Journaling Through Relationships — Grandmothers 7

“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.)


Journaling Prompts

  • 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)?


* London School of Economics and Political Science


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7 thoughts on “Journaling Through Relationships — Grandmothers

  • Sara Etgen-Baker

    I like the idea of writing a letter to my grandmothers, now both deceased. My maternal grandmother died when I was only four so I knew little about her other than the vague memories I have of her and what my mother related to me. My paternal grandmother was a strong influence on my life. She was there for me at a critical point in my teenage years. She was classy and the kind of woman who was meticulous in how she dressed and acted even up to the day she died. She rose at 5 a.m. every morning, fixed her hair, and dressed in a dress, put on her hose, and ventured into the rest of her house. I imagine she was what June Cleaver would’ve been like had she aged on television. Okay, rambling again. Needless to say, your prompts sparked a string of thoughts. 🙂

  • Iuliana

    She was an amazing grandmother, mother, great grandmother, friend, wife and all around person! She will be missed, but, never forgotten! Her love and kindness will live on for generations to come! Rest In Peace grandma!

  • JimmyZ

    As my maternal grandmother told me, her father had regularly gone to the Caucasus to work as a herdsman for Molokans, the family being large and growing. He learned to speak Russian from them as well.

  • Elaine

    In another writing program that I participated in a few years ago, I wrote a letter to my long deceased maternal grandmother. It was an interesting experience. A few months later, I wrote again with all the thoughts that had come to me after that first writing.
    In my years of knowing her, this grandmother was aloof, harsh and critical. I knew a bit of her story but did not have enough life lived to have empathy for her. That’s what I took into the first writing, that old story. Then as I mulled what I now know and what I had written, It still amazes me how much my attitude toward her had changed by the second writing.
    I’m looking forward to using these prompts for her and writing about my paternal grandmother as well.
    Thank you.