Throughout her life, Shirley Showalter has loved being a teacher, a professor, a college president, a wife, a mother and an author.
The role she might love the very best, though, is being a grandmother.
Showalter, of Lititz, has three grandchildren: Owen, Julia and Lydia, ages 5 through 11. Showalter cherishes frequent visits and sleepovers with her youngest granddaughter, who lives nearby in Lititz. The two enjoy tea parties, book reading, playing outdoors, artwork, baking treats and pretend games.
“We have a wonderful bond and being a grandmother is the greatest experience of my life,” says Showalter, 73.
As it happens, she has many friends all over the country who share her passion for being Grandma, Granny, Grammy, Nanna, Mimi, Gaga, Oma, Grams, Abuela or Nan to their grandchildren. Then there are all the Grandpas, Grandads, Pop-Pops and Gramps.
With 12 grandchildren between them, she and a dear friend in California decided to write a book that would offer guideposts to one of the most precious relationships in life. The result is “The Mindful Grandparent: The Art of Loving Your Children’s Children” by Marilyn McEntyre and Showalter. The book was published by Broadleaf Books, Minneapolis, Minnesota.
To introduce the book to the Lititz area, Showalter will host a book launch for “The Mindful Grandparent” 7 p.m. Tuesday at Lititz Church of the Brethren Family Life Center. Brian Black, of North Group Consultants, will be the host for the evening and books will be sold by Aaron’s Books, with Showalter signing them.
“My youngest granddaughter Lydia will be there too, as the ‘candy bearer,’ handing out candies the way my Grandpa Hershey did every Sunday morning after church,” Showalter says.
The free presentation will touch on her own experiences as a grandmother, as she speaks on why she and McEntyre decided to write the book. Showalter will read a few passages from it and take questions from the audience. It’s open to all grandparents and anyone who wants to explore the art of grandparenting.
“Many grandparents want to know how to cultivate strong, meaningful relationships with the grandchildren we adore. It’s not easy nowadays, and each relationship is different. But the book touches on topics like cultivating curiosity, giving meaningful gifts and honoring their adult children’s boundaries,” Showalter says.
To co-author their book on grandparenting, McEntyre and Showalter wrote 52 chapters in all, with each taking on about half of them. They began with an outline and adjusted it as needed. Then they consulted online and by phone as they fine-tuned the book. The chapters include Showalter’s “What to Expect When They are Expecting,” “Stuff Better than Toys,” and “Will You be my Valentine?” McEntyre’s chapters include “Fruits and Nuts and All Things Fresh” and “What Good Grandparents Do.” Each chapter has suggestions for grandparents.
They worked on “The Mindful Grandparent” during the pandemic. They helped to edit each other’s writing. Sometimes a new topic sprang to life and they could decide who would write that.
“It was a great way to work together, yet independently,” Showalter says. “It has been a wonderful collaboration.”
Showalter describes grandparenting as a dance among three generations, each with their own needs. An excerpt from her latest book encapsulates this: “Come in close, step back and let others in, wait for invitation, honor their intimate space, speak when they ask or when the Spirit guides you, learn to hold your peace.”
For Showalter, it was her second book. Her first was “Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World,” which was published in 2013 with Herald Press. Showalter grew up on a historic dairy farm a mile north of Lititz on Newport Road. That farm had once been visited by Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, who preached in the house in 1742, back when it was Jacob Hoober’s tavern.
“My parents lived on the family farm when I was born. Then we moved to another farm on Lititz Road. I attended Fairland Elementary school and Manheim Central Junior High. We moved back to the home place near Lititz in 1960 and I graduated from Warwick High School in 1966,” says Showalter, adding that she and her husband Stuart Showalter returned to Lititz last year after living in Harrisonburg, Virginia, near her husband’s childhood home in the Shenandoah Valley.
Life has been circular for Showalter, who left Lititz In 1966 when she enrolled at Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg. It was there that she met and married Stuart, taught high school English, and then headed to Austin, Texas, for graduate school. Next, she was a professor at Goshen College in Indiana for 21 years, and served as the school’s president for eight years. From there, it was on to Kalamazoo, Michigan, where she became vice president of programs for The Fetzer Institute, a private foundation.
Through all of those experiences in life, Showalter loves nothing better than sipping tea with her youngest granddaughter or FaceTiming with her older grandchildren. Even for those who live farther away, they have a bond made through frequent texts, sharing photographs and drawing.
“I see my role as a grandparent as helping my grandchildren live with intention and attentiveness to others, and to help them navigate this complicated world,” Showalter says. “Most of all, I want to love them because no one can ever have too many people who love them.”