The Amazing and Unique Role of Grandparents


It’s been one year since I heard the voice of my sweet Grandma. She was 93 years old when she passed away and still as sharp as a tack. I loved chatting with her on my drive home from work, even with my kids screaming in the background; she would be giving me a play-by-play from Sunday’s win for her Pittsburgh Steelers. Unlike many of my friends growing up, she was the only biological grandparent I ever knew. 

I always thought that all kids who only had one grandparent also got to have what I had … “adopted” grandparents that I nicknamed Granna and Pap Pap. They were close friends of my parents who watched me when my parents were working but spoiled and loved me, the exact same way grandparents do.

All three grandparents were essential figures in my life. When I was five my dad took a job that moved us 3,000 miles from Grandma, Granna and Pap. If I was lucky, I got to see them once a year, but their love and support for me remained unwavering across the miles.

I am grateful that my parents understood the significance of these relationships. My parents knew that an older, wiser adult can have an irreplaceable impact on a child. It didn’t take me long to realize that connections like the one I had with Grandma and my assumed grandparents, Granna and Pap Pap, were the kind of special blessing I always wanted for my own little ones.  

My parents live about 15 minutes from us, in the very house where I grew up. We are beyond blessed that they have watched our babies from the time I returned from maternity leave, allowing my husband and me to continue working full-time. I understand not everyone has this luxury, and I admit that I used to think the upside of their proximity would be a guaranteed last-minute babysitter or a few extra home-cooked meals a week. I get how fortunate we are to have the free and trusted childcare, but I also recognize now that having easy access to their house isn’t even close to the best part of this arrangement.

There is an incredible magic that happens when the kids are with their Papa and Nana. They give in on that extra scoop of ice cream, make detours to McDonald’s more often than I care to count and never leave the toy aisle empty-handed. More than gifts, they are the “yes” when I have to be the “no,” and they are the calm confidence when the stress of a two-year old’s tantrum is too much for me to bear. They teach the kids things I can’t by passing on lessons that only come with time and life experience.


They have the benefit of history. Having been there, done that, they know that each phase of parenthood will pass, and it’s all going to turn out alright in the end.  They give our kids a genuine, unconditional and almost indescribable love, second only to that of a parent. They have created an insoluble bond, that exact kind I had always hoped the kids would have with their grandparents.

I’m thankful for this bond each day, but I’m feeling a little extra appreciative right now, just one year after my Grandma passed away. I may not have the same memories that my kids will have of trips to the toy store or sneaking the last cookie, but my Grandma gave of herself, what she could, over the phone, from across the miles. I realize that grandparenting comes in all forms, as I think about how my parents strategically placed Granna and Pap Pap in my life.  What it looks like now, from my grown-up perspective, is two people pouring what they have of themselves, at their stage of life, into my two tiny ones. It’s a remarkable thing to see and it gives me the greatest sense of joy to know that my children get to experience the gift, that only a grandparent can provide.

Photography by Natalie Miller

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Danielle and her husband met at Arizona State University and have been living in North Phoenix since 2010. They have an energetic son and sweet daughter who bring more joy, laughter and laundry than they ever thought possible. Danielle serves as the Chief Communications Officer for one of the largest school districts in the state where she also received her K-12 education.  She and her family are playground connoisseurs who are always in search of the latest and greatest neighborhood gems. Danielle cherishes 5 a.m. trips to the gym where she spends a solid hour to herself a few mornings a week. A real treat for her could be catching a hot yoga class, enjoying a girls’ day at the spa, taking in a live theater performance or stealing away for a weekend trip alone with her husband. Danielle has been known to indulge in a reality show or two and should never be left alone with a spoon in the ice cream aisle of the grocery store. She is passionate about providing opportunities for young people and believes that education is the answer to everything.


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