It Occurs to Me: The “abuelos” (grandparents) as the caretakers of our youth

Growing up I never had my grandparents nearby to visit with. I only remember meeting both of my grandmothers when we visited them in Mexico, and those visits were far and few between as I was my growing up.

I would have loved to have them around more to get to know them better, to spend more nights with them, to have them take care of me once in a while and to get a better perspective about my own parents through their eyes. Looking back, I remember just snippets about my grandparents.

I fondly recall my paternal grandmother during one our visits to Mexico. My dad knocked on the wooden door of a small, old, adobe-looking square building that was my grandmother’s house. We heard her ask who it was. When my father answered in Spanish, “Soy yo, mamá, Andres” (It’s me, mom, Andres), I got a warm feeling of love, endearment, family, and I saw my father in a slightly different light – as a young child.

I remember having to drink warm milk and seeing the school photos of me and my siblings up on a blank wall of her home. No frame, in no particular order, just the small 4-by-6 photos attached to the wall, either by a tack or a nail.

On my mom’s side of the family, I remember going to the “mercado” when we visited her mother. I remember a church not far from where she lived and going to play “lotería” (like bingo); I remember going to church with her in Mexico – in itself a special experience compared with going to church here in California.

From my husband’s side of the family, I remember him talking to me about the property and businesses that his grandfather owned in Texas and how it was all taken away from him – forcefully. In those days there were no contracts, no legal documents, just your word was good in Texas – or so it seemed. But he does remember his grandfather giving him and his brothers and sister their “domingo” (their Sunday coin) for an ice cream.

My husband and I were fortunate to have both our parents raise us, but for others it has been the grandparents who have become the primary caregivers.

For many youth in Merced County, this has also been the case. For whatever reason, the grandparents have stepped into the lives of their grandchildren to help them move ahead and survive in the absence of their parents. The memories of their grandparents are not just off and on encounters, or Sunday visits; they are built on everyday struggles and successes.

For the grandparents, it’s reliving the daily process of raising a child. It’s a unique journey that can either set you back in many different ways as a grandparent or it can become your everlasting grace. It’s how you look at it and how you carry it forward.

Now, as grandparents ourselves, we’ve made many memories with our own grandchildren. But I know my husband and I wouldn’t blink an eye if we were placed in a position to care for one of them. They are an extension of our own children and the love continues.

The role of grandparents raising their grandchildren is nothing new, but it seems to have increased tremendously throughout the years, another topic for another time.

From what I can see, if handled carefully and if all interested parties stay focused on the task, the involvement of grandparents in the raising of their grandchildren can be a win-win situation – especially for the children.