IF you haven’t heard that October 4 is Grandparents Day, you are not alone. Few people have heard of it and most don’t care. Talking to my friends and neighbours in north London, I note a common view that it is just another American import with no relevance here.
Yet having a special day offers a chance to stop and think about our grandparents and their role in our lives. Perhaps you were brought up by yours. Perhaps you learned a lot from them when your parents were too busy to sit down and talk to you. Perhaps they had little importance at all. Or maybe you are a grandparent yourself.
Having a special day is a chance to stop and think about how you feel about this. Grandmothers have a rather bad press. They are seen as old and grey and boring. But I suspect grandmothers themselves, would argue strongly against this image.
I never had much to do with my grandparents when I was young, so when I became one myself, I found it a big surprise. Just when small children were a thing of the past, suddenly there they were again – new bodies to cuddle and new minds to nurture.
Spending time with grandchildren changes the texture of your day-to-day life. Once again, you are reading bedtime stories, going on outings and noting the fresh way that young children look at life. You may have much more involvement with your son or daughter and develop a new role as helper and giver of advice. And you have moved up a generation, necessarily making you think.
I found this all so fascinating that I decided to write a book about it. While there are many advice books and the occasional book offering grandmothers’ wisdom or recipes, there are no books about how it feels to be a grandmother.
I interviewed 27 grandmothers about what they did, how they felt and how it changed their lives. Their responses varied – from those who were very happy and involved to those who found it hard to see their grandchildren due to distance or difficult family relationships.
The resulting book allows these very different women, ranging from their mid-40s to late 80s, and from all walks of life, to explore the many aspects of what it is like to be a grandmother.
They talk about their love, of course, and note the small pleasures, such as lying in bed with grandchildren, chatting with a teenager or talking to young adults about their lives. Being around children again made them think about their own success or failure as mothers and how they would do it differently if they had their time again.
These grandmothers also talk about how having grandchildren changes relationships within their families. Some loved having a greater closeness – others found they were very irritated by a daughter- or son-in-law or even by their own son or daughter. There is the occasional surprise, such as the Hindu woman who viewed her granddaughter as a reincarnation of her late husband.
All grandparents – but perhaps especially grandmothers – know that when it comes to giving advice, you have to tread carefully. You may think you know best, but as one woman in the book put it: “Every grandmother should be issued with a zip”.
This article was first published by the Camden New Journal 24 September 2015