Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Grandma Expectation

Let me just preface this post by saying that no one I know is doing anything wrong. First of all, how would I know? Secondly, why would anyone care what I thought? Moreover, neither of my children is expecting a baby, as far as I know. We don't want rumors to get started.

But here's what I have noticed. Many women my age have already become grandmothers. The weird thing about this life-transition is that you have no control over it at all. It happens when your kid says it will happen.

Well, never mind. Now that I think about it, children always raise their parents -moving into new stages and requiring different things from their parents, who struggle to keep up. My general rule of thumb in parenting was that by the time you got used to a developmental stage, it was almost over. Time to batten down the hatches ;)

So, grandmothering. I'm looking around watching my peers learn to do it. I see models and I don't like any of them, for me, I mean. MUCH older women (say, the age of my grandmother, may perpetual light shine upon her) still subscribe to the notion that what a woman does after 50 doesn't matter very much. Productive life is almost over, but by golly she can spoil those grandchildren. I profited mightily from this version of grand-parenting. So have my children, really -at least the spoiling rotten part.

But then I start to wonder.... are my only-slightly-older friends much different? I have friends who drop their commitments at a moment's notice, happy to do so, and run half-way across the country to babysit. Some of my friends are parenting their grandchildren. Yikes! I'm wondering if helicopter parents haven't turned into helicopter grandparents. Has childhood become so complicated that it requires this many adults in supporting roles?

Or, is it a phase of life thing? Are we supposed to be slowing down, entering a more graceful and calm phase? And child-care, particularly of someone else's child, becomes an attractive option?

I understand the love one would feel for the child of one's child. I understand the rapture that ought to greet any baby. But what about those of us who can't (or won't) do what we're supposed to be doing? I don't have time -or the inclination- to slow down right now. For all kinds of reasons -some good, some not- I am only just now able to fully focus on a career and my goals. ME. There is some urgency to this, since the security that comes with a long marriage is now gone. But there is also a large measure of delight.

The urgency thing, though, means that I feel like I must deflect the advice of well-meaning friends who say "do less," "want less", "lower your standards." No one is going to support me in some idyllic retirement. I need to craft a life from which I don't particularly want to retire.

Does the old model, where I become the "crone" -the family "wise woman"- make any sense any more? There is the obvious truth that I don't have much in the wisdom department. But what I mean is, does the model work? Can't we be a little more inclusive?

What would a feminist role of grandmothering look like? How has grandmothering changed because of the opportunities we now have? How is grandmothering continuing to change because of the inequities that still plague us, and the reality that many of us are coming to careers late? Is grandmothering changing because of a general feeling that we are very far from done at 50 or 60?

It needs to. Yes, I will knit for babies that come into my life. Yes, I will make cookies. Yes, I will go to Baby Gap and buy foolish things. But I don't think I can be the grandmother who thinks that her grandchildren are the most interesting thing about her. I don't think I will carry around cartloads of pictures. I don't think all my stories will start with them -as perfect as they will, without a doubt, be.

But EXACTLY how this looks????? I have no idea. Once again, women my age are carving out new territory, with very few role models ahead of us.


Michael said...

I don't know if childhood is more complicated today than it used to be (I tend to think that it isn't, though perhaps the complexities take different forms than they did in days of yore), but I would argue that the nuclear family approach that's become culturally ingrained in the United States over the last fifty years is doomed to fail--raising children does, indeed, take a village. Once upon a time, that village centered itself around the family homestead; or at the very least, families tended to stay close enough to one another that sharing responsibility for the children was unproblematic. Modern mobility makes that harder (if not impossible) to accomplish, is all.

jill said...

Is it really necessary to have a role model? Especially as you haven't yet (and may never - as you mention, this is at least partly up to your kids and even then they don't have 100% control over whether or not there will be kids).

What about just asking yourself, "What do I want my life to look like?" and aim for that?

And in the meantime - careful. You're going to run up an overdraft at the Bank of Trouble, you're borrowing so hard...

Andrea Buford said...

Well, apparently it's not essential to have a role model, since we're figuring it out without them. It's a bit of a pain, though, to have to be the one to figure it out. I'm not really borrowing trouble, though. I just realized that I was idly watching my friends and going "not that." "Nope, not that way either" -when it comes to grandmothering. But as you say, I may NEVER have to figure it out. Who can say?