Category Archives: Guest post: my book

How Celebrating Grandmothers came to be written


When I first became a grandmother ten years ago, I had absolutely no idea how much fun it would be, or how much it would change my life. I had had little involvement with my own grandmothers when I was a child and neither had my children when they were young (one grandmother lived too far away and one had died). There was therefore no model on which to base my expectations. I thought vaguely that most grandmothers were old, grey, dull and spent their time knitting and playing bridge. I didn’t identify with that.

It did not take me long to change my views. I was completely overtaken by the emotions engendered by that first grandchild and the second, a cousin, who followed three years later. During that period, being a writer, I decided it would be the perfect focus of a book and I set to work to write it. Celebrating Grandmothers is the result, a compendium of thoughts of a range of different women about the many aspects of being a grandmother.

In the course of researching my book, I learned that being a grandmother can be simply wonderful, but it is not always so. There are so many complexities and challenges, often arising from difficult family relationships. There are the women who simply live too far away to see their grandchildren, with all the heartache that can bring. Probably worse, there are those whose family choose to exclude them from any close involvement with their grandchildren, so they pine for the ability to participate in their lives. There are grandmothers who do not get on with their sons- or daughters-in-law and, sometimes, with their own grown-up children. There are women who are saddened by the way their grandchildren are bring brought up, and much more.

Yet despite all the problems, there are many wonderful stories out there. There is the woman who, from the beginning, called her daughter-in-law her ‘daughter-in-love’ with all the good relations that such a name implied. There are the two grandmothers (one from each ‘side’) who carefully planned to look after their joint grandchildren for a night or two, so that their own children could have time to sort out their marriage. There are the many grandmothers giving their time on a regular basis so that daughters or daughter-in-law can continue to work. There are stories, but there are also simple reflections, often the sort of thing they wouldn’t tell anyone they knew but could discuss in confidence with the certainty of anonymity.  All provide a small peek into others’ lives and relationships – and they are fascinating.

And, finally, I have learned that becoming a grandmother means looking inward at your new role and place in the world.  Sometimes, it means looking back at your own childrearing and how you would do it differently if you had your time all over again.  It means thinking about the future and worrying about how the new little lives will work out in increasingly difficult times. It is a time of new love, of new activity and a great deal of reflection.  Let me quote from one grandmother in the book:

“Being a grandmother is very maturing – and it’s also a tremendous challenge. There is this beautiful love relationship unencumbered by excessive responsibility. And you see all the family strands playing through. It’s like a form of weaving, the fabric of families coming together and you start to write another story together. Suddenly we’re making this new fabric. It is quite amazing – it’s wonderful, very enriching – this other stage of life. ”

This was originally published on the website of Wisdom and Innocence:

Women’s books and grandmothers

For many people, when they think about women’s books, their minds immediately turn to books for and about younger women – a good romance, the joys and problems of young children, the difficulties of separation or divorce, even women and their developing careers. All definitely women’s reading. But a large percentage of women are well over 60 and it is high time for more attention to be given to the stories of older women. We all like to read about ourselves and why not more fiction and non-fiction about the later years – women in retirement, women as widows, even late romance. (Yes, I know these do exist, but not in great quantity.)

I find being an older woman to be fascinating in numerous ways. It is a time of taking stock, of stretching new parts of myself and developing new relationships with my own children. I found the role of grandmother to be captivating – so much so that I decided to write a book about it. I have written books all my life, mostly for social care and health service professionals. But my real love is writing narrative non-fiction for the general public – books derived from interviews that use people’s own voices to express their experiences. These are a form of non-fiction that feel like fiction because they explore people’s inner lives. The latest is about being a grandmother. Based on interviews with 27 women of very different ages, backgrounds and social circumstances, Celebrating Grandmothers tells what it is like to be a grandmother in the words of grandmothers themselves.

There are reams to be written about being a grandmother. There are the very happy grandmothers, full of joy at the new children in their lives and the new sense of love and excitement watching them progress. They may be eager to spend time playing on the floor with toddlers, going to the park with children or talking to teenagers about thoughts of concern to them. There are the less happy ones, separated from their grandchildren by sheer distance or difficult family relationships. Some love visiting their children and taking part in their lives – and those of their grandchildren, of course – for a week here or there. Some do not cherish the prospect because the marriage of their son or daughter is unsettled and they do not want to spend time in the middle of quarrels.

cover GrandmotherBeing a grandmother means entering into uncharted territory on a number of fronts. There are new relationships to be negotiated, not simply with the grandchildren (generally easy) but also with their parents who have their own long-standing issues. A new daughter- or son-in-law can be an enormous pleasure or the source of great difficulty. When children arrive, all these relationships become much more entangled in both joys and misunderstandings. It can be difficult to tiptoe through the minefield of offering what feels like much needed advice without causing inevitable problems.

Being a grandmother can often mean a major change in how a woman spends her time. She may be delighted to babysit as often as possible, but she may also be thrust into a heavy involvement due to the cost of alternative childcare and find it difficult to say no. Separated parents, an ill parent or even a deceased parent can bring even greater responsibilities. There can be a fine line between what a grandmother feels she has to do and what she wants to do.

And, finally, being a grandmother means coming to terms with a new status and a new sense of one’s role in life as one of the elder statesmen of the family. It brings an inevitable look into the future and all that that entails.

All of which is to say that there is no shortage of things to write about when addressing how it feels to be a grandmother. New people to love and worry about, new relationships to be coped with and a new sense of self add up to major changes in a woman’s life. Yet most of us simply love it. Ask a new grandmother about how her grandchildren are and watch her face light up. It happens over and over again.

This was originally published on the website of Women Writers/Women’s Books: