The Word Among Us

July/August 2018 Issue

Being “Nana,” Not Mom

A new book reminds us that grandparenting is a vocation unto itself.

By: Elizabeth Slattery

Being “Nana,” Not Mom: A new book reminds us that grandparenting is a vocation unto itself. by Elizabeth Slattery

Sometimes I think I know better than my adult children what’s best for my grandchildren.

For instance, my two-and-a-half-year-old grandson needed a diaper change—but what I thought he needed was potty training. So I brought him into the bathroom to change him and suggested strongly that he “go potty.” I even tried to seat him on the toilet. He objected just as strongly, looked at the toilet, and declared very seriously, “It’s scary in there!” Obviously he was not ready, and I should not have tried to impose my ideas on him. My daughter knew about his fears and had been waiting until the right time to work with him. The whole situation reminded me that I am still learning what being “Nana” means. And I’m still working out how to respect my children’s child-rearing skills.

The Catholic Grandparents Handbook, by Lorene Hanley Duquin, has helped me to understand more fully the role of being a grandparent. I thought that after being one for sixteen years and accumulating twenty-one grandchildren, I knew just about everything there is to know. But I was wrong. For instance, I had never thought of grandparenting as being a vocation until I opened this book. Marriage, certainly. Parenting, too. But grandparenting? That opens up a whole new way of thinking about my family.

Our Special Role. One of the topics in the book that touched me was the idea of “listening with your heart.” It reminded me of how children often confide in their grandparents with special trust. When I stop what I am doing (whether it be cleaning, cooking, or reading on my iPhone) and give my full attention to my grandchild, it is so very important to them. I can do this if I take time to stop and think about it.

For instance, my four-year-old granddaughter was very quiet one day while I was visiting her family’s home. Trying to engage her, I noticed several bottles of nail polish on her play table. So I asked her about which colors she had, and she very eagerly announced all of them except one. I held up the clear polish to ask her, “And what color would this polish be?” Not skipping a beat the four-year-old stated, “Nana! That’s the top coat!” In that small exchange we shared knowledge and a laugh. I showed interest in her, and she responded. As a grandparent, we need to have these sharing moments because the more we learn about one another, the more we can love each other.

Respect for Adult Children. Besides being inspirational, The Catholic Grandparents Handbook is just that—a handbook full of practical information. Each chapter covers a different topic like babysitting, building family traditions, living far away from grandchildren, and much more. Besides including copious information, the chapters include personal experiences from other grandparents that I could relate to.

Stories about different approaches to child rearing hit home for me. What grandparent has not had to bite their tongue when they see one of their adult children parenting in a way they don’t agree with? For example, some of my grandchildren have strict early bedtimes, while others have no bedtime at all. But even with these lifestyle differences in their respective families, they are all happy and thriving.

It helps my adult children tremendously when I refrain from supporting one way over another. Duquin’s book affirms the value of this kind of restraint by giving examples and prayers to help readers grow in humility and learn how to surrender their grandchildren to the Lord—and to their adult children. It doesn’t tell us what to do, but it does provide resources to help us reflect and decide.

Leaving a Spiritual Legacy. As comprehensive as its practical side is, The Catholic Grandparents Handbook also covers a grandparent’s spiritual role in detail. It explores how we can pass on our faith to these precious little ones. The first chapter describes several aspects of a grandparent’s love, especially how our love is different from a parent’s love. This is one question that’s truly worth praying about.

Prayer is an integral part of my life, and I am realizing that this is something I can pass on to my grandchildren. When I noticed that my teenage granddaughter was coming down with a cold, I proceeded to get her the medicine that she needed. She was still obviously miserable. That’s when I realized that she also needed prayer. So I asked her if I could pray with her and ask the Lord to help her get better. She said yes, so I laid my hand on her head as if I were giving her a blessing. Then I asked God out loud to heal her and give her peace. She was grateful for that, and I was grateful for the opportunity this encounter provided to share my faith with her.

The Catholic Grandparents Handbook gives real ideas about how we can share our faith throughout the year during feast days of the saints, holy days of obligation, and the major liturgical seasons. The appendices include fun activities to do with grandchildren—things like prayer services, outings, cooking projects, and even a Nativity play script. I can’t wait to try that one out! Another activity that caught my attention was the suggestion to take a “new life walk,” visiting various outdoor places in the spring Easter season.

It’s Not Always Easy. Some of my grandchildren have to deal with hard things, like their parents’ divorce. I haven’t had much experience with that, so I don’t have many answers. But as it turns out, sometimes just sitting with them and offering to be available to them is all they need.

The Catholic Grandparents Handbook addresses these thorny subjects too. It shares the experiences of people whose children or grandchildren have left the faith. It gives explanations about whether to baptize grandchildren and how to discuss topics like divorce and death with them. We are not alone in these categories. And we don’t have to deal with them alone.

As you can probably tell, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this well-researched, clearly written, and inspiring book. It covers so many topics and contains so many insights that I’m convinced that any grandparent, both the novice and the old pro (pardon the pun!), would benefit from it.

Elizabeth Slattery, wife, mother, and author, resides in New Orleans near many of her twenty-one grandchildren.

The Catholic Grandparents Handbook by Lorene Duquin is available at and