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  • Writer's pictureAllan Shedlin

11 Daddying Field Notes From Grandparentdom

First in a series by Allan Shedlin

DADvocacy Consulting Group Founder

I began taking notes on my experiences as a grandparent almost 15 years ago. The following, from April 2007, is the first installment compiling those reflections:

The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are. – Carl Gustav Jung

There was something mysteriously unfamiliar about my familiar and frequently traveled train route. The tracks were the same ones I rumbled over many times during the past year. The departing and arrival stations were the same. But the arrival station would also be foreign this time because I was leaving Washington, DC’s Union Station as a parent and, for the first time, would be arriving at New York City’s Pennsylvania Station, as both a parent and an almost grandparent.

Many of the thoughts during that four-hour train ride rushed through my mind faster than the scenery outside, but they are intensely memorable almost a decade later. It has always struck me how our ability to remember details is heightened during densely emotional moments in our lives, like the birth of our child, the death of a loved one, or exactly where we were when President Kennedy was shot, or when the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers collapsed.

I still chuckle remembering the naiveté of one particular thought: becoming a grandparent would diminish my roles as a parent and replace the intense responsibilities and joys of parenting with the one-generation-removed joys of grandparenting. As I prepare to celebrate the 10th birthday of my first grandchild and the birth of my fifth grandchild, I realize happily how far off the mark that idea was! Actually, one of the many things I’ve learned in my relatively new role as a grandparent is that it is useful to think about grandparenting as a new stage of parenting.

Thinking about grandparenting as a new stage of parenting seems logical. After all, when I became a granddad for the first time, there were two immediate and fundamental changes in my identity: I instantly became a generation older (as did my "child"), and I immediately had something in common with that adult child that we never had before – we are both parents. These changes are as profound as they remain undiscussed and unacknowledged. And I have learned that these changes are filled with both opportunities and challenges.

The natural reflectiveness that these identity-altering events trigger, if we allow them to, can be instructive and life-affirming. Whether or not we choose to seize this reflective opportunity, the changes inevitably lead to alterations and adjustments in our relationships with our adult children, and vice-versa. If changes and adjustments are not forthcoming, the fundamental nature of the new dynamics is not being recognized nor appreciated.

Grandparenting can be embraced as a form of Parenting Redux – a chance to be more emotionally present for our grandchildren than we might have been for our children, because of the intense career demands that usually accompany the early stages of parenting.

Here are my first field notes from the land of Grandparentdom:

  1. Your adult child’s observations of you in your interactions with your grandchild provide an opportunity for your son or daughter to witness your nurturing style firsthand. As one of my daughters said, "Seeing you cuddle my infant son lets me see what it must have been like when you cuddled me as a baby…up until now, I only imagined what that was like."

  2. One’s heart has an incredible, ever-expansive – perhaps infinite – capacity to love. As each new grandchild arrives, our hearts automatically make room to exuberantly welcome that child. If we choose to discuss this phenomenon with our children it may help to minimize some of the lingering jealousies inherent in the natural residue of their sibling rivalrous feelings.

  3. The roles of fathers have evolved in ways that allow for greater involvement with infants and a greater willingness to allow nurturing paternal instincts to surface. Dads no longer look "abnormal" or "unnatural" pushing strollers, wearing Snuglis to carry their babies, or taking their young children on solo outings. We’re not quite at the stage where we can expand the adage to "It’s as American as motherhood, fatherhood, and apple pie," but we're getting closer.

  4. Adult children often develop a greater appreciation for the parenting they received and greater respect for the sacrifices their parents may have made, together with great wonderment at how they did it. These new insights can lead to frank discussions, together with new understandings, about difficult choices and decisions made. These new understandings have the potential of generating and building more mature relationships between parents and their adult children.

  5. New parents who feel their own parent(s) were not around enough, may experience recrudescent anger toward the absentee parent and may compensate for what they feel they missed, by becoming over-involved parents themselves.

  6. Parents who feel they may not have been around enough when their kids were "growing up" may want to make up for that deficit by being much more present as a grandparent. That may trigger resentment from an adult child who might ask, "Why weren’t you there for me when I was growing up?!"

  7. Grandparenting provides a unique mirror on one’s parenting as we see and hear our sons and daughters reacting to their children in ways similar to how we interacted with them. As with any look in a mirror, sometimes we like the reflection, and sometimes we don’t.

  8. It’s an ongoing challenge to remind ourselves that our kids have the right to make their own parenting "mistakes," just as we did. Hopefully, parenting incidents that may cause us to wince are far outnumbered by those that fill us with warmth, quiet satisfaction, and pride. Knowing when to mask the wince (unless an incident truly demands comment), and learning to articulate the satisfaction, may require developing new parenting repertoires to fit new parent-adult child realities.

  9. Grandparenting provides an opportunity to be reminded of and to savor some useful qualities associated with childhood – like optimism and joyfulness – that provide increased hopefulness about the future and serve as an antidote to the worry that accompanies current events that seem to signify an increasingly unstable world.

  10. Grandparenting can be embraced as a form of Parenting Redux – a chance to be more emotionally present for our grandchildren than we might have been for our children, because of the intense career demands that usually accompany the early stages of parenting.

  11. One of the greatest gifts of becoming a grandparent is realizing that your adult children will, at last, have an inkling of the depth of parental love you have felt for them over the years.

My grandparenting reflections lead me to new understandings and opportunities to establish more meaningful relationships and connections with my adult children and their partners. Mindful of those pre-grandparenting thoughts that rushed through my mind faster and in a less linear fashion than the scenery outside my train window, my reflections will continue. By sharing them with my children, I hope they will encourage occasional reflectiveness during the intensity of early parenting – a period more often characterized by its hurtling quality rather than its reflective opportunities. After all, it’s a good idea to think about getting to Grandparentdom before you actually arrive – wishing you had taken the local and not the express.


Allan Shedlin has devoted his life’s work to improving the odds for children and families. He has three daughters, a “bonus” son, five grandchildren, and three “bonus” grandchildren. Trained as an educator, Allan has alternated between classroom service, policy development, and advising. After eight years as an elementary school principal, Allan founded and headed the National Elementary School Center for 10 years. In the 1980s, he began writing about education and parenting for major news outlets and education trade publications, as well as appearing on radio and TV. In 2008, he was honored as a "Living Treasure" by Mothering Magazine and founded REEL Fathers in Santa Fe, NM, where he now serves as president emeritus. In 2017, he founded the DADvocacy Consulting Group. In 2018, he launched the DADDY Wishes Fund and Daddy Appleseed Fund. In 2019 he co-created and began co-facilitating the Armor Down/Daddy Up! and Mommy Up! programs. He earned his elementary and high school diplomas from NYC’s Ethical Culture Schools, BA at Colgate University, MA at Columbia University’s Teachers College, and an ABD at Fordham University. But he considers his D-A-D the most important “degree” of all.


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