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Grandparents’ Unconditional Love…and Then Some

A passage in Lisa Miller’s recent book, The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and our Question for an Inspired Life, made me think about grandparents’ special role and status. She spoke of research conducted by Dr. Suniya Luthar with well-to-do-children. Luthar discovered that “the majority of affluent kids in her study had perceptions of contingent love from their parents and families.  “Their job was to perform-academically, athletically, musically – and earn their parents’ approval.  Endless attention was paid to report cards and trophies and rankings.  No one said. “I’m happy to see you.”[1]

Conversely, the title of Jane Isay’s beautiful book “Unconditional Love[2]” speaks of grandparents’ special relationship with their grandchildren.

Grandparents over time get accustomed to their special duties: slow down, listen carefully and respond thoughtfully: sing the old songs, and tell the family stories. Play infinite card games and reread favorite books until they are committed to (failing memories). Grandparents have a serious responsibility to hug and to snuggle, to play what the children want to play, and to help the spirit flourish.

In among the loveliest words I have ever read about grandparenting, Isay writes:

Stardust: Unconditional love is the magic bridge that spans the generations: we love them unconditionally, and they love us back without reservations. It’s a two-way experience. It grows the children and gentles the grandparents.

Grandparents have a special role to play in a world and at a time where, far too often, children don’t play, they compete, where, far too often, they are validated not by who they are but by what they achieve. I will enthusiastically applaud my granddaughter’s ten-minute atonal rendition of “Milo is a Dog” – with those four words being the only lyrics.  I will fawn over the painted green glob on construction paper as if it was Monet’s Giverny. And I will rejoice when her 5-month-old brother spits up on my newly laundered shirt.  It is my grandparental badge of honor.

But grandparental unconditional love goes much deeper. In conversations with gay, lesbian, and trans young adults we have often heard that it is the grandparents who were most accepting of their gender choices.  A grandfather may struggle with pronouns – but his struggle is not about acceptance – but about ensuring that he gets it right – that he does not offend his grandchild or make them feel uncomfortable.

Grandparents’ unconditional love extends to our grandchildren with developmental and learning differences. We strive to be there when they struggle with emotional challenges. Unconditional love is the magic bridge that spans the generations.

While progress has been made, engagement and acceptance of families that represent the differences and diversity of our Jewish community is still uneven. Grandparents’ unconditional love can lead the way.  In our nascent organization, we have established a goal of setting aside funds for innovative diversity initiatives. We have framed a diversity statement and placed it on our website for all to see.

The Jewish Grandparents Network proudly welcomes, respects, and values the participation of all including interfaith families, people of all abilities, religious practices, backgrounds, sexual orientation, gender identity, race, and socio-economic status. We believe that diversity in our families makes us stronger, enriches the Jewish community, and enables us to be better Jewish and world citizens.

Inclusivity is at the core of our mission as a community. We embrace inclusion as a mindset, a way of thinking that opens doors to opportunities for meaningful engagement, connection, and belonging. Together, we can cultivate a more inclusive Jewish community that recognizes the value, dignity, and capabilities of every individual.

Ken Yehi Ratzon. Let it be so.

 

David Raphael is the Co-Founder and Executive Director of the Jewish Grandparents Network and Zayde to Bina and Hallel.

[1] Lisa Miller, PhD, “The Awakened Brain: The New Science of Spirituality and our Question for an Inspired Life”, Random House, NY, 2021, pp 138-139

[2] Jane Isay, “Unconditional Love: A Guide to Navigating the Joys and Challenges of Being a Grandparent Today”