Becoming a grandma doesn’t mean you turn into a fluffy old lady with nothing to offer except free babysitting. This concept of the role of grandma has got to go.
Throw in the ever-popular jokes of the overbearing mother-in-law, why shouldn’t we move to Florida?
The answer is simple but profound. It is also utterly lost in our culture. The chain of nurturing, from mother to daughter, doesn’t stop with the birth of a third generation. It sinks to a new and deeper level.
There is also another layer of mothering an older woman, or grandma has to give to her grandchild that’s completely different from that of a mother. Sadly, this is no longer a recognizable stage of motherhood. But then, I probably don’t have to tell you that.
The dismissing of older women and the role of grandmothers, until recently, was so pervasive that even anthropologists and ethnographers ignored them. Grandmas were considered nothing more than an eyesore and even an appalling nuisance. These older matrons were completely bypassed and avoided.
Only serious attention was given to men. Young women and even children were thought to hold more value to their research. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Researchers have begun to uncover what many now consider to be the key to human history and the survival of families—across cultural lines.
What they found surprised, astounded and bewildered them.
They discovered the value of grandmothers, maternal grandmothers in particular. They began to understand the vital role a grandmother plays within the life of her grandchildren, family, and ultimately society.
Thanks to researchers studying cultures around the world we now know that the presence or absence of a maternal grandmother often meant the difference between life and death for their grandchildren.
Having a maternal grandmother in the child’s life enhanced a child’s prospect for surviving, by as much as 52 percent.
In a 2002 New York Times article Natalie Angier states that in one culture studied the absence of maternal mother had more impact on the survival rate of young children past the age of breastfeeding, than did the absence of a father. She quoted Dr. Patricia C. Draper a professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska saying,
“We can see that grandmothers are doing something, but what? What buttons are they pushing that end up making the difference to their families?”
I am no anthropologist or expert in world cultures. However, I’ve been a young mother giving birth to nine children over a span of twenty years. Now I’m a grandmother of 26 grandchildren. This I know, mothers need their mothers. I needed mine. My girls need me. It is a basic human need that transcends time and cultures.
As human beings, we are hardwired to connect. When we became mothers our nurturing grows. We pass on that ability from one generation to the next.
Grandmothers are a key ingredient that is desperately needed by young American families today– every bit as much as the women studied in Bengali, Gambian, or Japan.
Just because we in America are blessed with material things, we often think that we have risen above our basic human needs. We rely on education, technology, healthcare and a welfare system.
These have proven a poor substitute for the original design of mankind. The breakdown of the family includes the breakdown of the relationship between mothers and daughters. Too many women cannot count on the guidance and support of their mothers into their childbearing years, or worse, they don’t value them.
As grandmas, we owe it to our grandchildren to be a strong force in their life.