Grandmas Do Have A Responsibility After All

GrandmaThis Grandma’s mantra is that grandparenting should be no responsibility and all joy.  After all, we did our best to be responsible parents and now we have the parents of our children to be responsible.

I read Mama Sass’s column in the Miami Herald, March 29, 2014, “Sharing Family Stories Enriching for Children.”  She wrote about the fact her child had to write a 40 page autobiography and they were talking about family history:

One part myth and two parts ritual, our family narrative has evolved over time, from bedtime stories to dinner conversations to homework assignments.  Only now do I realize how important they have become.  We all know that it’s crucial to read to our children, but most of us don’t realize that sometimes the stories with the biggest impact are our own.

Mama Sass is talking to the parents of our grandchildren.  It seems that research is showing that at every age, the children benefit from knowing family history.

The overwhelming conclusion: the more children knew about their family’s history, the stonger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. . . .The researchers found that children who have the most self confidence have a strong “intergenerational self.”  They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

Intergenerational?  That means grandmas too.  Yes, then Mama Sass said, “Do your kids know where their grandparents grew up? That confirmed it.  Grandmas now have a responsibility to share family history too.  However, this Grandma disagrees with Mama Sass when she said

Even personal stories without a happy ending are important if they demonstrate how families overcome obstacles and remain strong.

As we are of longer (we never say old) years, we know that some difficult personal family stories have to be shared only when children are older, even to children at adulthood, before they may be shared.  GG (Grand Grandmother, my mother), a Holocaust survivor, said, “sometimes it takes sixty years for the words to come out of your mouth,” when she told me a story that she had previously told me when I was four years old, causing nightmares into adulthood.  She was the strongest woman I knew.  I, not as strong, may never be able to have to words come out of my mouth to relay some family stories to my grandchildren.  It will be left to the parents of my grandchildren or it may be that my grandchildren, as adults, may come upon this blog post, to hear these family stories as this Grandma cannot tell without great anxiety and heart palpations.

My mother was a teenager in a concentration camp where the Jews, as slaves, labored.  I now have learned there were about 42,000 Nazi concentration camps.  My mother, living long years, still died without knowing that fact.  Every Friday night, the Jewish Sabbath, she was in the work camp, my mother said, the Nazis would build a big bonfire.  She said they would make all the young women of child-bearing age strip naked and dance around the bonfire singing lullabies.  If they stopped dancing or singing, they were whipped.  My mother had many whip marks on her back.  Then the Nazis took all the babies, toddlers and preschoolers who arrived in the camp that week and the Nazis threw all the babies, toddlers and preschoolers into the fire, alive.  My mother related the screams, the hysteria, the fact that many mothers jumped into the fire after their children, the effect on her.

Also a Holocaust survivor, GG’s (Great Grandfather, my father’s) nightmares led to another horrific family story which I cannot share with my grandchildren.  I heard his stories too young too.  When I was thirteen, my father gave me a book by Hersey, “The Wall.” He said that, after I read it, he would tell me things in the book he saw with his own eyes and what his experiences were.  I think I might have handled the stories better at age thirteen if I had not heard them so very young and knew them already in the terror and screaming of my father in the middle of dark nights.  The most horrific for me was the story about the children he said he personally witnessed.   He said children were being secreted out of the Warsaw Ghetto in hay wagons and he was in the main square when a wagon was leaving the ghetto.  All of a sudden, without warning, he said, the Nazis began firing machine guns at the hay.  He related the screams, the hysteria, the hay turning red, the blood dripping from the wagon, the effect on him.

Some family stories can do more harm than good to a young child, even young adult child.  Yes, the family’s history plays an important role in child development, but that family story telling must be geared to the age, development, and resiliency or fragility of the child.  Young children should be shielded from some family history and should not even be exposed where they may overhear.

Yes, grandmas have a responsibility to share the family narrative, too.  But some of it should be shared responsibly and grandmas should intervene and shield grandchildren too.  As Mama Sass said, “most of us don’t realize that sometimes the stories with the biggest impact are our own.”

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2014 begins sundown April 27 and ends sundown April 28.  I will light candles in memory of my mother and my father, as I do every year.

Sharing these stories that I know responsibly my grandchildren must know at some time in their lives to perpetuate our family history makes it difficult for me to feel






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