There are several countries where grandparents are known by these titles (although our South African folk do spell the words just a little differently. I was once in a shop and heard a young child call out, “Oma…!” When I talked to the grandparents I discovered they were Indonesians. Many years ago I had some Aussie friends who liked the ring of those titles rather than Gran and Pop so they got their grandchildren to call them Opa and Oma.
Well, this blog is not to promote the use of these titles; it’s for quite a different reason. Last week someone suggested to me that in our church children should be encouraged to adopt an Opa or Oma. The reason why he suggested such a program of grandparent adoption was because we have quite a number of seniors in our church and several of them do not have grandchildren living in close proximity. We also have many ankle-biters who do not have grandparents living in close proximity.
When he suggested that, some memories came flooding back. I grew up in a migrant community where only young families came across to the other side of the world. But there were exceptions. My own grandfather had lost his wife before I was born and all of his four sons had migrated. My bachelor uncle went back to the Netherlands because he didn’t like the thought of his father getting elderly there by himself. But my uncle couldn’t handle life back there so he convinced my grandfather to come back to Australia with him. There was one other family in our church in Dandenong in Victoria that had a similar story. So in a rather large congregation we had just these two grandparents – and there was a sense in which they were everyone’s Opa and Oma.
The other memory was of our time at the Reformed Theological College in Geelong. We arrived there with two pre-schoolers. On either side of us lived a senior lady – and we were several hours drive away from the grandparents of our children. On one side of us was a lady whose family had grown up and moved away. Then her husband had died and she was left without any other family in Geelong. Our second daughter took a liking to Mrs Downey and she often climbed the fence to spend time with her adopted Oma. On the other side of us was an older lady who had never married. She had cared for her invalid mother but the mother had gone into a nursing home about the time we arrived. Our eldest daughter adopted Miss Francis and many years after leaving there and growing up she still had contact with her.
I know that these days with Skype the distance between grandparents and their grandchildren is not quite the problem that it was a generation ago but I do think there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
One of these days I should ask my two older daughters to reflect on what their “adopted Omas” meant to them. Here I can only speak for myself. I had a special relationship with my grandfather because for many years we shared a bedroom. There were not only the many conversations over the years but there was also the role-modelling. His evening routine of Bible reading and prayer encouraged me to do the same. I’d also like to think that my interaction and close association with my grandfather gave me an appreciation early in life for elderly folk – something that stood me in good stead when I became a pastor.
So, what about it folks? How about some of those who are grandparents but who don’t have grandchildren nearby adopting a grandchild (or two)? And parents, why not take the initiative and approach someone to be an acting grandparent for your child?