“Everything comes out in the wash.” — Grandma Kreiss
GRANDPARENTS are an important part of the extended family, often having a direct role in caring for and nurturing children. Grandmothers, in particular, can have an influential place in the family, helping out with childcare when Mom is sick or taking care of kids after school. And it’s not uncommon for grandmothers to take on the role of primary caregivers, raising grandchildren when the parents are unable to do so.
My mother used to tell stories about how, when she was a little girl living in San Francisco and mad at her mother, she would ride the cable car (by herself) to her grandmother’s house. And her grandmother would take her in and comfort her and give her cookies and lemonade.
Because they do not have parental authority, grandmothers can act as confidants in situations where a child doesn’t feel comfortable talking to a parent. Grandmothers like my mother’s provide unconditional love, mentorship, companionship, emotional support, kindness, humor, and patience. They distill life lessons and pass these on to the younger generation.
Indeed, according to the *London School of Economics and Political Science website,
“Despite the focus of much family policy on fathers, it is maternal grandmothers that have a significantly greater impact on the well-being of children.
This was the major conclusion of a review of 45 studies of families around the world which found that a child is more likely to survive and flourish if the mother has help from a relative . . . Maternal grandmothers have the biggest effect on child survival while fathers have surprisingly little impact.”
But, in some families, due to death, physical or emotional distance, or other factors, children may have little or no contact with a grandmother.
Such was the case with me. My maternal grandmother died when I was only a few months old. And my father’s mother did not like my mother, nor her children it seemed. We rarely saw her, and in any case my memories of this grandmother are not warm and fuzzy. She did not tolerate noise, so we children were required to be quiet and sit still on chairs during our brief visits to her darkened, shade-drawn apartment. I used to listen with some degree of wonder and envy to my mother’s stories about her grandmother.
Grandmothers may have such a powerful influence that, whether your grandmother was involved or uninvolved, present or absent in your life, it’s likely she made an impact on you and your relationships with others.
The following writing prompts will help you explore your relationship (or lack of relationship) with your grandmother(s) as you grew up. (In another article later in this series, I will provide prompts about what it’s like to be a grandparent and explore our relationships with grandchildren.)
- How many grandmothers did you have in your life, including step grandmothers and/or women who acted as grandmothers for you? And what are your fondest memories of each?
- How would you describe your relationship with each grandmother? Who was your favorite and why?
- If you did not have a grandmotherly presence in your life, freewrite for ten minutes about what you used to imagine (as a child) a grandmother would be like.
- Describe how each grandmother related to you and your siblings. Did she treat you all the same or did she have favorites? What was that like?
- Whether you knew them well or not, complete the following sentence 5 times for each grandmother: “My mother’s/father’s mother was the kind of woman who . . .” If you had step grandmothers, also complete the sentence for each one.
- Describe your grandmother’s house as fully as possible, including how you felt when you were visiting.
- What life lessons, if any, did you learn from your grandmother(s)?
- How do you think your relationship or lack of relationship with a grandmother affected you as an adult?
- If there was one thing you could change about your relationship with any of your grandmothers, what would that be?
- Write a heartfelt and honest letter to one of your grandmothers (alive or dead) saying anything you’d like her to know about you.
After exploring this topic in writing, what’s your biggest insight about your grandmother(s)?