Tuesday, August 2, 2011

In Defense of Grandmothers

photo credit
Lately I've been feeling a little sorry for the newest generation of grandmothers. I'm not referring to the little gray-haired ladies scraping their feet along the ground with a cane in hand. I'm talking about the newly grayed, newly wrinkled, newly grandmothered ladies striving to be effective in their role!

In the "old" days I think many grandmothers fulfilled their purpose by baking yummy pies at Christmas time, knitting beautiful scarves, or telling outlandish stories at family reunions that made the grandkids giggle behind their hands. Times have changed.

These days the job description for effective, caring grandmothers is off the charts. Sitting at the park with my kids recently, and standing in line at Target I've overheard conversations where grown women catalogued their expectations for their mother, step-mother, or mother-in-law, in terms of grandmothering responsibilities. Here is a taste of the if only my mother would wish list:
  • Move in with me for two weeks...or four weeks...or indefinitely after my baby is born
  • Get up in the night every night to bring me my newborn baby
  • Mop my floors and scour my toilets without complaining
  • Spend more one on one time with my kids
  • Do more meaningful activities with my kids, like finger painting or tea parties
  • Treat all the grandchildren equally, both with time and financially
  • Babysit my older children more often
  • Cut back her personal activities and hobbies in order to spend more time with my kids
  • Bring me dinner once in a while
  • Call more often
  • Give better advice and be more involved in my life as a young mother
  • Give less advice and mind her own business

And the list goes on and on. With this sort of pressure bearing down on the current generation of grandmothers I cannot imagine what my Grandmother's To Do List will look like someday. You hear people say how amazing it is to grandparent. You hold them, rock them, spoil them...and then return them to their parents. Yet with these sort of demands I'm not sure I want to be a grandmother. At least not the sort who is on call 24/7 and has the same job description as a janitor, and who will be made to feel guilty every other week.

Let me qualify my thoughts by saying there are some amazing old ladies out there who work their fingers to the bone trying to be all things to all of their children and grandchildren. I hope when it's my turn I'll do a great job and my posterity will have some great memories to pass down. But I think the attitude of the mother (and father) go a long way in fueling grandma's affection for the little ones. The bottom line is that grandmothers are people, and even at the ripe old age of fifty-five, sixty-five and ninety-five, they won't always get it right. Their priorities and availability will not always line up with your expectations. And you should expect to feel disappointed sometimes.

There have been times when I've felt let down or overlooked by the mothers in my life. I've been in the trenches of young motherhood for nearly eight years, with complicated pregnancies, bed rest, and three colicky newborns. Believe, I've done my fair share of pining for more help. But time and experience have brought me perspective, and helped me to better understand the other pressures and responsibilities my mothers are negotiating, in addition to serving their tenure as grandmother. The best advice I can offer other young mothers is to believe that your mother, step-mother, and mother-in-law are doing their best. Their best may fluxuate, given the other pressures in their life, but that isn't for us to criticize. Be a gracious receiver of other's time, talents, and gifts, whenever they happen upon your life, and look forward to future opportunities when it will happen again. You will probably be happily surprised!


  1. Lauren- Great article. I think you are dead on. The solution is simple at my house... "thinking instead... what have we done for Grandma (or Grandpa) lately?"

    I am lacking 95% of the time when I ask myself that question... so then I have to squash any thoughts or expectations I have.

  2. I'm glad that you liked this post. I worried that other young moms might feel picked on, like I'm calling them out on the carpet. But truthfully I think most of us see ourselves somewhere in the list of demands put upon grandmothers. I certainly do. I don't think it's wrong that we have these demands, or that we want our moms to be as involved as possible. It's being gracious and compassionate in our expectations that matters most, in my opinion.


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