I became a grandparent at a fairly young age, when my stepdaughter and her husband brought Enzo Aayan into the world a decade ago. Mateo Tikekar arrived three years after Enzo. Although I don’t see them as much as I’d like — they lived in Senegal as babies and now are settled four hours north of here, in Seattle — Enzo and Mateo bring joy to our family, and I’m eagerly looking forward to having even more grandchildren. (No pressure on my sons, just now entering adulthood.)
Enzo and Mateo were on my heart and mind while reading The Mindful Grandparent by Shirley Showalter and Marilyn McEntyre. Using their experience as grandparents, and as parents and teachers, Showalter and McEntyre have written a unique and compelling exploration of the grandparent role.
The book explores the complex reality of contemporary grandparenting, addressing topics as diverse as being a grandnanny, especially during a pandemic; developing traditions with grandchildren who live near, and with those who live far away; finding creative and simple ways to play together; and the challenges of talking with grandchildren about difficult subjects like illness and death. Each chapter carries a thematic undercurrent, reminding readers that forming relationships with grandchildren can be beautiful, holy work.
Showalter should be familiar to many readers: her excellent memoir, Blush (2013), describes her upbringing as a conservative Mennonite in Pennsylvania. She served as president of Goshen College, then as an executive at the nonprofit Fetzer Institute, before retiring into her current role as grandparent to three. McEntyre teaches at the San Francisco branch of Westmont College and at Berkeley’s Graduate Theological Union and has nine grandchildren. This is their first book-length collaboration.
Each chapter tackles a singular issue or idea, and a header identifies whether Showalter or McEnytre is narrating. Using their considerable personal experience, the authors rely on distinct, yet equally beautiful, writing voices to express awe in their roles as grandparents. Showalter and McEntyre provide personal stories curated from their own families, starting when the writers’ children brought new life into the world and extending to the present, when McEntyre’s eldest grandchild is just now launching into adulthood.
Although The Mindful Grandparent is not a how-to guide on grandparenting, each chapter concludes with several suggestions for readers hoping to develop close relationships with their grandchildren. A chapter on helping children connect with the outdoors offers simple ideas like visiting local parks, building a terrarium together, and enjoying children’s books about the outdoors, with several titles listed. These suggestions never feel prescriptive, nor do they seem inaccessible for grandparents with limited resources of time or money.
While many of the chapters are pitched to grandparents of younger children and those who are without special needs, Showalter and McEntyre do include sections on being grandparents to those who have disabilities and to those who have moved beyond the wide-eyed stage of early childhood and into the more difficult terrain of adolescence. The book acknowledges that grandparents must be flexible, being creative in how they navigate different life stages, and always willing to meet grandchildren with “open hearts and goodwill,” noticing the individuality of each grandchild and responding to that uniqueness. “As we encircle these grandchildren with our love,” McEntyre writes, “that circle needs to grow and shift. Like a healthy river, its banks need to keep reshaping themselves as the flow changes.”
The book also opens space for reflection, inviting readers to stretch back into their own childhood and to memories of their grandparents. This was a delightful surprise for me. As I’ve grown older, and fewer people remember my grandparents, it was nice to think of them, too, and recall the rituals we shared: Warm summer afternoons drinking Shasta soda pop with my grandpa in his garage. Watching my grandma’s daily story, As The World Turns, then sitting down to her dinner table, which bent beneath the weight of her cooking — the way she best knew how to express her love.
The Mindful Grandparent celebrates the many manifestations of grandparents’ love. For Showalter and McEntyre, that love is expressed in each story carefully told and in their thoughtful reflection on what it means to be grandparents in a world beset by challenges. Their book is a gift for all who long to develop close, sacred relationships with their children’s children, even if they’ve yet to be born.
Melanie Springer Mock is professor of English at George Fox University in Newburg, Ore.