We arrive at it quite late in our lives. We see the small persons who are newly hatched but at one remove. We hardly dare touch them because we have forgotten how. We become instantly besotted. We are grandparents. As they say, it’s complicated.
It feels responsible, because these new persons are part of you, but only as far as they, and you, want them to be – they are individuals. The responsibility is not necessarily that you have to deal with their requirements day to day – that, thank goodness, is a parent's job and we can hand them back – but that who and what you are becomes part of their knowledge base, their experience, and their reference points.
It feels privileged, because grandchildren can offer warmth and attention and respect as well as love and worries. When they end a message with a casual "miss u, luv u" it can melt your heart. Over the growing years we can have skirmishes, and times when connections feel lost – but there is at base mutual respect as well.
It feels frightening, because they are facing a world that can be dangerous in ways that we never knew (although our world was also dangerous, in other ways). They have to learn how to cope – and we fear that they might fail. We watch them make mistakes and we bite our tongues – unless we are asked for advice, which we give freely and – we hope – wisely, while understanding that we don't always know how their world really is, and whether our opinion, and indeed our experience, is appropriate for their situation.
It feels prideful, because we know that our grandchildren are the most beautiful, handsome, intelligent, charming and talented creatures the world has ever known. It feels humbling and privileged, because we have discovered the giving of unconditional love – again. First for our own children and now for theirs.
It feels lonely sometimes, because the children grow – and grow away from us because they no longer need us, and we no longer matter as much as perhaps we did. This is natural and we know that perfectly well. It is also irrational, because we don't actually want them around all the time, they can be tiring and noisy and messy and silly. But there again we would rather have the noise and mess and silliness because –well, just because.
It feels hopeful that we as grandparents may have contributed something valuable to the children's lives and that we will be remembered with affection. So, I suppose in the end grandparenthood is a matter of personality and circumstance and individual attitude. Every relationship is different, and that goes for grandparenthood as well as any other.