February 18, 2009

How Young Can Your Grandma Be?

author_janis By Janis Prince Inniss

A few weeks ago when my husband referred to Grandma, I knew he was talking about my mother. At other times when he has said, “Go to Grandma,” it has taken some time to figure out who he’s talking about.

In the traditional life cycle of a marriage, we marry, move into our first shared space, and then have children. Then those children grow up, move out and stay moved out! Middle-aged, empty nest parents would finish up their work years and then retire.

What percentage of American relationships fit this profile today? Mine never has. When my husband and I married and moved into our first home, the union included his two children from a previous marriage. So we were never a childless couple. That is, until a few years ago when they both moved out. We had been married for almost ten years at that point, and it was a strange experience to be child free for the first time. It didn’t take us long to get the hang of stepping out of the parent role and we enjoyed being able to travel on a whim and go out on “school nights”. But a few months ago we ended the empty-nest life style we had settled into. We decided to allow my step-daughter, a college freshman, and her one year old son to move in with us.

clip_image003That means that like Sarah Palin, I’m a young grandma (though unlike Sarah Palin I am not both a young grandma and an older mother of an infant). How is it possible that I’m a grandmother? A step-grandmother. By any name, it sounds as old and rather unlike me and what I think of when I hear the word grandmother. When my husband and I go out with the baby, people assume that we’re his parents. That’s because we are young enough to be his parents. It seems that if I lived in Hollywood and were his mother, I would be a spring-chicken. Do you know what Halle Berry, Brooke Shields and Susan Sarandon have in common? They all had babies in their 40s. In general, maternal age is advancing. So at what is referred to by the medical establishment as advanced maternal age—over age 35—I would be in good company if I have a baby now. And yet, I’m a grandma with a grandchild and his mother living in our home.

This lifestyle change facilitates my step-daughter’s college education by allowing us to offer hands-on assistance with her son. This move has also ended the DINK lifestyle we were cultivating and put us back into the business of active parenting; it’s quite different from offering telephone support and seeing the kids and their babies—each step-child now has one baby—on occasional visits. And since we are assisting Suzette (the fake name I’m giving my step-daughter) with childcare while she works and goes to school, our ability to galavant has been severely curtailed. My husband and I provide the stable environment in which children thrive, along with the emotional and financial support that a new mother and young woman such as Suzette requires. Mindful of the emotional, financial and other costs associated with paid childcare, we have encouraged Suzette to avoid it if she can. Her work and schooling both take place in the evening, allowing her to be with her son during the day. When she’s at work and school we mind the baby. clip_image002

How does this put us at odds with our friends? Fortunately, our friends have children in a wide age-range—from about 6 to mid 20s. None of the friends in our social network are empty nesters as yet, so in our DINK days we were the ones out of step with them. Often we were the ones who could attend events that they could not because we did not have to go over homework or attend soccer practice or games. And because several of our friends still have relatively young children and are very family-oriented, their gatherings can easily include a toddler.

This turn of events puts me at a rather “mixed” age. My chronological age and social age don’t match. I’m told that, like many members of my family, I don’t even look my chronological age. Add to that the fact that women my age are having children and it’s clear why people assume that I’m the mother of the toddler; it’s not a stretch to believe that my husband and I are his parents. Grandparent is one of the most positive roles associated with aging, and although I am young for that role, I now have two grandchildren. It’s why most people upon learning that I’m a grandmother ask, “What does he call you? You’re too young to be called Grandma!” He has no name for me as he doesn’t speak yet. But once he does, what name would be hip enough? Certainly, not Grandma!

How do experiences like mine challenge what you have learned about the “life-course”?


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Reading your article was interesting. I never really thought about how some woman do become "grandma's" at a young age. I tried imagining my mom having a grandchild now and I just can't see it. She's only 44 and she still has children in high school. Although that situations different from your own; you have friends who have young children. I think its cute though that you get to spend more time with your grandchild now. Your step daughter may or may not be to young for this in her life but you get to have such a blessing in your own now. Even if it may feel your raising the child at times! People won't see the child as your grandchild or your own but just a child being loved and well taken care of!

I don't think being a grandma means you're old, it's just a title that little kids can recognize and know that you are someone they can feel comfortable with. These days women are having children at diverse ages so you can't really put an age on a mother or grandmother or even an aunt.

It's funny to think how much times have changed from back in the day. You made a good point talking about back then people got married, moved in, then had kids. Now the order seems to be completly different! It now seems to be move in, have a kid, and then get married. Also we are seeming to have less and less households with more than one parent. You talk about how yur daughter lives with you. Back then you would be thought bad of if you were un-married living with your parents. Now it doesn't seem to be un-common to hear about this. In my sociology class we are learning about all the different norms for family. Your article just reminded me of how different our norms are now from what they used to be.

Reading your article was very interesting. I don't think being a grandma means you're old, it's just a title that little kids can recognize and know that you are someone they can feel comfortable with. These days women are having children at diverse ages so you can't really put an age on a mother or grandmother or even an aunt.

I'm in the same situation. As a 34 year old step-grandma I too have had the questions, what will he call you? People seem concerned about the title. The status of being one of the many who love him is good enough for me.

Your article is very interesting. It's not that un-common to be a gradmother at a younger age in this time, people seem to have children at a much younger age. In my personal expirience, a person I know, their mother is a grandmother of two boys and absolutely loves hearing them say "grama" even if shes a little younger then most grandmothers. It's her reason to spoil them and give them what mommy and daddy say no to every now and then. Some people see being a grandparent as them being old, but others think it to be an honor to be a grandparent.

You proposed a very intersting question. It reminds me of a twenty-eight-year-old woman who was married to an eighty-year-old man. It's possible that the woman became step grand-grandmother when she was twenty eight years old.

I'm 43 and the mother of 4 daughters. The youngest one is a 3 year old who oldest sister is 25 and she has 2 daughters ages 10 and 8 plus a son that's 3 years old as well. Yup, my daughter and my grandson are only a few months apart in age. My granddaughters call me "hott momma". 👍😉

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