Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild – Welsh proverb
‘Savta – when are you coming again?” I heard my neighbor’s little girl call to her grandmother from the stairwell. “I want to play more!” “I’ll be here on Tuesday, neshama,” the grandmother replied. I couldn’t see her, but I could hear the warmth in her voice.
I often meet the two of them walking in the neighborhood, or come upon them engaged in earnest discussion on the bench opposite our building.
This is the natural, blessed order of things: grandparent and grandchild sharing a deep bond of love and understanding, each drawing strength and purpose from their ongoing connection, reveling in the pleasure of learning and discovery. Not to mention the sheer joy of the relationship.
For the middle generation – the child’s parents, often preoccupied with
their careers and stressed by the demands of everyday life – the serious
childcare and financial support grandparents increasingly provide make
them a double blessing.
Research has shown, moreover, that families with strong grand-parental
connections are likely to have more stable and secure children.
Sometimes, however, a grandparent, heart-breakingly, has no answer to
the question, “Savta – when are you coming?” A friend of mine hasn’t
seen her little granddaughter in months. She lives in the center of the
country, her daughter and son-in-law in the south. For reasons best
known to the child’s mother – her own immaturity likely playing a big
part – she keeps my friend dangling on a cord of uncertainty over if and
when she will be allowed to renew contact with her granddaughter.
“It’s impossible to describe the agony of not being allowed to see her,”
my friend told me quietly. “There’s the loss of not being a part of the
child’s emotional and physical development, the pain of worrying that
she will feel abandoned when savta disappears from her life once again.”
In the April 1 issue of Britain’s Independent
in a column called “Meet the grandparents: the unsung heroes of family
life,” Virginia Ironside wrote about a woman whose son had died.
“While his widow was grieving and on her own, the grandmother looked
after her granddaughter every day during the week for two years. But
when the daughter-in-law married again, she was told, by the new
husband, that she wasn’t wanted.
“She’s never seen her granddaughter again from that day to this. Cards
and presents are returned. She now doesn’t even know where they live.”
In Britain, grandparents are finally being given legal rights to
maintain contact with their grandchildren after a family breakdown or
divorce – “not before time,” commented Ironside, calling the lack of
recognition of the vital role grandparents play in society “a scandal”
that is at last being addressed.
In Israel too, the New Family organization founded by attorney Irit
Rosenblum in 1998 has been working to rectify the human tragedy in which
an estimated 300,000 individuals are suffering on account of
grandparents having been cut off from their grandchildren.
Since January 2010, the organization has been operating a hotline – (03)
566-0504 – that provides help, often via mediation, for grandparents
who can’t see their grandchildren as the result of divorce, death of a
parent, relocation or a family dispute.
The hotline is open Sunday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
And grandparents who have been denied access to their grandchildren are on the road to legal recourse.
New Family, in partnership with Meretz’s Ilan Gilon and other MKs from across the political spectrum, authored, more than a year ago, an initiative to recognize grandparents’ rights. The bill has passed a preliminary reading, and is slowly on its way to becoming law.
“There is a great problem,” says Rosenblum. “The system currently doesn’t recognize grandparents’ status.
Grandparents have no standing in law, except when they show up in divorce cases involving maintenance when the parents cannot pay.
“There have been instances when we have gone to court on grandparents’ behalf – but infrequently, because up till now we have had to depend on judges’ good will. Cases have been considered on a humanitarian basis only.
“Our bill recognizes the need for relationship – including the child’s right to relationship. It recognizes that a child should not be sacrificed because a parent has decided to cut him or her off from the grandparents.”
Rosenblum talks about the need to define the concept of family in this century, and stresses that the family is undergoing a huge change.
“Families are growing not ‘horizontally,’ but ‘vertically,’” she points out, explaining that more generations are alive at the same time, needing relationship between them. And families everywhere in the world – even religious ones – are getting smaller, making the nuclear relationship even more important.
Also, families are moving around a lot, increasing the distance between members.
“If we are raising a child, we want the family legacy to continue,” she says.
‘I don't believe it’s ever too late for contact,” one bereft grandmother told me, “but my grandchildren are now in their late 20s and early 30s, and the damage has been done.”
Her son has been denied contact with his children for decades after divorcing their mother.
Not surprisingly, his parents too have seen almost nothing of their grandchildren over the years. His mother recently lost her husband.
“I don’t even know if any of the grandchildren are married,” she said. “I spoke with my eldest grandson on the phone, and he said that he wasn’t, but someone told me about a picture of him on Facebook with a baby.
“If I was younger and could get about more, I would go to their house and knock on the door, but what can I do now?” she asked.
“The pain and anguish of this deprivation – at a time when I have just lost my husband – is inexpressible.”
If only people realized that children cannot have too much love. If only they internalized the notion that it’s more productive to welcome people in than to shut them out. If only they understood that the love grandparents have to give their grandchildren is infinitely precious and irreplaceable, and that to turn their backs on it is a crying shame, if not downright destructive.
If only parents understood more, and cared more about the true interests of their children than about their own perceived immediate interests and hitting back at former spouses and, often inadvertantly, their families.
‘When I ask children in my class to write about a significant event in their lives,” said a teacher I know, “it is often the death of a grandparent. It is plain to me why this is so: because grandparents give unconditional love – and what could be more important to a child than that?” “Nobody,” wrote author Alex Haley, “can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.”
If only more parents appreciated that.