When my daughter was born, I was already an orphan. Both my parents had passed away several years before (and my husband was at odds with his mother and his father died when our daughter was just two), but I wanted her to experience being loved, mentored and just plain spoiled by grandparents all the same.
First, I needed to create a bond between my daughter and my late parents. I assembled a photo album of old photos and typed up captions. Beneath a picture of my mom wearing a black velvet dress, circa 1950s, I wrote, “All dolled up. Isn’t she pretty?” A caption on a photo of my father and me said “Wheee! I loved being tossed in the air by my dad, just like you liked it.”
I’ve also kept my parents’ memories alive with photos throughout our home, relating funny stories and their favourite sayings, sharing life advice they gave me, displaying my mother’s crewel work (which hangs framed in our living room) and using recipes my mom used.
We talk about the Austrian lullaby my husband’s father used to sing to my daughter. And we read bedtime stories to her when she was small that my parents read to me.
I've never missed an occasion to point out similarities between my daughter and her grandparents — both physical, such as my dad’s tall, lanky frame and in personality and interests, including my mom’s love for fashion.
I also determined she would have my friends and relatives around to provide her with love and wisdom.
Many of these relatives I've socialized with over the years are first, second and even third cousins. We share a common ancestry, but we are much more than that. We are friends who celebrate family gatherings and holidays together and post pictures and comments on Facebook.
My mom’s first cousin, Judy, who died not long ago, was like a mother to me and a grandmother to our daughter; my best friend’s mom became “Granny Lyons."
What I've discovered since my daughter was born is that even though grandparents may be missing from a child’s life, we can compensate. All of these friends and family have gathered around my daughter to form a protective, loving circle so that she'll never feel alone. My daughter considers herself lucky. Instead of two sets of grandparents, she has several.
Dr. Esme Fuller-Thomson is the Sandra Rotman Endowed Chair and a professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. From her own practice and as the mother of four children, she has some tips for parents who are raising children without grandparents, many of which our family used.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, September 2015. Photo by iStockphoto.