09/09/2012 10:53 am ET Updated Nov 08, 2012

Celebrating Grandparents: Relaxed, Playful, Expansive Love

(Huff/Post50 is celebrating Grandparents Day, September 9, with a series of special stories and essays. Jean Reagan is the author of "How to Babysit a Grandpa.")

Celebrate Grandparents Day by sharing a book with a child. Or a stack of books!

What's so grand about grandparents, anyway?

Grandparents as pinch-hitters often offer the grandchild a fresh, more relaxed love than most parents can manage 24/7. The challenge of parenting a child while juggling work, community, partners and perhaps school can be overwhelming. But grandparenting is parenting with a "do-over" option. Grandparents usually have full adult lives behind them. Grandparents know it doesn't pay to sweat the small stuff, so their love can be easy-going.

Grandparents enjoy a more peaceful stage of life, allowing them the time and energy to be more playful with their grandkids. Authority and power between the child and grandparent is less defined, less one-sided, creating a more equal, playful relationship. Grandkids help the grandparents recapture their younger years, both the delights of childhood and the wonder of becoming a parent.

Grandparents are often the first window that expands a child's vision beyond the immediate nuclear family. Grandparents create an organic connection to the past which may offer the traditions of a rural life or a different culture or just an earlier time. Through family stories, children savor and preserve these roots. And through family stories, children can even imagine their own parents as children. That's mind expanding, for sure.

Grand folks, of course, need not be blood relatives to serve as grandparents. Growing up in Japan, I saw my grandparents only every five years; yet I had a slew of neighborhood grandparents we all called "Obaachan" (Grandma) and "Ojiichan" (Grandpa). Children thrive from the love and attention of a multitude of stand-in grandparents. Joyfully for us, this love and attention is reciprocated.

What's so grand about grandparents? They expand the grandchild's world of love and belonging. In return, the grandparent is reintroduced to the wonder of childhood and the rewards of parenting.

My dad was definitely one of the inspirations for this book. Watching my dad play with my kids gave me lots of ideas, but I also asked other kids, grandkids, grandparents and parents, "What do you enjoy doing with your grandpa?" This "research" created a long, long list. Of course, there wasn't room for everything, so I chose my favorites and wrote "How To Babysit A Grandpa" (Alfred A. Knopf) around these activities.

Each summer I volunteer as a wilderness ranger on a lake in the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. I welcome back families who stay at the same campsites year after year. Campers who brought their children now bring their grandchildren. I've even heard stories of long-ago grandparents who honeymooned in the park in the 1920s. As I canoe by the lakeshore campsites, I watch grandparents envelope kids with relaxed, playful, expansive love, and I witness that love radiated back. That is what's so grand about grandparents.

When you grab that stack of books to share with a child, you may want to try some of my favorite grandparent books -- classics and newbies, but all beautifully illustrated. And remember: don't let a narrow definition of grandparent slow you down. As a non-grandparent myself, I don't!

Books For Grandparents