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: .
- 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.