In spite of all the cute memes, being a grandmother isn't all snuggles and giggles. My grandchildren sometimes leave me frustrated, upset, or just plain worn out. Still, I wouldn't trade being a grandmother for anything in the world.
If you find it tough sometimes, you're not alone. Here are six challenges that grandmothers face.
1. We love a lot, but we're not in control.
I always knew that I would love my grandchildren, but the pure, visceral joy I felt the first time I held my granddaughter came out of the blue. She was one of my tribe, and I immediately wanted to protect her and make sure she was well cared-for.
Hard on the heels of that realization came another one: That's not your job. You are not the parent. Sure, I could make an occasional suggestion, but the parents — so young and inexperienced! — were going to do the heavy lifting where this child was concerned.
Soon after came one of those times when I thought the parents should do one thing, and they opted to do something else. I don't remember whether it was about solid foods or diaper rash, or exactly what was at stake. But guess what? It worked out just fine. I decided that maybe I could trust these parents with my precious grandbaby, after all.
2. Grandmothers have been one-upped by social media.
When I was a young mother with a question, I called my mom. Today mothers are more likely to post on social media. What preschool do you recommend? Is anyone else's kid throwing up today? Is four years old too young for dance lessons?
The magical thing about social media is that you can cast a wide net. Moms get a variety of answers, and they are from people who are parenting in the trenches, not from those who had their last baby a couple of decades ago.
Of course, there's still a place for grandmotherly wisdom, and lots of grandmas work hard to stay up with current parenting practices. We tend to know our grandchildren as individuals, and we have insights that casual friends don't have. But when it comes to knowing the best brand of breast pump — yeah, I'm lost on that one.
3. Grandparenting can be boring.
When my fourth granddaughter was a toddler, she liked for us to act out certain scenarios with the little plastic animals I kept in the toy closet. Our scripts couldn't vary; they had to be the same every time. She didn't get tired of this play. Needless to say, I did. I also got tired of the movie that a different granddaughter was obsessed with, and a book that another grandchild wanted me to read over and over.
Children love repetition. It helps them learn and reassures them that certain things about their world aren't going to change. But even if you are a doting grandparent, some things get old.
4. Grandchildren must be shared.
If your grandchildren are lucky, they have lots of loving people in their lives — but hat won't keep you from feeling sad when you get less time with the grandchildren than the other set of grandparents. This is most likely to happen when one set of grandparents lives closer to the grandchildren than the other. Whether you're the maternal grandmother or the paternal grandmother can also be a factor. There's no justice in it, but maternal grandmothers can sometimes have an advantage when it comes to time spent with grandchildren.
The holidays are the most fraught times for questions of sharing, but you can find yourself feeling sad or jealous at other times, too. Maybe there was a special movie you wanted to take the grandchildren to see, and the family went without you. My advice: Just get over it. Research shows that it's the ordinary, everyday moments that children remember most. When they're older, they're less likely to wax nostalgic over those special occasions than they are to fondly recall running through the sprinkler or going to the playground.
5. Sometimes you won't like your grandchild very much.
Remember those stages that tried your patience when you were a parent? Remember whiny toddlers and moody teens? Your grandchildren are going to go through those stages, too. And they are going to try your patience now, just as your children did then (unless you have suddenly sprouted angel wings).
Temper tantrums and meltdowns can be especially challenging for grandparents, but milder clashes can be frustrating, too. I have lots of grandmother friends who do cool crafts with their grandchildren. Mine tend to look at the materials that I have painstakingly prepared and say, “Nah. I don't really want to do that.” How did I get seven grandchildren who are all lukewarm about crafts?
Grandchildren are individuals just as we are, and sometimes we will have magical times together. At other times, the fairy dust will be entirely lacking — and that's just the way it is.
6. Being a grandmother can be exhausting.
When my family was young and we visited my in-laws, at a certain point my mother-in-law would say something like, “You don't want to wait too long to get on the road.” She might mention the weather or the darkness of the approaching night. Yes, she was politely saying that she was ready for us to leave. I didn't understand this then; now, I do.
My grandparent friends and I often say how happy we are to see our grandchildren come for a visit — and then how happy we are to see them go. Writer Gene Perret once said, “Do you know why grandchildren are always so full of energy? They suck it out of their grandparents.” He also said, “I always give my grandkids a couple of quarters when they go home. It's a bargain.”
The Complete Grandmother Experience
As grandparents, we're often admonished to enjoy every second with our grandchildren, because they grow up so fast. While it's true that they grow up too quickly, I don't think it's realistic to expect every minute spent with them to be delightful. I think that tough times are memorable, too, and can strengthen family just as having fun together can. Bring on the snuggles and giggles, and if we have a few tears and spats, that's okay, too. It's all part of being a grandmother.
This article was written by Susan Adcox, a writer specializing in generational issues. She is the author of Stories From My Grandparent: An Heirloom Journal for Your Grandchild. She has seven grandchildren.