Gifts for my Grandchildren


I became a grandfather for the first time last year. And this year I await the arrival of a second grandchild – this time from a different country. All this has led me to do a lot of thinking about the role of grandparents, especially in adoption.

I am sure that the most important thing every child needs is a safe, secure and loving nuclear family. That is something only a parent can provide. But grandparents open the door to the extended family, and I think that can provide a deeper rootedness and connection than a nuclear family can provide by itself. Grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a storied history of the family are wonderful gifts that connect a child to a larger support network and a larger story.

Recently my kids asked my wife and I to re-start the genealogy research we began when we first got married. I’m still looking for the definitive family tartan. But with modern Internet tools, I have discovered some great stories to pass along to my grandkids as part of their heritage. I have found many stories of ancestors seeking new lands and creating new families, something to which my soon-to-be grandson can maybe relate. I found an ancestor who sailed on the Mayflower. Another ancestor spent months in jail at Jamestown, Virginia for taking a stand for a dissenting faith. One of my great-grandfathers struggled to keep his family together after his wife died, leaving him with five young children. Another great-grandfather ran a home for orphaned children in the 1920s and 30s, motivated in part because his parents had both died while he was a teenager.

I can give these stories to my grandchildren as gifts. These stories can become part of their story, regardless of how my grandchildren entered our family. It isn’t about DNA; it is about identity, rootedness, and connectivity.

One thing I have seen in genealogy is how all these various strands weave together – Irish, English, French, Welsh, German, Scottish, Dutch, Puritan, Quaker, Anglican, landed gentry and poor immigrant. And though I feel more of a natural affinity to some of these strands than I do to others, I am learning to embrace them all.

In the same way, one important job for me as a grandparent is to embrace the background and birth culture of my adopted grandchild. So I eagerly bought a Samoan rugby ball for Christmas for the grandchild I haven’t yet met. But another equally important job will be to share with him these stories and to help him weave the strands of his background into our extended family to create his own story.

I wish I could be there when a little Samoan-American kid is listening to a teacher talk about the pilgrims and then raises his had to report that he had an ancestor on the Mayflower. Maybe that won’t happen. But if it does I’ll know I have given him a good gift.

MLJ Adoptions is a Non-Profit, Hague-Accredited adoption service provider located in Indianapolis, Indiana, working in Africa, Eastern Europe, Latin America and the Pacific Isles. We are passionate about serving children in need.