What does it mean to stand in the gap?
One of the grandmothers I interviewed for my podcast (Grandmother Time) suggested that our role as grandmothers is to stand in the gap. Although I had thought about it many times, I don’t think I grasped its whole meaning.
Standing in the gap is more than babysitting. It wasn’t until recently that I looked at the role differently, from the point of being a grandmother to my granddaughters and grandson. It was more than that.
It sunk in one day when I was looking after my granddaughter. You might ask what was so unusual about it on that day. Nothing was different except that M was ill.
Her parents had told me the previous day, and mum had taken the day off with her. As a result, I had not expected that I would look after her.
When M arrived, she was quiet, and I was unsure if she would be happy to stay with me. She sat silently on the floor and played with a few of her toys, and then she came up to me. I picked her up and sat her on my knee. M moved her body into mine, I wrapped my arms around her, and we had a cuddle.
M was happy to stay like that for some time, and it was then that I remembered the grandmother’s words. I held her tighter. She had an expectation and was secure in the knowledge that I would be there for her, giving her all that she needed whilst with me.
Having older grandchildren meant that it was not the first time I’d looked after a sick grandchild. But it felt as if it was the first time that I fully understood what it meant.
Nothing was different physically. The thing that had changed was my awareness of how what I was doing signified. Not just to me, but to my granddaughter and her parents. I was aware that M was ill and could have been upset. I was mindful of how her parents may have felt leaving a sick child and going to work. I was also conscious of what that meant regarding me – M’s parents having the confidence that her needs would be met, physically and emotionally.
What are the benefits?
If you are physically challenged there may be a cost to you. But as I’ve said before, for me, that outweighs the benefits. I can’t tell you how many times a day I laugh when I am around my grandchildren. Not to mention the hugs I get too.
At the end of a day of looking after my grandchildren, I am always shattered and or aching. However, the way I feel inside is unmeasurable. As I was part of their support group during the lockdown, it brought stability to my week and gave me something to look forward to. Without them, I would have been in a very different place emotionally.
I’m still shocked by the advice I was given before becoming a grandmother. The advice given was to be careful because some grandmothers are expected to do a lot for their children regarding looking after their grandchildren. I’m sure it happens, but I am convinced that it is not done without the grandparents’ consent. Otherwise, would it happen? So if there is an issue, who’s at fault? Open communication on both parts unquestionably is the key to prevent such feelings?
Sadly, there are exceptions to this, when the grandmother (most often) has to put their health, feelings, and timetable aside to support extreme circumstances. These circumstances may go on longer than expected and/or have long term effects, and there’s nothing that can be done to change the position you’re in. Then, I guess it comes down to coming to terms with it, knowing that you’re doing the best you can to support.
Occasionally some obstacles may prevent you from standing the gap. Things such as family dynamics, distance and even not being asked to assist, as others can provide the necessary help.
This can be challenging as a grandmother/grandparent as you might want to provide assistance and be part of the solution. However, you can’t. Sadly, that moment may never arise, so some form of acceptance may be required to help resolve any negative feelings.
What does standing the gap mean to you?
Standing in the gap means many different things to people. It may depend on your lifestyle/ life choices, resources and or background.
If you are a Christian, there are several references to standing in the gap in the Bible. It is likened to being a wall built around a city to protect those inside the wall. There’s also a reference to Moses standing in front of God to protect people from his anger. It is also used in terms of praying. A person prays on behalf of another person, who may not be strong enough faith wise or have the physical strength to pray for themselves.
It’s often used as a phrase when describing someone in the position of power or strength looking after someone less able than them – whether physically or sharing their resources. They are using their favourable circumstance to help those that at less fortunate than themselves.
In extreme cases, grandchildren have been raised by their grandparents because of varying issues. In Jamaica, it is something that was commonly done and elsewhere too. The parents would leave their child with their parents to find employment elsewhere. Sometimes parents would live abroad and send resources to their parents to help them look after their grandchild. Often, the child would develop a stronger bond with their grandparents. Occasionally, it would then be difficult when the child had to leave their grandparents (many years later) to join their parents in England. Sadly, adjusting to the loss and change of address sometimes caused a strain on the reacquainted family.
Many of these children (now adults) fondly talk about their relationship with their grandmother/grandparents. They share how the pain of separation from their parents was dissolved because of the love shown to them. Some even confirm having a closer relationship than with their mother and base their success and emotional state on the nurturing they experienced.
Of course, I am sure that it wasn’t an easy decision to make for the parents who left their children behind to pursue ‘a better life’ for themselves and their families. It also says a lot about their trust in their parents, knowing that they would do their best for the child/children left in their care.
Whether the grandchildren are ill or not, as grandparents, we support the parents enabling them to work without being restricted by the financial obligation of childcare. Knowing also that their children will be looked after in the way they would be in their care. When the child/children are ill, the role of standing in the gap becomes even more apparent. The parents can confidently do their job without worrying about their child, knowing their needs will be met and cared for.
And in my case, provide lots and lots of cuddles too.
I’d like to think that the relationships I have/am established/establishing with my grandchildren will last way beyond their early years. The memories we’re making now will hopefully propel us into a different relationship when they are older.
©2022 Sharon RM Stevens