Today as my yoga teacher ended class, she thanked participants for “being her teacher.” I couldn’t help but think “that’s how I feel about my times with my grandchildren. “

Indeed, grandparenting has been a sage-ing experience for me.

I became a grandparent fourteen years ago at the age of 58.  During my daughter’s pregnancy, I began to contemplate this new stage of life. My daughter and son-in-law were gracious to invite me to witness Sophie’s birth.  As I saw Sophie emerge to embrace life, I had no idea what an adventure we would have together. (Sophie means wisdom and that’s what she and my other grandchildren have brought me.)

It is natural to think that you will know what this stage is all about as you have raised kids, but this role as an elder is amazingly different.   As I watch my children parent, I remember how demanding the job of preparing a child for life is.  Now I have more time on my hands, less responsibility and most importantly, I am a different person in my seventies with so many more life experiences than when I was in my twenties and thirties as I parented.

My five grandchildren range in age from 9 to 14 years old, 2 granddaughters in Boston and one granddaughter and two grandsons in Munich, Germany.  As I live in Northern Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., I have had to face the challenges of long-distance grandparenting.  To get to know my grandchildren and for them to feel connected to me, I have put on many miles.  Yet, traveling to them is the easy part.  One of the unexpected challenges was to develop trusting relationships with the spouses of my children and to resolve any lingering issues with my own children for them to encourage my deep involvement with their children.

Grandparenting has given me an opportunity to feel what it is to love unconditionally.  Not responsible for raising them to adulthood, a grandparent is free to simply shower them with the love you so naturally feel.

Wanting to leaving a “legacy” has new meaning for me because I have grandchildren.  My career as a Geology Professor /educator and process consultant has been devoted to helping people have a healthy relationship with Planet Earth.  Now I feel an urgency to be sure that we leave a Planet in a healthy state for this next generation.  Six years ago, I wrote a book entitled Grandparenting with The Wisdom of Nature. In each chapter I talk about a principle from Nature that will empower the grandchild for life. I explain how children are getting addicted to technology and have a lack of exposure to Nature which is detrimental to healthy childhood development.  In this book, I propose that grandparents can play a powerful role in countering the damages by simply getting children outdoors.  I describe what a joy it is to explore nature with a grandchild, engaging together in the wonder of the natural world.  The grandchild will develop a connection to Planet Earth and a deep bond to the grandparent.  Collaborative learning in Nature can lead to meaningful intergenerational conversations with opportunities to share from wisdom gained in life.

I started early with my grandkids, taking them out into Nature at every opportunity.  We went on week long camping trips once they turned 5 and were ready to leave their parents and join Grandma on a nature adventure.  This year I took my 11 year old granddaughter to the Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest and Meteor Crater and my fourteen year old granddaughter to Alaska on a cruise with zip-lining, kayaking, and hiking excursions. When I am on one-to-one adventures with a grandchild, I find that we have such important conversations.  Often I get the opportunity to share some wisdom I have gained in life.  They love my stories, especially the stories about their parents.  I realize that I am indeed the repository of these stories and I love sharing them with the next generation.  Most of all, I love making new memories with my grandchildren, new stories that they will hopefully share with their children.

Grandparenting can be so much more than babysitting.  Please join me and take on the nurturing role of the elder. Your life will be rich with new meaning, love and joy.

Highlights of Dr. Barbara Joyce Frank’s 4 decade career have included being a Professor of Geology for the University of Maryland in Munich, Germany; working for the  U.S. House of Representatives Science and Space and Technology Committee, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Department of Energy; and creating a retreat center in naturally beautiful Great Falls, Virginia to help nonprofit, government and corporate organizations deal innovatively with change.  Barbara’s latest mission is to inspire grandparents worldwide to encourage their grandkids to be our planet’s future stewards.