I just finished the most wonderful book, “my grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry,” which really should be required reading for all parents or prospective parents. If you read the title of this blog you probably assumed the book would be a scientific account of the differences between participating and providing, but you’d be wrong.
“My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry,” is a work of fiction. It tells the story of seven year old Elsa and her best friend in the whole wide world, her Granny.
Elsa is what many would call “different.” She’s not so smart as to be called a genius, but she’s certainly intelligent, perceptive and imaginative. As a result she has few friends and exasperates most adults, except Granny, who doesn’t just embrace Elsa’s differences but champions them.
At this point you’re probably thinking Elsa isn’t loved by her parents, but that isn’t true. They’re just too wrapped up in their lives to really know her. Mom is organized, efficient and incapable of being separated from her cell phone. Dad would rather provide for Elsa’s lessons than take part in them. Mom seems to want to reign Elsa in, and Dad seems relieved to not have to deal with it. Neither are comfortable with conflict, which hinders them from advocating for Elsa’s unique needs. They aren’t bad parents, they’re just better providers.
Granny is the polar opposite. She’s not a provider, but she’s a pretty good participant. When Elsa is upset about bullies at school its Granny who gets her to laugh. When Elsa wants to play its Granny who makes snow angels and tells stories. When Elsa wants to talk about her favorite book, Harry Potter, it’s Granny who listens, no matter how many times she’s already heard about it. When the principal wants Elsa to be more like the other children and fit in its Granny who says, “Only people who are different change the world.”
Every child needs someone like Granny. Someone who encourages their differences. Someone that never gets tired of their stories. Someone who doesn’t just observe but gets immersed.
As parents we all start off striving to be like Granny, but life sometimes intervenes. We take that phone call because work can’t wait. We’re working and cooking and cleaning and driving and doing so many things at once that we forget how to stop and listen. We exhaust ourselves trying to provide and forget to participate. It’s not deliberate. It’s done with the best of intentions. But unchecked it can lead kids to think they aren’t the most important thing in our world even though the opposite is true.
I’m guilty of focusing so much on what I provide for my kids that I can sometimes overlook the importance of actually being with my kids. And I bet I’m not the only one. “My grandmother asked me to tell you she’s sorry,” helped me see parents through the eyes of a child, and while it wasn’t all bad it wasn’t all good either. We need to focus on the providing part, but not at the expense of the participating part. After all, one day they won’t need us to participate, and we don’t want to reach that day without even noticing it’s upon us.