Grandparents represent the older and (hopefully) wiser generation of each family. Yet, many people seem to have difficulty with the role of grandparent. Some resent the implication of getting old, like my own grandfather who insisted we call him “Freddy” rather than grandpa. Others struggle to find a place in their children’s world and become invisible, drifting off into their own world of hobbies and friends. Still others get bossy and try to lord it over their children, insisting their way is the only way to raise children, which can result in some pretty spectacular breakdowns in relationship. Others, of course seem born to the role. In my school, I was always impressed by those super-involved grandparents who showed up at events, and helped out with drop-offs and pick-ups. I could see the difference in how much those children loved their grandparents and the closeness of those families. I wanted to be one of those people, and so I put a lot of effort into figuring out what the role meant for me, so I could be the best grandma I could be.
One of the first questions I had upon arriving in Australia, was “what am I doing here?” For a while, I felt quite invisible, without all the trappings of my normal life to distract me from these questions. I guess what I needed was to pin down my role so I didn’t feel so lost.
A couple of significant learning interactions helped me do this.
I learned this interesting tidbit from a podcast featuring Jane Hardwick-Collins, an incredible wealth of life-giving power to all women, especially older women. She talked about the MAGA, the older woman of a certain age who is beyond child-bearing but is still strong and healthy. She can play an important role in her family as part of a support-system to her adult children. She used the animal kingdom to illustrate her point.
There are only a few mammals in the world that have females who live significantly beyond their child-bearing years. Most female creatures in the world die when they reach the age where they no longer reproduce. Most notably, the elephants and orcas and homo sapiens have “grandmothers -females who live beyond their childbearing years. Interestingly, these species live in family “pods” and tend to be socially advanced. In the elephant kingdom, if a mother gets killed by a poacher, the baby stops thriving and can literally die of a broken heart. This shows a level of social sensitivity not usually found in the animal kingdom. The older females play a very important role, because if something happens to the mother, the grandmother will take over the care of the baby becoming a surrogate mother to ensure it survives the devastation of losing its mother. In a similar way, the orca grandmothers will spend their days seeking out and showing the orca mother where the best food is, ensuring the ongoing survival of the pod. In the orca world, the grandmothers lead the pod.
So the lesson learned from the animal kingdom is this: The role of the grandmother is to ensure that her grandchildren survive by helping her children thrive.
My role as a grandparent is to support my children in becoming great adults and parents... so my grandchildren thrive.
I can do support.
Another important “ah-ha” moment for me happened when my daughter and I were watching a wonderful documentary together called, “These Are My Hours”. The documentary was basically a woman giving birth, with very little narration. When she did speak (as a voice-over) it was powerful. At one point in the process there was a shot of an older woman sitting in the corner calmly knitting. The voice-over narration said something like “look, there is my mother. She doesn’t worry or interfere. She trusts me to do this. She trusts that I can do this thing: becoming a mother”.
It hit me that my main role here was to “be a witness” not only of my granddaughter’s birth, but also my daughter’s life-passage into motherhood.
And at the moment of my granddaughter’s birth, I felt all the weight of the privilege my daughter gifted me in inviting me into her birth space.
I witnessed her birth as a mother.