The non-Grandmother

What kind of grandparent are you? Alternatively, what kind of grandparent do you picture yourself being in the future? We have all read of the different styles of parenting. Like the bowls of porridge that Goldilocks tasted, we are told that authoritarian parents are too rigid, permissive parents aren’t rigid enough and authoritative parents are just right. But what about grandparents? Those categories aren’t necessarily relevant.

I ask this question because over the past few years I have noticed that many of the grand-parenting experiences of my friends and relatives are completely different from what we saw growing up.

Here are the three kinds of grandmothers that I see: .

  1. The grandmother who is in the role of mother
    2. The non-grandmother
    3. The more-or-less traditional grandmother

The saddest type of grandmother-mother is the result of tragedy. The parents are no longer alive, or they are ill or missing in action. The grandmother steps in and for all intents and purposes replaces the mother 24/7.

The type of grandmother-mother that I see more commonly, however, is not the result of tragic circumstances but of choice. I am seeing women in their fifties and sixties retiring from their jobs in order to take care of their grandchildren so that their own daughters can focus on their careers.

Some of these women were stay-at-home moms themselves. They are now putting ‘all-those-things-I’m-going-to-do-once-the-kids-are-grown’ on the shelf and instead they’re digging out Candyland® and Play-doh® once again.

In most instances I’ve observed, the daughters are professionals. After years of training, they earn good salaries but their jobs also demand long hours of work and their student debt is often staggeringly high. Even if they are married to hard-working and productive husbands, making a decision to stay at home now would precipitate an economic crisis. Did the daughters say, “I’ve signed baby up at a wonderful daycare,” and their mothers responded by insisting that they would take care of everything? Did the daughters plead with their mothers, eventually wearing them down? Was the decision somewhere in between? I don’t know.  However, providing the bulk of childcare for a toddler or school-age child is a big responsibility. The treats and surprises that grandmothers love to deliver must fall into second place behind those parenting realities such as nutrition, manners and discipline.

I am also seeing more and more peers falling into the non-grandmother group. They raised their daughters to be career-minded women. They gave their girls pep talks on how they could be anything they wanted to be and encouraged them to set their sights high. They urged their girls to establish themselves in a profession and enjoy a variety of experiences before “settling down.”  What the mothers didn’t realize is that they failed to impart to their daughters the wonder and fulfillment that can come from being a wife and mother.

Some of these mothers themselves didn’t start their families until they were in their late thirties. If they had one or at the most two children at that point and their daughters behave similarly, simple mathematics decrees that the years available for grandmother-hood are limited. They are hurting now, but it’s as if they never looked down the road to see the path that they were constructing.

I do see this phenomenon much more among my less-religious friends than among those who are traditionally connected with their faith. Whether Jewish, Catholic, or Christian, those of us “mature” ladies who went against the cultural messages beamed out since the Sixties often had had more children than the 2.1 fertility replacement rate. We also saw raising these children as our main profession (even if we worked outside the home) and the major source of blessing in our lives. With God’s grace, many of us successfully transmitted that message to our own daughters and we gratefully reap the rewards.

This means that we fall into category number three. While our lives obviously don’t mimic that of our grandmothers, in many cases, as it relates to our grandchildren, they aren’t that far off either. One of my young granddaughters said this to her mother regarding a standard Grandma Camp lunch offering: “You’re so lucky. You could have a chocolate spread/marshmallow fluff sandwich for lunch whenever you wanted!” She did not understand why her mother burst out in hysterical laughter. But then, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that when my mother and her four siblings were growing up in a small apartment in the aftermath of the Depression, there wasn’t an entire drawer filled with comic books as my cousins and I enjoyed at our grandparents’ home.

There are so many by-products of the belittling of marriage, motherhood, and large families that emerged in the past few decades. Among them is that, at the same time as people are often staying vibrant and healthy to an older age, they are missing out on one of the greatest gifts of those advancing years.

18 thoughts on “The non-Grandmother”

  1. Stefanie McMillian

    My grew up with my grandparents for the first year of my life. My grandpa had 17 siblings, my grandparents had 7 children. My mom had 4 children and I remember that she got harassed in Germany walking with all of us on the sidewalk. I have four daughters all grown and one grandson. I love big families and remember fun times but also the hard times my grandparents had to indure during the Second World War. My mom taught me to cherish family because friends may come and go but family is forever. My grandson is a baby still and unfortunately he lives with his mom far away and I get to see both not as often as I would like to. But I hope that with modern technology I’ll be able to FaceTime with him when he gets older. I am proud of my daughter raising him while she works from home (something I did too when she was little) and studying online. She is reading the Bible I got my daughter for him at the baby shower and I hear that he loves the Bible characters because he already tries to turn the pages to hear more.

    1. I’m sure that you will forge a close connection with your grandson, Stefanie, since you and your daughter recognize how important it is. Modern technology is an amazing help in this.

  2. I admire large families today, especially those parents that are working to provide for their large brood. My grandmother had eleven children and my mother had five. Unfortunately I was not able but I have five step kids an 13 step grandchildren. I am fortunate to have them in my life and am the ‘cool’ grandma.

    I try to make their visits enjoyable and a learning experience for adventures on the farm. They would rather come here than go to Disneyland! I think that is the highest of compliments.

  3. Susan,
    I love your posts! Please keep it up! We all have a different path, don’t we?
    I love being grandma; but some circumstances make it difficult, one due to distance across the country; the other, a DIL that will not allow us time with their 2 sweet kids; this is hard, but we continue to reach out and also to pray for a change of heart; we are blessed to be involved with our daughter’s children, only 80 miles away! 🙂
    We have 6 grands, each sweet and unique in their own way: 16 yr old, 13 yr old, 2-8 yr olds, 4 yr old and 1 yr. old; we pray for them daily!

  4. I’m a mother with three young adults: 31 (married without children), 23, and 22; my younger two and I are currently building a company that we own together. The eldest does not share details about herself or her husband and, though we’ve been in touch with her, we do regret sending her to public schools (she spent a lot of time outside of my care). However, I’d been a stay-at-home mother throughout their childhoods. It was evident from our failure that the public school became her parent.

    My two siblings and I, were those children deprived of married parents; they’d divorced when I was two and then my mother learned she was pregnant with my brother. We had different circumstances growing up as a result. My mother’s parents took care of my sister and me, and our father raised my brother on his own. He would visit us often, however. Later, my maternal grandparents became my legal guardians.

    My grandfather was a no-nonsense, tough love man and my grandmother was more lenient, but we established a good relationship. We had some ups-and-downs. The good part about the circumstances of my own family life are summed up this way: my grandmother was such a good communicator that she wrote to everyone in the family, including my father’s Jewish mother whom I took care of at age fifteen because she broke both of her hips; she was completely bed-ridden and told me that I should become a nurse. I also enjoyed visits with my grandparents’ mothers who were alive. My grandfather’s mother passed away when I was six and I still recall elaborate details from her funeral; my grandmother’s mother passed away when my eldest daughter was three. I was also close to my grandmother’s two sisters and her two brothers. I knew a lot of relatives and their families, including my grandfather’s two sisters. I was also close to my mother’s siblings, but my mother and aunt were somewhat distant from their sister and brother (and their families) for many years even though I knew them well.

    In conclusion, there were a number of my family members who had no faith, especially my mother; and others did incorporate it into their lives. This makes a huge difference in the approach we take with family and extended family.

    To illustrate this point, my age 23 daughter and I went to a distant cousin’s (on my husband’s side of the family) baby shower last week and their was a woman there who called another female (looking mannish) her wife. Instead of referring to her as “Alex” which was the lady’s (“wife’s”) name, she kept saying my wife can do this or do that. It was awkward for us to hear this obvious emphasis put on a “Lesbian” relationship and we felt sad for these ladies’ lives.

    1. LJ, the extended family relationships you are highlighting are fewer and fewer. They add so much to a child’s (and adult’s) life. I’m glad you had grandparents to step in when you needed them.

  5. I may be wrong here but it seems to me that it’s easier to be a grandmother to your daughter’s children than to your son’s. I have only two sons and their wives had their own way of doing things and only allowed me to participate to a certain degree. They were (low key) threatened by my closeness to my sons and when my sons told them stories of how I raised them they seemed to hear “my mom was a better mom than you are”. I never felt like I could give advice and it broke my heart as I believed that my grandchildren were raised with a coldness that was foreign to me. There were no family diners except on holidays, no bedtime stories or bed tuck- ins and the tv and computers were the babysitters. I always continued to be the warm, hands on grandmother but I always felt I was walking on egg shells. I’m glad my grandchildren are grown now and we are very close. I often think I could have been a bigger part of their childhood if they had been raised by my daughters rather than my daughters in law. I would be interested to hear from someone who has both to get their take on this delicate matter.

    1. Lisa, I’m new at having a daughter-in-law. She is wonderful and I hope that I will be close to children she and my son have, please God when they come, but I can see that it is different relationship that needs to grow. On the other hand, there isn’t the baggage the can come with our own children! We have one son and six girls, so my experience is lopsided. Even with my daughters who do have children, due to geography, ages and also personalities – both of daughters and the children themselves- I am closer to some grandchildren than to others.
      As you see, relationships can be established with grown grandchildren and somehow they know that you loved them all along. It would be fun to hear from others.

      1. A mother of sons here, and in the grandmother/mother role. I am one of two “granny-nannies” for my grandchildren. This was not my plan for my grand parenting role, but it makes up the favorite part of my days. I am blessed with a daughter-in-law who is open to my input on the kids’ upbringing, but I am also respectful of her role and responsibility as their mother. I do try not to give advise that is not asked for (no easy task). All in all, I see my role as support for my son and his wife to be the absolute best parents they can be.

  6. Sadly, Roles 1 & 2 are dictated by the parents. The Grandparent has no say in the matter. You dare not “Rock the Boat”.

    1. Melanie, the women I know who are watching their grandchildren agreed to do so willingly and happily. It may not have been their original plan but they are focusing on the positive. They have a good and honest relationship with their daughters. Sadly, like in all personal interactions, sometimes things don’t go smoothly. I’m sorry if that has been your experience.

  7. I am about to be a great grandmother, and grandmothers and grand-mothering is one of God’s greatest gifts to women. I was lucky to have two exceptional women for my grandmothers. They loved me and I loved them. they taught me, comforted me, encouraged me and set examples of how Godly women should live, and what a woman could do. They told stories, sang songs, and told tales of their own childhood, adolescence. They were poor in worldly goods, but rich in so many things – beautiful flower & vegetable gardens, inspired cooking, sewing clothes for the entire famiy, and singing and dancing I never heard either of them complain about their circumstances – they just made do with what they had. They lived in the country and taught me to appreciate God’s creation. I wish everyone could be so blessed.

  8. We never had the “traditional” grandma when I was growing up… one was lovable, but a drinker who struggled to relate to us kids so she taught us to drink hot tea properly and play Scrabble… the other was an immigrant who was a chronic complainer, made us eat spicy food which we didn’t care for and constantly hounded us to sit still… meanwhile she raised poodles and traveled. How I longed for the sweet lady that would make us a pie, and pat us on the head and tell us they loved us… However, having said that… though I only saw them about once every 3 to 5 years, I loved them both…

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