Category Archives: Grandmothers

A perfect gift for a grandma

Isn’t it strange how you can do something for one reason and find it has another purpose altogether!

I write books on subjects that happen to capture my interest, all based around interviews. I wrote one on young people with HIV and AIDS back when there was no cure (Wise Before their Time) and one on nurses and others providing end-of-life care (Life in a Hospice). Both were very well received.

Then I became a grandmother and found that many aspects of the grandmother role were fascinating. I decided to interview nearly thirty grandmothers from many walks of life and, indeed, nationalities, and put their responses together in a book. I titled this Celebrating Grandmothers: grandmothers talk about their lives.

I thought that grandmothers would love to read – and therefore buy – it. And quite a few did – and they wrote excellent reviews about it. Here are a few examples:

“I was expecting a sentimental take on grandmothers and grandchildren, but this is a collection of very candid and honest interviews. It is sometimes sad, but also joyous and funny.”

“This is a wonderful book for grandmothers but not exclusively for them. It shows how important family bonds and the bonds between generations can be and thankfully often are. It allows us to slow down a bit and take stock of how important nurturing relationships are for ourselves, our families, and the world at large.”

“Like all good books, this one is amusing, has pathos and astonishes with the wisdom shown by the contributors…it has really made me think.”

Following its publication, I put a lot of effort into publicising the book in places where older women might learn about it. Yet there was a surprisingly small response. I had to conclude that women are reluctant purchasers of a book they expect to be of interest only to themselves.

BUT in the course of such effort, I discovered that there were eager buyers of my book, namely young parents – both men and women – looking for a present for their mother and, sometimes mother-in-law.

And then I realised that, of course, it is extremely hard to find presents for older women. We have just about everything that we need – indeed, many of us would say we have too many things.

Yet there are birthdays and Christmas. What to do? A book about being a grandmother is original. It takes little space. The cover is pretty and she is unlikely to have it. Problem solved. Bingo.

I never wrote my book to solve people’s present buying dilemmas.  But it works.  And perhaps I get read that way.  I am not complaining.

 

For more information or to buy, go to my Amazon page

Choosing a book title

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I have decided to write a few posts about preparing my book Celebrating Grandmothers. First, why the title?

The purpose of a book title

Book titles are supposed to catch the reader’s eye. But they are also supposed to give that reader the flavour of the book and a sense of what is inside. The underlying messages of this book are rich and complex – and hard to communicate in a catchy title.

The working title (what you call a book during the writing process, before you have thought of a good title) was Being a Grandmother, but that sounds exceedingly boring. Out come all the clichés – old, grey, dull! And very static.

So, what to do? Leslie Stahl, who subsequently published a not dissimilar but very successful book, called her book Becoming Grandma. That, rather cleverly, communicates a sense movement.

Communicating enthusiasm

I wanted something positive – but not too much so. Most grandmothers light up when you ask them about their grandchildren – they genuinely sparkle. How to communicate that fact without going over the top? I thought the word ‘celebrating’ would provide a sense of enthusiasm.

But not all grandmothers are happy with their lot. I also had to manage the complexity of family situations. Some grandmothers live far away from their families and ache with longing for their grandchildren. Some have difficulty keeping in touch because of unhappy family relationships. I didn’t want these to feel excluded from the book, as they are very much a part of it as well.

Ambiguity

Finally, I liked the ambiguity of the title. Is ‘celebrating’ a verb or an adjective? Is it the act of celebrating grandmothers or is it about grandmothers who are celebrating something? In fact, no one has ever asked.

Are you a grandmother? Read and find out.

 

For more information or to buy:  http://amzn.to/2ugEZ8t

What sort of grandmother are you?

People often have set ideas about what a grandmother should be like. However, grandmothers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – as well as in attitudes to that role. This became very clear to me when I wrote a book based on interviews conducted with 27 very different grandmothers.

Living Close or at a Distance

A big issue is whether you live nearby or far away. This is generally not something you have a lot of choice about, unless you decide to move to be near your children and grandchildren. Some women love the fact that their family are all within easy distance and make a real effort to see them frequently.

And some families live together in three- or even four-generation households. This can bring a great bond between grandparents and grandchildren if family relationships are good. Not all are, and such living arrangements can also exacerbate family friction.

Yet others welcome the freedom that being geographically distant provides. They are happy to see their grandchildren from time to time, but want to lead their own lives.

Indeed, one woman recently told me cheerfully that the best way to be a grandmother was to have your daughter living abroad, as were her case.

Being Very Involved in Childcare or Not

Related to physical proximity, but not the same, is the matter of how closely involved you are in your grandchildren’s care. Some grandmothers – out of choice or necessity – undertake a lot of childcare themselves.

They may have an allotted day when they take a toddler out or meet children after school. Some do much more.

Indeed, there are some grandparents who are full-time babysitters (caregivers), taking on the role of parents because the parents themselves are incapacitated for one reason or another. This can be very hard work and is yet another story.

But there are plenty of grandmothers who do not want full responsibility for grandchildren at any time. They make it clear, often from the outset, that they are not built-in babysitters and want to continue with their own work or other activities. They may help on occasion, but want to do so on their own terms.

Grandmother Roles

Another key difference between grandmothers lies in what they do with their grandchildren – and at what point in their lives. Some love to cuddle and play with small babies, but become less keen as children grow older. Some are the reverse and look forward to when they can have proper conversations with the next generation.

There is so much to be discussed, but I would just note one key role here – namely, teaching grandchildren. This may be about the little things that the parents do not have time for, such as how to knit or to cook or to know the names of plants in their garden.

Or it may be teaching deeper matters, perhaps old-fashioned values, religious beliefs or just a love of learning. Many people say that they gained such values from their own grandparents. And it can be a great pleasure to see your own views take root in the next generation.

The Impact of Grandchildren on You

I talk to a lot of grandmothers and often ask them about the relationships they have with their grandchildren. Some tell me their names and ages, but do not impart a great sense of joy. Others light up at the very mention of them. One woman who was interviewed for my book often had her grandchildren to stay and noted that when they were there “the house is smiling.”

This post was originally published by SixtyandMe (Sixtyandme.com/what-sort-of-grandmother-are-you-does-it-matter/) and should not be re-blogged

For more information or to buy, go to my Amazon page

 

Grandfathers are not what they used to be…nor are fathers!

Have you noticed that something very wonderful is happening to men? Perhaps not all men in every circumstance, but certainly with respect to children in their family. They are becoming so very much more involved. It is a joy to behold.

Young Fathers and Their Children

In our day, it was the rare father who would carry a baby around, do the school run or otherwise take a real part in day-to-day childcare. Of course, they would help out now and then by taking the children to another kid’s birthday party or reading a bedtime story. But they were not truly involved in the everyday business of childcare.

They argued that they were too busy or could not get time off work. Or, by the very old-fashioned, that most activities involving children were “women’s work.”

Nowadays, in contrast, you commonly see men on the street with a baby sling or pushing a stroller (‘pushchair’ in England) or, indeed, at the school gates. Fathers come home from work to get the children to bed. You see them at school plays. It is a very different scene.

I haven’t seen any data on the subject, so I can only speak anecdotally, but all my friends comment on it. Whether it is their son or their son-in-law, grandmothers notice how much the man plays his part. Mothers may not even be so aware of the enormous change, as they only see what is happening now – not what used to happen in our day.

Is this development because mothers are pressing harder for more paternal involvement and fathers can find fewer excuses with real bite? Or have fathers discovered that it is actually a lot of fun to engage with their children? Or perhaps a bit of both? I suspect also that the more fathers are seen to be actively involved, the more normal it becomes and the easier it is for the pattern to continue.

Grandfathers and Their Grandchildren

The same kind of thing also seems to be happening to grandfathers. As discussed in my book, Celebrating Grandmothers, they want to play on the floor with their grandchildren. They want to tell them stories and in all kinds of ways want to be much more involved in their lives. Yes, there were always some who were highly active in any case, but the tradition was that it was the grandmother – along with the mother – who did the heavy lifting.

Some are the children’s favourite. We grandmothers have to grin and bear it. When I collect my young grandson for a visit, his first question, almost invariably, is “Will Grand-Dad be at home when we get there?”

Just as some grandmothers are providing a lot of day-to-day childcare for their grandchildren, so too are grandfathers. I have a friend who takes his grandson to school every day, collects him in the afternoon and makes his dinner, as the parents tend to work long hours. And he doesn’t even live near by. It is hard work day after day, but the result is a very close relationship.

A New Generation of Modern Grandfathers

Are these grandfathers making up for lost time? Some may feel they did not give their children enough attention when they were young and this is a way of making amends. Some simply have much more time now – and the lack of driving ambition – to put their energies to these tasks. And some, like grandmothers, have found that they get a great deal of fulfilment from their role. Perhaps they like the opportunity to give an outing to their softer side.

Of course, many grandfathers have been lost along the way. Some divorced the mother of the grandchildren a long time ago and had less and less to do with the family from an early stage. Others divorced more recently, but still choose to keep out of the way. Some grandmothers engage in considerable efforts to bring the stray grandfather back into the fold. My own view is that they will find it very worthwhile.

A Gift for the Next Generation

Whatever the reasons for these developments, we should celebrate them. It suggests greater respect is being given to the important task of bringing up the next generation. And, while families undoubtedly differ hugely in these respects, the children are surely benefitting from the real involvement of more people in their lives.

This was initially published with a slightly different title by sixtyandme (http://sixtyandme.com/grandfathers-aint-what-they-used-to-be-and-thats-a-good-thing/ and should not be re-blogged

 

For more information or to buy, go to my Amazon page

Why Do Our Grandchildren Grow Up So Quickly?

We all know that our sense of time changes as we grow older – with everything speeding up at an alarming rate. One of the most notable markers of this is the age of our children – and even more so – our grandchildren.

When We Were Young

I don’t know about you, but when I was a child, time seemed to stretch on forever. If it was Christmas, summer was ages and ages away. You looked forward to being the next age up – to be seven when you were six, and so forth – but didn’t it take a long time to come!

It seemed the natural order of things that time passed slowly and one never thought to question it.

Children and Time

By the time you are in your 30s and 40s, time speeds up a bit, but not that much. Having children in the house keeps you so busy, you don’t think about time as such. Perhaps their birthday parties seem to come around more quickly than yours ever did, or you notice their friends getting taller rather quickly. But somehow there was nothing alarming about the speed of things.

Grandchildren Change So Quickly

But when it comes to grandchildren, everything speeds up so fast you begin to wonder if you have time to enjoy them. They seem to change from toddlers to teenagers in the blink of an eye.

This is particularly the case, I suspect, when you don’t see the grandchildren all that often. We all heard “My, how you’ve grown!” when we were children and thought it was a silly remark. Now, we all probably repeat it ourselves. And buying appropriate presents can be a minefield. It moves amazingly quickly from dolls to make-up, from toy trains to football gear, and for all them to small screens of every kind.

And then they learn so fast. One minute they are working out how to read and the next they are learning French or Mandarin. And they know things you don’t know. This came home to me recently when my seven-year-old grandson taught my husband how to use his iPad.

Children as Markers of Time

I have always used the age of my children as markers for particular times – we moved house when my daughter was seven, my good friend died when my son was ten. These were easier ways of remembering dates than the actual year, as the years tend to merge into one another with surprising ease.

In contrast, I find it hard to use my grandchildren’s ages as markers of time as they move so fast from one age to another.

Other People’s Surprise

And your friends are constantly surprised about ages. Is your son really 35 – it feels like only yesterday that we took him to university! Is that baby grand-daughter six years old already? Different friends are taken aback by different information, but what they have in common is surprise at the passage of time. I tend to say “Yes, they age, but we don’t. We just stay the same.”

And this is, perhaps, hardest of all – realising that we are aging, too. I still remember my own father saying he didn’t mind so much getting old, but he hated having middle-aged children. He always said I was 31, whatever age I actually was. I really understand now how he felt.

Originally published on Sixtyandme (see http://sixtyandme.com/why-do-our-grandchildren-grow-up-so-quickly/) and should not be re-blogged

Becoming Grandma can Change Your Life

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Are you a grandmother? Does that give you absolute joy or considerable worry? I write about grandmothers on Sixty and Me.  Most of these posts are about the very wonderful side of being a grandmother. But some women experience real problems, often as a result of conflicts within the family. If you find yourself in the latter situation, you are not alone. Stay with me.

The first step in becoming a grandmother is the actual birth. And what a moment that is! It means a new life for the grandchild, but also a new life for everyone around the baby. This includes its mother, father, siblings and other grandparents. And don’t forget yourself.

Becoming a grandmother will bring big changes in your day-to-day life, your ways of thinking about the future, your family relationships and your sense of yourself. This is what these posts will be about.

The birth day of your grandchild brings back strong memories

Some grandmothers find themselves right in the thick of things at the birth of a grandchild. Others live too far away or do not go for other reasons. If you were able to attend, you may notice the details and remember the experience better than the birth of your own children.

Remember all the upheaval and emotion when it was you having the baby? Even if you weren’t able to attend the birth day of your grandchild, it brings back memories of your own childbirth experiences.

Deciding to attend the birth of a grandchild is not an easy decision

You may not expect to be present at the birth of a grandchild. However, if your daughter or daughter-in-law asks you to be there for her, you will need to give it some thought. It is not a simple decision. You may be uncomfortable being around someone in pain, especially when it is your own daughter. Or you may feel that you will simply be in the way.

If you are a somewhat anxious person, you may find yourself too tense about the possibility that something could go wrong. The sound of a baby’s heartbeat over a monitor is great ­– until you think that the one you just heard might also be the last. You will worry for the baby; you will be concerned for the mother.

It is possible that your own emotions could create a problem, like the proverbial father in cartoons who inevitably faints. But being there can also be one of the most special days of your life. Your help may be vital, if only as a welcome distraction during labour.

It’s always good to attend when asked, to give help if it is needed. You will be a full part of the experience. The absolute bonus of course, is seeing the baby when a new born, in that second when you became a grandmother.

Creating an early bond with a grandchild is important 

Being at the birth can establish a very close bond with the new baby. There is something significant in those very early moments. If there are any complications, the baby may well be handed to you first thing. But in any case, you will get to hold him or her very soon. On occasion, a grandmother is invited to cut the umbilical cord. These experiences will remain with you forever, bringing a special closeness between you and the baby.

The birth of a grandchild connects you with your daughter or daughter in law

Being present at the birth may also strengthen your relationship with your daughter or daughter-in-law. A new birth changes many relationships. In the days to come, you will see a lot more of your grandchild’s mother, as you visit and help her to look after the baby.

But it can start with your being there for the birth. It is a very intimate time. You see her when she is feeling most vulnerable and she may rely on you to help her through. What a good way to deepen your relationship forever.

The moment of birth is an indescribable moment

You don’t need me to tell you that the birth of a new grandchild is one of the big moments in the life of a grandmother. Many people who work in the maternity business say they never get over the excitement of each birth. But for us normal mortals, there are only so many chances to be physically there. So if you are asked to be at the birth, think hard about it. And then, if you possibly can, go.

This was first published by sixtyandme (http://sixtyandme.com/becoming-grandma-can-change-your-life/) and should not be re-blogged

The Painful truth about unhappy grandmothers

There are many happy grandmothers about. I know; I am one of them. We play with the kids, we bore our friends by talking about how wonderful they are and we generally feel very pleased with the way grandchildren have enhanced our lives.

But what about the unhappy grandmothers? Those who cannot see their grandchildren much – or at all. Those for whom the occasional visit is a painful experience due to complex family relationships. Let us pause for a moment and think about them. Perhaps you are one of them.

Distant Grandchildren

The least complicated scenario is where the grandchildren live far away. People are so mobile nowadays, they think nothing of traversing a continent for a new or better job. This leaves a lot of bereft grandmothers. Women in California whose grandchildren are in New England, women in London whose grandchildren are in Australia – it goes on and on.

Of course, there is Skype and all the equivalent apps that allow us to see the grandchildren grow from a distance. We can talk to them on a regular basis and keep up with their new pets or toys or hair styles. As discussed in more detail by grandmothers in my book, it is never the same as actually holding them in our arms.

And then we can travel to see them or vice versa. Airports are full of eager older people, often women, clutching presents on the way out and holding back tears on the way home. It will ever be so.

Difficult Families

A more difficult case is where families are in a state of conflict for immediate or past wrongs and the grandmothers are not welcomed. Sometimes, they can visit but only occasionally or under very specific conditions. Sometimes they are refused access completely, such as when there has been an acrimonious separation or divorce.

It may also be the case that you can visit, but it is painful to do so because your son or daughter’s marital relationship is so difficult that being around them is highly unpleasant. You want to go, but you don’t enjoy the time there due to bickering or uneasy silences. How can you enjoy the grandchildren in such circumstances?

Overworked Grandmothers

There is yet another scenario where grandmothers have taken on a great deal of childcare and find it difficult to manage. With too much access, rather than too little, this is a different situation altogether and requires a post all of its own.

Ways Forward

I wish I could offer easy solutions. I wish I could make relationships easier, whether people live close or far. All I can say here is that, whatever the difficulties of your circumstances, you are not alone. There are many others living with similar pain and some organisations committed to helping you. It is well worth checking what is available near where you live.

This was first published by sixtyandme (http://sixtyandme.com/the-painful-truth-about-unhappy-grandmothers/ and should not be re-blogged

My granny likes to stand on her head

My older grandson went into his nursery school some time ago and told the teacher “My granny likes to stand on her head”. And he was right.  Despite being in my mid-70s, I do like to stand on my head, having practised Iyengar yoga for over twenty years. I never heard what her response was, but I liked the sentence.

 The image of grandmothers

It made me think about the images that come to mind when we hear the word “grandmother”.  I suspect that many people, including myself, have two very contradictory ones.

On the one hand, we immediately think of our own grandmothers. From our childish point of view, they were old, wrinkled, wore sensible shoes and certainly didn’t get up to much. Something like the picture of Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother, who was additionally portrayed as very round and sweet.

And then we look at ourselves and our friends and the image changes completely.  We don’t feel or look nearly as old as our grandmothers seemed. We are active, we’re often still in work and some of us can stand on our heads. (I am not alone – a number of the women in my yoga class are grandmothers.)  Or perhaps we do other things – sports, dancing, travel. We are busy and we feel vibrant and young.

What is going on?

It may well be, as many people believe, that things have genuinely changed. They say that sixty is the new forty and we can be just as active as we were some decades ago. We look around at ourselves and see enthusiastic, engaged women, not remotely like that picture in our heads of our own grandmothers.

But it is also possible that our own grandmothers were not as un-engaged as we thought. Perhaps in their own way, and suitable to their own times, they were more active than we ever imagined. Undoubtedly, some were very conventional, but others were busy with politics or local organisations or even – for all we know – dancing!

First published by GRAND Magazine.

What it means to say “I am not a grandmother”

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We do not usually identify ourselves by what we are not. We do not say I am not blonde or not good at knitting or I do not come from a large family. Nor do other people think about these things when they think of us.

Not Being a Mother

But there is one aspect of our lives where what we are not does arise from time to time – our involvement with children.

Younger women experience this when they are asked if they are a mother and must reply “No, I never had children.” It starts a lot of conversations, many of which will be unwanted.

 Not Being a Grandmother

And then it crops up again amongst many in the Sixty and Me community – “No,” you must say, “No, I am not a grandmother.” I know well that it can cause a lot of pain. Indeed, some of you have called attention to this problem directly in comments on these posts.

Perhaps you always loved children and love being surrounded by them. Your friends are excited by the births of their grandchildren and various milestones (first birthday, first day of school) and you cannot share your experience with them.

You long to hold a new baby or talk to young children again. You want to buy those gorgeous baby clothes or fun toys for children. You may do so for a niece or nephew, but it is not the same. Some of you know that you will never do so. It can be very painful.

Are Your Children OK?

You may worry for your son or daughter. Is a lack of children the sign of an unhappy relationship or no relationship at all? If they are postponing the decision, will they end up disappointed? We all want what’s best for our children and it is hard to leave the joys of parenting out of the equation.

There are, of course, many reasons not to be a grandmother. You may never have had children yourself, whether by choice or bad luck. You may have had a child who died, making the lack of future generations particularly poignant.

Some adult children have not yet found the right partner. Or your children might be married or in a relationship but are experiencing serious illness or other problems. Couples will delay having a baby for all sorts of financial and career reasons. And some may be gay and not wish to expand into a family.

Some of these circumstances may be temporary and the hope of becoming a grandmother one day is not unreasonable. Children who have no close partner may suddenly find one. The carefully planned delay to parenthood may come to an end with a series of healthy babies. Gay couples increasingly choose to have children by one means or another.

Looking at the Longer Term

And yet, there are some of you who know you will never be a grandmother. Or the chances are becoming increasingly slight. You may not be bothered, but if you are, you are not alone.

And what can you do? You can, of course, get involved in the lives of other children, perhaps those of your siblings or friends. Many do so with such enthusiasm that they gain many of the benefits of being a grandmother directly.

Or you can consider the possibility of becoming a surrogate grandmother to someone living nearby. There are many organisations devoted to making this an easy choice. This helps young mothers with no one to help in a grandmotherly capacity and much fulfilment to the woman acting in this role. Do give it some thought.

This post was originally published by Sixty and Me: http://sixtyandme.com/what-it-means-to-say-i-am-not-a-grandmother/ and should not be re-blogged

Sharing photos as a new grandma

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So, you have become a grandmother! It is a time of excitement, love and warmth – and you are eager to share this with your friends. What better way than via pictures of the new baby? It is so easy these days with mobile phones. You can show photos from day one. What a pleasure for everyone.

The Response

Well, I must admit to a failing here. I do not naturally cluck over newborn baby photos. A real live baby – yes, every time. You can hold them, cuddle them, smell them. But pictures just don’t do it for me. In fact, it is often hard to see anything aside from a tiny face, eyes closed, hardly visible underneath blankets and enfolding arms.

I have spoken to friends and I know at least some of them are like me when put in this position. We know exactly what we are supposed to do, but find it very hard to do. I usually manage a “lovely” or “how wonderful,” but it doesn’t come out with natural grace.

It gets easier as babies gain a few months, because then you can comment on who he or she looks like. “Oh, she’s got her father’s eyes,” can be a genuine response. And you can talk a bit about what the baby is doing, how much sleep the mother is getting and how often the grandmother sees them. The older, the better.

To Show or Not to Show

Do you show everyone pictures of your grandchildren? I spoke to a lot of women when preparing my book, Celebrating Grandmothers, and they had varying views on this issue. Many loved to show such photos and admitted they were very quick to do so.

But a few were more reticent, noting that while they knew their friends were very happy for them, they might be quickly bored by photos. Moreover, if anyone was around who was not yet a grandmother, or might never become one, it could be insensitive. Some simply felt that their love for their grandchildren was a private matter.

What Is Going On?

I have been pondering how there can be such a disparity in the feelings of those showing pictures and those looking at them, or, at least, some of us. What is going on?

It is obvious once you think about it. Women showing their grandchild’s picture – even the little face hidden in a blanket – imbue the photo with all the love that they feel. They don’t see a hardly visible baby – they see the baby they have held and felt so much love for.

The onlooker, in contrast, cannot easily share this, however happy they are for the grandmother herself. They know what their friend is feeling, but cannot conjure up the same senses from a photo.

Indeed, one can go further. The same problem can arise with pictures of any new love in a friend’s life, for instance a man they have recently met. You can wish them well, but you cannot call up all that emotion in the same way.

This post was originally published by Sixty and Me (http://sixtyandme.com/the-art-of-taking-and-sharing-photos-as-a-new-grandma/) and should not be re-blogged