages.  He had four of them that explained how children think. Anybody with half a brain who spends a bunch of time with a child can see these stages at work. From the little moron stage where they figure out that it hurts when they stick their finger in their eye (Piaget called this the sensorimotor period) right through to the last stage of child development which he called the formal operational stage and we call the ‘I can’t wait until my teenager moves out’ stage, it is easy to see these milestones and they actually offer a lot of insight into one’s self if you are into all of that introspection stuff.

          Other theorists have expanded the concept to include adulthood, saying that people go through stages their whole life. Personally, I think that that brainstorm should earn the theorists a big ‘no shit’ award but, hey, I’m no psychologist.  I do see these stages play out all the way to old age and here is where the grandparent theme ties in. Nothing is more obvious and illuminating than watching your parents transition from Mom and Dad to Grandma and Grandpa.

          My parents were not the type that I would say liked children (I think that they liked me but I wouldn’t bet good money on it) and I know that they had little tolerance for noise and other small children emissions. Yet the grandchildren thrust them into a new stage. They went from stern disciplinarians to… how can I say it? Oh yes… jello. My children can do no wrong. Even things that I actually did and for which I got severely punished go defended by my folks. That part is understandable except that it seems to transfer into other non-child realms. There is an overall calmness and understanding that was not there in my childhood and is definitely a sign of a new stage in life.

          When I can pull my jaw up as my parents dismiss horrible behavior with a wave of their hands, I see that there is a more profound piece than just grandparenthood. It is the realization that people can and, more importantly, are destined to change. It is part of the human growth experience. And it brings up the question in me: what do I want to change in to?

          Lee says: I find it so cute when my husband, the physicist turned business man turned writer decides to bust out the psychology. I say, you don’t see me talking relativity so stay out of my playground. Paul mentioned Piaget and that was nice (said in that snarky look at the little special person bead that bracelet kind of way) but when we talk psychosocial development, the theorist is Erik Erikson. He came up with 8 stages that we go through throughout our lives.

          Sure Paul can turn his nose up and think this is no big deal but the reality is that most people think they have done all the growing up they need to do when they hit adulthood. Erikson points out that we have some serious decisions to make about our lives as we get older. In late adulthood, a person goes through ‘Integrity vs. Despair’ and this stage relies on the person developing or unlocking their own personal wisdom. This is time where a person looks back on their life and decides if there is meaning to everything. Have they acted and lived a life worth remembering or will they despair over their perceived failures.

          I would also add that insight and wisdom are needed at this point in life. An integritous life will flow into a wise old age, whereas a disingenuous life will leave you in despair, recollecting things that are best forgotten. So there are no spontaneously bad grandparents. You see it while they are parents; picking favorites, fuzzy boundaries. Maybe we should protect our kids from these non-baking, less than perfect Grandparents and just switch them out for some senior citizens who would kill for a little whipper snapper to call their own. It’s a win-win situation.

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