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Autumn: A Perfect Time for Grandparenting  

by Nanci Shanderá, Ph.D.

artwork by elena powell

Autumn has begun its quiet emergence. It slows us down with its silent magic, creeping up on us on little cat feet. There’s an ineffable something about the feel of autumn. The smell of wet leaves. The barely discernible sound of birds winging on their migrations. The play of muted light through the trees.

But Autumn holds other magic as well. It plays host to the mysterious as days become shorter and nights become longer. And what an appropriate time for storytelling. There’s no one better to fill the role of Family Storyteller than a grandparent.

Whether Nana narrates as she shows photos of her life while the grandkids scrunch tightly against her to get the best view, or reads an intriguing bedtime story, or creates exciting stories from scratch, this ages-old tradition of storytelling is alive and well. Indigenous cultures through the ages have revered their tribe’s or clan’s storytellers, who served as a spiritual guide by the tales they told. Children would have been expected to learn the stories so they would know the right way to be a person of integrity and honor. These are the kinds of lessons our children cannot learn from television or computer games (just the opposite, actually!). So grandparents can fill this ancient role and help our children to develop important virtues that can serve them well.

It is a rich gift for children to spend quality time with elders. I prefer to use the word, “elders,” rather than “the elderly” because there is a whole different tone when we think of the older people in our lives as having lived a life and experienced so many rich things that can be shared. There is wisdom that grows as a result of aging. Grandparents are incredible sources of insight and inspiration. We encourage children to think outside the box. We can provide support where there may be a lack when parents are busy or unavailable. For a child to blessed with a wise, loving grandparent in her or his life, miracles can happen! Whether in a phone call, letter or email, or during a Skype session if grandparents live far away, children need to have access to their grandparents.

In many cultures, the work of healing and spiritual guidance was the job of the elders, the old wise ones who had lived long enough to share the fruits of their experience. In ancient Greece, one of the most revered and powerful goddesses was Hecate. Her role as the wise old woman included overseeing births, guiding and teaching children, being a midwife for the dying, protecting sacred sites and burial places, “seeing” or prophesying for her community as a dream interpreter, protecting earth, sky and sea, being the guardian of social outcasts and misfits, serving as initiator in the transformative mystery schools, and protecting the home. In the evening, the Greeks would put out a plate of food on the doorstep for Hecate. This practice of honoring elders by providing sustenance for them mutated into our practice of handing out or leaving candy on the porch for children at Halloween. 

Through the centuries, Hecate and most of the original, ancient, and powerful goddesses have been relegated to the realm of fantasy stories. Hecate has become a hag, a terrible witch whose sole purpose is reported to be to scare us on Halloween. This has followed us through time and influenced how we perceive and treat our wise elders.

There is so much richness, wisdom, and spiritual inspiration available within the grandmothers and grandfathers in our families. Like Hecate, they may disturb or intrigue us with the way their seasoned faces look, or how slowly they get around, or the way they represent our own eventual aging and death. For this reason, I believe, our society tends to reject elders, in how many of us forget to visit them or make extra efforts to show they still matter. How else can we receive the gifts our elders have to offer us and our children?

Our elders are indeed treasures. By sitting and talking to them about their experiences, their dreams, and their visions for the future, our children are enriched beyond measure.

In this season of giving thanks, take the time to share your gratitude for the Wise Ones in your life. Learn what you can from them so when the time comes, you will be able to move gracefully into your own elderhood.

Dr. Nanci Shanderá is a spiritual psychologist-teacher in northern California and author of Bridge to the Soul:Unconditional Self-Acceptance as a Path to Wholeness and Spiritual Awakening. Her background includes studying with Brugh Joy, M.D. for over 30 years, training seminary students as a minister of Religious Science, and teaching Mystery School courses that include dreams, transformational alchemy and art, and eldership training. Visit for more info.

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