Tuesday, March 14, 2017

How to Grandma -- You Do You. . .

Little Girl's Mama and Papa (that's what she's always called them, my DIL's heritage being Italian, although the world around LG has her saying Mommy and Daddy more and more often) got home safely yesterday after some twelve hours in the air, and after a much less arduous journey, we're back in our own digs as well. I'd intended to get to yoga class this morning, but I've decided that sitting still might be just as good for body and soul (especially since I have a physio appointment this afternoon so the sitting time is limited). Our Rome crew arrive next week, for a month-long stay, and even before that, most days on the calendar seem to have something happening. I've got to get much better about finding and guarding the quiet corners for myself....

As soon as I finish writing this, I'm heading back to last post to respond to comments there, but there's something I want to say here first, knowing not everyone reads all the comments. It seems important to counter any representation I might be making that giving over so much time and energy to helping out with grandchildren is either a) Something all grandparents love to do and can do easily; or b) Something all grandparents should do. 

I'm going to follow up with this, probably via your guidance, your comments, over the next little while, because I suspect that when I post cheerful chatter about the many hours we spend with our youngest generation, it has the potential to stir up anxieties, resentments, guilt, sadness, just as so many of those other representations women have struggled over. Combine those gendered domestic expectations or projections with all the ageist assumptions we encounter at this stage of our lives -- and put those together with the inevitable family politics that trouble us as our children become parents, our lives become complicated wonderfully with their spouses and their in-laws and the different ways they want to raise our grandkids....Combine all of that and there's some explosive potential.

It's a minefield, in other words, and I've heard from friends whose adult children are openly resentful of their mothers (and yes, primarily it's Mom who gets resented -- and in my experience and from what I hear from others, Dad who's most likely to get lauded when he does help out. Which, in our case, is very often) if Mom Senior has work commitments that preclude her baby-sitting for that dentist appointment next week or if she's simply not sure she can manage a Three-Year-Old on her own so that the younger parents can finally get away for a weekend. One couple I heard of recently turned down a great last-career-step opportunity for one spouse because they were sure their son would resent them moving to another city for two years while the grandchildren were so young -- despite the couple's plan (and financial ability) to travel back regularly to see the little ones.

Right now, our kids are very respectful of our time, and they're always very clear that they're asking for a big favour and that there's room to say "Sorry, not this time," with no hard feelings. And right now, we're very fortunate that we're quite fit for our age, and that both of us enjoy spending time with the youngsters -- if I had to do all the b-sitting on my own, I'd be far less enthusiastic and far more tired. Because we were young when we started our family, we're relatively young grandparents (although none of ours were younger than 30 when they had children, so we didn't earn our new names until our mid/late-50s), and there's no question that's a factor in our willingness and ability to spend time with the grandkids. So far, time spent with them feels like a choice, not an obligation, but I wonder how I'd react should that change, if we started to feel a frostiness if we said "No" too often. 

And, of course, something else that my cheerful chatter about my grandkids reinforces is that grandparental relationships are happy ones when we all know that the generations can bump up against one another in much less enjoyable ways. We've had tiny tastes of that, occasionally, in our family through the years (back through earlier generations, but also, if I'm honest, since we became Nana and Granddad). It's always been my hope, writing here on this blog, that I can add one more honest representation of what it is to be Woman, Now, Here. But I never want that representation -- as honest as I can, and am willing to, make it -- to obscure other women's realities. 

So let's keep the discussion open, the conversation going, and know that I never intend to suggest that there's any way "to grandma" correctly. Diversity is Us, right?

And beyond the whole question of how "to grandma" correctly -- I hope that those of you who are not grandmas yet, and those of you who never will be, can tolerate these posts about something that's a very important part of my life without feeling any suggestion that Women Our Age should be grandmas. 'cause I don't think that at all!

Now I'm going back to respond to comments from last post -- and meanwhile, you can be commenting on this one. I'm just hoping it's coherent after my Toddler-Chasing Week. . . .




23 comments:

  1. Such a great and sensitive post. I enjoy all your grandparenting posts. I have one grandson (8 years old) and another daughter who is newly pregnant. I envy your having several grands but that doesn't take away from enjoying your posts about b-sitting. I can appreciate your concern about making some readers less comfortable with such posts but it is great that you are sensitive to the feelings of others. Just acknowledging that possibility is generous. Thank you for being so compassionate.

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    1. very kind words, slf, thank you. Exciting for you to have another little one on the way!

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  2. One thing I'm looking forward to when I retire (end of May!) is being available on short notice to help my adult offspring with crises like a sick child when things at work must go on. I would have LOVED to have had that backup when we had young children, but as academics, always lived far from our parents. I admire your ability to keep up with a two year old for a WEEK! I usually go to bed shortly after the grandchildren when they're visiting!

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    1. We are enjoying being able to do this, Tricia -- like you, we didn't have that possibility for short-notice care when ours were small. Of course, it can be a mixed blessing, and we do sometimes let the kids' needs interfere a bit with our own plans, but overall, it's good. I'll be following your retirement with interest as you blog about it.

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  3. Your grandparent posts fill me with longing, but that's my issue, not yours.

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    1. Mind you, you have a very cute young nephew, don't you!

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  4. Hi Frances, I hope I won't be a grandmother for quite some time yet, our boys being nowhere near ready or, indeed, able (finances, etc.). However, as I've said many times, I've always enjoyed reading your blog as you are a few years older than me; it has been interesting to read about you moving through your fifties and beyond and to ponder dealing with all those changes myself. All this to say, I enjoy reading about your nana exploits. My husband and I never had any family help at all while our kids were growing up - my mum was the only living grandparent, she was in Scotland and she just did not travel (or Skype etc.), so, sadly, the boys did not have a relationship with her. I would love for us to help out our boys' future families by babysitting etc. - it looks like such fun! (I appreciate how tiring it can be too, but at least you get to hand them back!)

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    1. Yes, there's that in-between stage where you cross your fingers that you won't become a grandparent! ;-)
      And yes, some days handing them back feels rather good....

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  5. Not a grandmother yet - wonder if I ever will be? - but cannot imagine not doing my bit if possible. Like Patricia, I lived some distance from my family and my husband's family, though they were nearer, and I also lived hundreds of miles from friends so I got used to doing the stuff by myself. My in-laws used to take both children for a week in the summer when they were 5+ and that was fabulous - something for which I am still very grateful as the kids have excellent things to look back on. This I find quite poignant now that my relationship with my mother-in-law is not as easy but old age, depression and widowhood are taking their toll. I certainly don't think you need to explain your grandparenting to anybody - I imagine you find your own style, just as you did when you started out as a parent. I think you are incredibly fortunate and hope that you carry on feeling loved and loving.

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    1. It's not so much that I feel I have to explain my grandparenting to anybody. It's just that I want to leave room for those who might be able to imagine themselves "not doing [their] bit if possible." Because I'm guessing that some of those people already feel guilty enough about that, and there are all kinds of family situations I can't know or understand and some women might finally be getting their first chance at trying something of their very own..... And weren't we lucky to have some support when ours were small, and to have adult children whose company we enjoy -- incredibly fortunate indeed! ;-)

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  6. This really was very sensitive post
    I'm not a grandmother yet,my son was born when I was 33 years old,but I like your posts about family and grandchildren,as well as about books,travel or your academic life.
    First-I communicate and have friends in all age groups (younger,older,peers...) and there is always something interesting for me
    Second,sincerely,if I were not interested in babysitting stories,I would simply skip the post.
    Or(comparing with something else)if your running stories would make me sad (but I like them too :-))....
    Being a grandmother is only one part of your life and it is lovely to share your joy with us
    We have strong family bonds here (too strong sometimes :-)) and family babysitting is very common -it is a great help and (usually) great joy for all parts included
    Dottoressa

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    1. Isn't it wonderful to have friends across all age groups?
      I know those family bonds can be too strong as you say, but what a help they can be as well. Our cultures have lost something, as we've gained, with greater mobility and so many more options to move around. . .

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  7. Agreeing with other commenters so far, Frances - a sensitive and interesting post. I'm not nearly at grandmother stage, I hope! Tho I've taken early retirement at 57 to make a career change, my children are at the stage of having just graduated/finding exactly what it is they want to do in life. My husband and I had the grand total of one overnight's worth of grandparental help during all our child-raising years. My mother died when my first child was 15 months old, my father wouldn't have been able to cope with childcare on his own and besides lived in the north of Scotland, my parents in law were only 1.5 hours away but were not very young child friendly. So every last minute of care apart from that one night we either delivered ourselves or paid someone else to deliver. And we both worked full-time. I hope you'll take it in the right spirit when I say that working on the management side of a university I was always very envious of my academic counterparts who could arrange lectures around childcare, or do the 'researching at home' thing for whole afternoons or days - and weeks at a time in the school holidays. Not us - we were welded to our desks 9-5 all year round and even longer when the work demanded, as stipulated by our contracts. Overall no possibility of help with the daily grind/romantic/recovery from sheer exhaustion weekends/weeks away!
    I would love to offer occasional childcare if we're lucky enough to have grandchildren, but I'm very clear that we will not take on regular, week in, week out care. I feel sorry for grandmothers I see pushing babies and toddlers in prams, and who are obviously not very fit anyway and who look frankly exhausted. I don't think it's fair to an older generation which has already been through that hard work to expect that they will simply pick up childcare to allow the next generation to work. I don't mean occasional childcare - I mean "I'm going back to work and my mother is going to look after the baby." For me it's one of the decisions around whether to have children - how are they going to be looked after if both parents are working. I would have loved to have had a 3rd child, but we couldn't have afforded the extra childcare fees.
    But like you, our children may well be on another continent and so the issue may not arise. That will certainly be the case if the second Scottish independence referendum just announced goes in favour of independence. Both our children have declared that they will emigrate if that's the case. Tho we might join them!

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    1. Linda - I hope you won't take this the wrong way but, as a relatively new postdoc lecturer, I don't quite see the management/lecturer allocation of labour working out in the same way as you do. Although part time, I regularly work long hours and at week ends unpaid to meet deadlines and the like, in doing so following the examples set by my supervisors, their colleagues and my academic friends. I am sure that this grass is greener misperception is not confined to academia and that the practitioner/manager divide occurs in many other fields too. Can we agree to disagree on this and to unite in our common experiences of both the grind and the joys of child/grandchild care?

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    2. I have to say I'm glad that Ceri got here first. I was always saddened to see that even those in uni admin couldn't see beyond the working scheduled indicated by my time in front of the classroom. You may have more flexibility in the UK/Europe, but excepting a brief week after Christmas and before the return right after New Year's, we weren't actually permitted vacation time between mid-August and end of June, except by exchanging days with the dean's permission. During term, we worked weekends and evenings regularly. I had a colleague whose tooth broke off one evening, but because her class met the next day for the last time before their final exam, she felt she couldn't make the necessary dental appointment. That's not an exceptional example -- cancelling classes always meant complicated make-up arrangements as substitute teachers are not a reality at the uni level (not here, at least). So with Ceri I'll unite with you in lamenting the challenges of the parent who works outside the home and agree to disagree on the freedom of the academic life.... And yes, it looks as if you're in for another roller coaster, you and your passports....

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  8. Your attitude to ' granniedom ' seems very healthy to me . You obviously love it but it's just part of your life - not so everyone . I'm not a mother or grandmother but I do enjoy the company of little children & I'm happy to babysit our next door neighbours little ones if their grandparents aren't available . I admire the energy of those who can spend a lot of time doing this . Granniedom comes much later these days & older friends of mine are struggling to provide childcare whilst family work . One ( fit & healthy ) eighty year old is caring for a two year old regularly . Another friend of seventy regularly travels two hundred miles each way to care for grandchildren . They love the little ones & get great pleasure from their company but I can see it is exhausting & it doesn't leave them with much energy for other interests . Your life seems more balanced .
    Wendy in York

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    1. Your neighbours must love you! I think this is a brilliant solution that more might adopt -- if we've moved from our original supporting villages, yet know that it does, indeed "take a village" to raise children, why not form new ones where we are?
      As for your 80-year-old friend who cares for the 2-year-old -- while many couldn't manage this, I wonder if she draws a certain kind of energy from the little one's presence, even as it surely fatigues her physically. I can't imagine being able to do that myself, mind you....

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  9. These are words to make one think. This Nana bears a little (self-inflicted) guilt for not staying home to care for grandchildren. Two of ours are cared for by the other set of grandparents. I admire that, but I don't want to raise my grandchildren; I want to help out where I can, have play dates, swim together, enjoy tea parties and such, but not be responsible for regular care. When there's an emergency, we're available. It's a tightrope to walk - now that spring break is coming the other grandparents are wondering, and hoping that I'll relieve them for a few days. Frankly, I'm exhausted and need some time to myself. We're going away to a wedding the second week, so I'll likely do one full day (8-2:30), but then I need to recoup my energy.
    There is always great appreciation when we do take the children, and I love the time I spend with them, but they do not consume my life, although they hold huge real estate in my heart.
    Balance is tricky.

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    1. At one point, I thought I might have wanted/been able to provide some of the regular daycare for one of ours, perhaps on a part-time basis, but when we thought seriously about it, we decided professional daycare was the better option for everyone. Guilt is never a good foundation for relationships, is it? Better you give the loving attention that you obviously do when you're first getting some of what you need for yourself. I think your grandchildren gain immeasurably by retaining a memory of a Grandma with a Career to take forward as a possibility for their own lives. Again, diversity. And balance, tricky as you note that it is.

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  10. I am not going to add much on the subject of grandparenting as it isn't an issue for me at the moment. But I have to say that this kind of post is why I love your blog. You fly the flag for diversity and open a space and there they come pouring in - all those wonderful comments describing individual choices, experiences and priorities. That's what feminism is about (among other things), isn't it?
    BTW, being a teacher myself I was very glad you pointed out (once again) all the work outside the classroom which, in general, is neither seen nor acknowledged. (Having said this she turned back to her writing desk covered in piles of papers-to-be marked...) Wishing everybody out there a lovely weekend.

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    1. Thanks Eleonore! I do think that's what feminism is about, and it seems important to remember that there are so many different ways to be human.
      Good luck with that weekend marking -- I don't miss it at all!

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  11. Because my mother came from London and my father from New Zealand I never met any of my grandparents (the grandfathers both died long before I was born, the grandmothers far away).
    I chose to have no child so grandparenting is an open window to another life for me.

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    1. What a nice way to put it, Diana -- an open window to another life...

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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