The feelings we have on becoming a grandparent aren't exactly oversold. Let's just say they're more complicated than the treacly bliss a Hallmark card might portray.
There's always been this joke about the up side of a day of grand parenting: The good news is that at the end of the day, your grandchild goes home.
There are other, more complicated feelings about being a grandparent. Yes, there is the unalloyed thrill of falling in love with a precious new life. But there is also the feeling of being an outsider. A friend--a single mother whose daughter had a baby a few weeks ago--finds her relationship with her daughter has turned upside down. Where mother and daughter had shared shopping and movies and friendships, the daughter's focus is now exclusively (and rightly so) on her newborn; the future of the family is the baby. There's hardly a murmur about the well-being of my friend, who has been asked to babysit three days a week now that the new mom is going back to work.
It's a variation on another emotion: the feeling of being a guest in your child's life rather than an insider, a sense that we're looking in no matter how inside we thought we were. As Robin Marantz Henig wrote in a NYTimes essay, on grandmothering, "Even as you get to watch them, right up close, you're always outside with your nose pressed against the glass--and increasingly aware of how much of their story will take place without you."
Henig takes that last thought one agonizing step further.
I have internalized the stinging knowledge that, beneath all the encouragement you give your children to grow and walk and speak and leave, beneath all the wonderful moments you may be lucky enough to share in and enjoy, your grandchild’s life will be a long string of birthdays you will not live to see.
She calls this the doubled-edged nature of being a grandmother:
Your thoughts turn powerfully toward the future — one that now includes the grandchildren you adore — at the very same moment you’re reminded of your own absence from that future. It’s an odd mixture of birth and death, which is what gives grandmotherhood its beauty, as well as its specific and poignant pain.
I understand what she's saying but personally,I have moments when I'm glad I won't be around to see how my precious grands cope with some of the awful changes the planet and the political world have in store. Or maybe our grands will be part of a solution. Still, it scares me just a little to think my dotage will be so prolonged I'll be here to see more than I want to see.