by Colleen Fitzpatrick

I am the proud grandparent of three amazingly beautiful and gifted granddaughters.

I should clarify that I am one of those grandparents who gets to spend time with the aforementioned grandchildren and then can hand them back to their parents. I am not one of those wonderfully heroic grandparents who have taken on the role of parenting grandchildren in order to keep them safe.

I would like to acknowledge, too, family members and friends who do not have children and/or grandchildren, yet who still listen and enjoy stories of our grandchildren. I know that some of you would have chosen to have children and grandchildren and that the joy you share with us is at times mingled with sadness.

When I was a new mother, I was bewildered, bewitched, bemused … I hadn’t had much experience with children, let alone babies. My parents were interstate and my parents-in-law didn’t have a car, so the main support they could provide was by phone or the occasional visit. Somehow I survived and so did our children. Whew! That was largely due to having a husband who is a natural with children, who spent a lot of what could have been free time caring for our daughters and having all sorts of adventures with them. It has been wonderful to see those days return as we care for and interact with our granddaughters.

When our daughter told us that she was pregnant with twins, after we had both mopped up our tears, we started thinking about the implications and how she would manage with a toddler and two babies.

I came to the decision that I would give up work to be available to help in those important early days. In the meantime, my husband, John, was taking a day off work a week to care for our toddler granddaughter.

Being grandparents is vastly different from being parents.

All is fine while they are compliant and cute and all is going smoothly – but then they can ‘turn’ and that is difficult. We are not their parents and I struggle to know how to respond to bad behaviour – or probably, more accurately, to defiant behaviour. When I ask Miss Eight-years-old to set the table and she says ‘I won’t!’, I find myself resorting to reminding her that, ‘Mummy has said that you are to do that’. It works sometimes.

We love having fun with our grandchildren and I am thankful that they have reintroduced me to the joys of shooting goals with a netball. It’s also great to play Chinese checkers, Uno and other games, and even better when I win! I love teaching them the names of flowers or how to sew or having them help in the kitchen – many things that I wasn’t able to do with my own grandparents, due to distance, work duty or death.

A sadness for me is that the Christian faith is not a part of our grandchildren’s everyday life, as our daughter became disengaged from the church during her teenage years. However, our grandchildren are baptised – and this gives me comfort and hope. They are aware that I go to church every Sunday and at family gatherings, I ask a blessing before we eat together. This has become an expectation, and I am seen as the family ‘pray-er’.

However, it’s not always easy to find the openings to share faith with our grandchildren.

I believe there is more that we as church can do to support and encourage those who, like me, struggle with this within the intimate circle of our families, to follow up on the confirmees who have drifted away from the church, to let them know we still care about them and that they are not forgotten. And to provide comfort and hope to those of us who unceasingly pray for protection and salvation for those who are nearest and dearest to us.

Colleen Fitzpatrick is a member of St Stephens Lutheran Church in Adelaide.

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