People often have set ideas about what a grandmother should be like. However, grandmothers come in all sorts of shapes and sizes – as well as in attitudes to that role. This became very clear to me when I wrote a book based on interviews conducted with 27 very different grandmothers.
A big issue is whether you live nearby or far away. This is generally not something you have a lot of choice about, unless you decide to move to be near your children and grandchildren. Some women love the fact that their family are all within easy distance and make a real effort to see them frequently.
And some families live together in three- or even four-generation households. This can bring a great bond between grandparents and grandchildren if family relationships are good. Not all are, and such living arrangements can also exacerbate family friction.
Yet others welcome the freedom that being geographically distant provides. They are happy to see their grandchildren from time to time, but want to lead their own lives.
Indeed, one woman recently told me cheerfully that the best way to be a grandmother was to have your daughter living abroad, as were her case.
Related to physical proximity, but not the same, is the matter of how closely involved you are in your grandchildren’s care. Some grandmothers – out of choice or necessity – undertake a lot of childcare themselves.
They may have an allotted day when they take a toddler out or meet children after school. Some do much more.
Indeed, there are some grandparents who are full-time babysitters (caregivers), taking on the role of parents because the parents themselves are incapacitated for one reason or another. This can be very hard work and is yet another story.
But there are plenty of grandmothers who do not want full responsibility for grandchildren at any time. They make it clear, often from the outset, that they are not built-in babysitters and want to continue with their own work or other activities. They may help on occasion, but want to do so on their own terms.
Another key difference between grandmothers lies in what they do with their grandchildren – and at what point in their lives. Some love to cuddle and play with small babies, but become less keen as children grow older. Some are the reverse and look forward to when they can have proper conversations with the next generation.
There is so much to be discussed, but I would just note one key role here – namely, teaching grandchildren. This may be about the little things that the parents do not have time for, such as how to knit or to cook or to know the names of plants in their garden.
Or it may be teaching deeper matters, perhaps old-fashioned values, religious beliefs or just a love of learning. Many people say that they gained such values from their own grandparents. And it can be a great pleasure to see your own views take root in the next generation.
I talk to a lot of grandmothers and often ask them about the relationships they have with their grandchildren. Some tell me their names and ages, but do not impart a great sense of joy. Others light up at the very mention of them. One woman who was interviewed for my book often had her grandchildren to stay and noted that when they were there “the house is smiling.”
Anne’s most recent book is Celebrating Grandmothers: Grandmothers Talk About Their Lives.
What do your grandchildren mean to you? What kind of a grandma are you? Do you often want to spend more time with them, or would you rather be more distant? Please join the conversation below!