Struggling Not to Be a Judgmental Grandma

Veronica has a brilliant post about judgment, making an essential distinction beeen judgment as condemnation and judgment as discernment. Becoming a grandma raises these questions all over again. Should a grandma ever be judgmental about her daughters’ mothering, either face to face or on her blog? My oldest daughter Anne, 35, has a 15-month-old son Michael. My second daughter Michelle, 33, is expecting a girl at the end of August. My third daughter Rose, 29, is expecting a girl in early December. I live on Long Island; Anne lives in Manhattan, a 40-minute express -train ride away. Michelle lives in Boston, and Rose is moving from Chicago to Boston next month. (My youngest, Carolyn, 26, not yet married, lives in Boston as well.) From Long Island to Boston is about 4 hours by car, without heavy traffic. The bus is more affordable than the train. Air travel is just too much of a time-draining hassle when you are not in the air.

My grandma was only 47 when I was born; my mom was 51 when she became a grandma. I was turning 62 when Michael was born. My girls justly accuse me of being a hypocrite. They went beyond my wildest dreams for their education and careers. Yet occasionally over the last 6 or 7 years, I would plaintively remark how many children grandma had when she was my age. She had 9 by the time she was 62; when she died at age 82, she had 15. I grieve that my mom didn’t live to see her great-grandchildren. She would have adored Michael, an incredibly friendly, fearless toddler much like her and his mother.

Perhaps unconsciously I am blaming mom, who shortened her life by her refusal to accommodate to her physical disabilities. She was never the same after she feel down the stairs on her head, stairs she was forbidden to climb without help. Grandma Nolan, who had 7 children and lived to 86, had 23 great grandchildren when she died. Sadly, I realize I probably will not live long enough to meet my great grandchildren. The infrequently discussed bad effect of having children when you are older is that they don’t have young or healthy grandparents. I was 50 , the mother of 4, when my grandma died; Carolyn, my youngest (born when I was 37). was only 21 when her grandma died. Michael’s dad’s parents both died a few years ago.

I was fortunate enough to be able to stay home full-time when my 4 daughters were young. I had originally planned to go back to my editing career, but I fell madly in love with mothering. We had the option of living on one income, which few couples have now. Supporting their career and child care plans is a struggle for me. I take care of toddler Michael 3 days a week while Anne works. She recently decided to return to work four full days and to possibly explore two days a week of day care. Although I could not commit myself to 4 days, I need time for my granddaughters, and I understand Manhattan day care requires a two-day commitment, I interpreted her decision as a criticism of me. We had a difficult few days before we learned to listen to one another. My second daughter Michelle plans to go back to work full-time after a 12-to-14-week maternity leave. She hasn’t decided between day care or a nanny. The third daughter Rose has very flexible work options; she is a human rights lawyer whose writing and research skills are essential to her firm. Even though I bite my tongue and question my motives constantly, all three accuse me of being judgmental. I admit I expected at least one of them to stay home the first year at least.

I worry that I will be perceived as favoring Michael, whom I see so much more often. We plan to visit Boston several times a month, but that won’t be close to the several times a week I spend with him. I plan to spend two weeks each with Michelle and Rose after the girls were born, but I spent almost three months visiting Vanessa and Michael nearly every day last summer. I need a new external hard drive if I take as many pictures of the girls as of Michael. I have had great fun with a private family Michael blog. I have already announced I am turning that blog over to his parents and will have one daily grandkid blog.

Anne didn’t want me there when she was in labor; she and her husband wanted to do it themselves. She wound up with a C-section that she now thinks was unnecessary and wants me to be there next time. When Anne was born, I didn’t want my mom to take off from work because my husband and I wanted our privacy. For the other 3, I planned my pregnancies around my mom’s schedule. I didn’t realize how much I would need my mom after I gave birth. So I should understand why my daughters would react similarly. My being lucky enough to have 4 drug-free births, including two at home, might make my childbirth support threatening. If I had it so easy, what do I know? . My years as a childbirth educator and breastfeeding counselor also contribute to my being perceived as a judgmental
know-it-all.

Being the babysitter who makes it possible for her to work as well as Anne’s mother is potentially a quagmire. Anne and I have navigated the challenges reasonably well, considering she is the daughter with whom I have the most turbulent relationship. Anne is very different from me, far more like my mom, who wasn’t a worrier. Sometimes I worry that she doesn’t worry enough, and then berate myself for judging my daughter.

My mom died 4 years ago. About five times a day I wish I could call her up for grandmothering advice from the one person who knew me and Anne equally well. When I frequently called my mom in tears over my latest struggle with Anne, we used to look forward to watching her struggles with her kids.

I adore my grandson and feel almost no guilt about how I relate to him. I know what I am doing, and I have no other distractions to prevent me from doing it. His parents and I see eye-to-eye on all important parenting decisions. However, I often feel guilt about not knowing how best to support my daughters, how to be genuinely helpful without undermining their confidence in their own decisions. My mom and I struggled with these issues all our lives, so I don’t expect any easy answers.

Even writing about this feel fraught with peril. I don’t know if my daughters are reading Matriarch or not. Even though I blog under a pseudonym and change all their names, I constantly worry that they will be furious at me for violating their privacy. It is far less problematic to write about them as kids than to discuss our adult relationships.

Thank you again Veronica for inspiring me to write about something I constantly agonize about. Perhaps it will help clarify my thoughts.


Posted By Matriarch to Matriarch at 8/08/2008 04:24:00 AM

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About maryjograves

Children are my passion. I have 4 daughters, 5 grandkids under 5 with another on the way, 5 younger brothers, 11 nieces and nephews, 8 great nieces and nephews. I advocate a revolution for a child friendly US. I have been an editor, public librarian, social worker, and internet educator. Tweet @RedstockingGran @ChildrensWings
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