Becoming a grandmother is not straight forward! Deep learning curve at an age when one assumes one has it (life – coping with children) all figured out. So, bit of a shock!
I was a (relatively) young mum, being 22 when I had my first baby. In those days we didn’t go in for the ‘planning’ that the young seem to do now. I hear my, now grown-up, family speak about waiting till there is a good point in the career, the mortgage is manageable, the travelling-itchy-feet are not so compelling and waiting until the body clock is ticking louder… I never had any of those thoughts.
We were a couple and hey ho we got pregnant! How exciting and, despite a miniscule house, we never considered that it was too small, we still went camping and reckoned that the tent would accommodate a baby and, money may have been elusive, but surely breast milk was free? In the hippy 70’s it was fashionable to read the Continuum Concept and life was spontaneous, unplanned and quite fun. The lambskin ‘fluffy rug’ was sufficient requirement for the new baby, along with a sling for transportation and a boob for which its bra had long since burnt.
Bringing up the first and then subsequent 3 children was hard work, at times exhausting, noisy, but on retrospect wonderful. An hundred percent full time job – how do today’s modern mum manage having an outside career as well?
Now that my house is empty, some of their bedrooms have been redecorated for grown-up visitors (not popular when grown-up children return to find their teddies banished to the attic), some rooms have even become Mine. I discover that there is a Me and time for Me – so creativity beyond the womb finds expression, this is quite exciting after twenty-five years of cooking, taxi-ing, and the rest.
Occasional visits from off-spring, then later with interesting boy/girl friends in tow and then a bump. Bring out the champagne and the second tier of that sumptuous wedding cake.
It is a mistake to have an opinion about anything – or at least to air one. A guideline so simple and obviously sensible, is equally hard to put into practise. I hear the words, agree with the logic and experience the dilemma: the question ‘what do you think’ is misleading to say the least, a more accurate refrain would be ‘this is how I am going to behave while pregnant, how I am going to look after my new baby, feed my toddler, run my house and I will invite you to join in when I need you – like it or lump it’.
A bit harsh? Yes! Hurtful? Sometimes! But a release too – if you can let go that is, which seems to be curiously difficult for the ego. No real responsibilities should mean you can just sit back and enjoy the ride.
In reality you probably felt similarly independent vis a vis your own mother, though, without the plethora of media advice on parenting that books and telly provide nowadays, I seem to recall that my own mother was a comforting reference point.
On balance my experience of granny-hood has to date, been wonderful and continues to unfold with much delight. The grand children are a total joy, some times I wish I saw more of them and at others I am more than happy to close the door on a peaceful child-free house.
One daughter surprised me beyond all expectation by asking me to be present with her husband at the birth. It would not be exaggerating to say that I was momentarily stunned. I had not imagined that she would want me to share in such a personal event, simply because, despite the close relationship I had with my mother I would not have wanted her to be there. More and more I see that I project my own experience onto my daughters; it seems curiously hard to imagine how daughters I thought I knew so well could have such different preferences to my own.
Of course hundreds of women share the ritual of new birth – what could be more natural. But in today’s sanitised world we are shamefully screened from life and death and I confess to squeamishness. Never a natural nurse even to my own children, famously impatient and lacking in empathy when ill health, pain and distress required the reverse. This was going to be a challenge. In the event it was exciting and, as is so often the case when faced with high drama I experienced the focus of the attention being so ‘present’ and ‘in the moment’ that there was no room or time for thoughts and emotions, helpful or otherwise.
The labour was quick at first and then slowed up during the final stages. On retrospect I see my role was one of being a comforting and familiar presence for my daughter. For the most part when not required to rub a back or bring coffee to my son-in-law, I sat in a corner and knitted – the therapeutic effect of which I can thoroughly recommend to any one faced with a potentially dramatic but lengthy day (and night)!
Having been ticked off the year before by her sister for my over attentiveness to her new baby, I vowed not to make the same mistake again. So after the initial excitement and congratulations I beat a hasty retreat leaving the new parents to get to know their tiny baby alone. This considered thoughtfulness on my part however was misconstrued as, unlike her sister, she absolutely wanted me there to ‘help’ – especially in the first week. Error (again)!
Fast forward a few years and whilst not always without hic-coughs my relationship with my daughters is excellent. We are all learning to speak the truth to each other and brave hearing each others truth. I have yet to experience being granny to my son’s babies however and knowing that daughters (and mothers) in-law are a totally different kettle of fish to ones own flesh and blood, this will no doubt present a new learning curve. One day at a time seems like a good motto.