Replacement Child Recovery through My Nana Life

Although I could not articulate all of my feelings as I grew, I inherently felt that I had to prove myself, actually prove my existence, that I was worthy of ‘being.’  While I felt loved by both of my parents, I also sensed that I was on shaky ground with my mother, whose unresolved grief over the loss of her second child enveloped her days and as a result, my own.  I worked tirelessly trying to show my mother how special I was, that I was her daughter worthy of existence. 

Today, there is one area of my life where I have never had to work hard to prove myself for the acceptance I have always sought.  It is my role as a grandmother. Becoming a Nana has been the greatest joy in my life and has given me the ability to not only become my most authentic self, but to appreciate sweet souls completely for who they are and how I feel when I am with them.

Grandman and Childrens Hands - Photo by Luana Azevedo
Photo by Luana Azevedo

Ezzie, 7, Rose 4 ½ and Cole, 2 truly bring out the best in me, for with them, I can be completely myself. They don’t care if I am wearing old, worn jeans, day after day or if my hair is frizzy or my make-up is off. They only care about where I hide when we run into various rooms for our usual Hide and Seek; how much frosting they can lick while messily smothering it on the devil’s food cupcakes.  “Read me another book, Nana,” are joyous words for me.  I am needed, wanted and loved for myself—not for what I can do, but just because ‘I am.’

They don’t know of my past history of losing my temper with their daddies as little boys; they only care that I lovingly come when they call me. “Nana, play cars with me.  Nana, play baby dolls with me.” I get to have do-overs in my Nana life…almost as if I can erase my parenthood mistakes and start fresh with three loving souls who adore me.  They do not care that I spent my own childhood craving the love that I can so easily give them every single day.

I get to play Barbies with Rose after 41 years of being the mom to three sons.  I get to play Nintendo with Ezzie knowing I did the same with his daddy a generation ago. I get to watch Cole zoom down the slide at the neighborhood park without the pull of returning home to do my work. With my grandchildren, I’m not worried about making dinner; about the laundry; about preparing for my classes; about homework.  I am only worried that there aren’t enough hours in the day to be with them before they grow up and are out in the world.

“Nana, you are funny!” I love that I am so weird sometimes that even they shake their heads and laugh, but they do so as they run into my arms to hug me because I am non-judgmental, filled with unconditional love. I am the best version of myself, the Nana who l have always wanted to be—the little girl within, who is loved so easily for only one thing—for being me. 

My greatest gift to both my children and grandchildren is one that comes naturally to me, yet my own mother struggled with—pure, unconditional love.  I have made a conscious choice to interact with these younger generations without the darkness of the replacement child legacy that I have experienced throughout my life.  I am doing my best to make sure that none of my own fears of not being enough transfer to these sweet souls. I want them to always see themselves as enough, the way I have come to see myself after such a long journey to wholeness.


Dr. Barbara Jaffe, Ed.D., is a fellow in UCLA’s department of education and a professor at El Camino College. She is the author of When Will I Be Good Enough? A Replacement Child’s to Healing, which was published in early 2017.

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