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LucyGransnet (GNHQ) Thu 15-Oct-15 11:54:32

Do you have to be a good mother to be a good grandmother?

Is it possible to be different as a grandmother than you were as a mother? Natasha Farrant believes so. Here's why...

Natasha Farrant

Do you have to be a good mother to be a good grandmother?

Posted on: Thu 15-Oct-15 11:54:32


Lead photo

"They were supremely jealous of each other, and I once saw them engage in a bare-knuckled seafood eating contest"

Both my grandmothers were impossible women. One was a total eccentric, encouraged us to lick our plates clean after dessert and to sunbathe naked on public (non-nudist) beaches. The other insisted on always using a proper butter knife, but drank whisky with our boyfriends late into the night. The naked sunbather had a passion for horoscopes. The whisky drinker was never without a book, and was re-reading War and Peace for the third time when she died.

They were vain, selfish, snobbish and autocratic. They were impeccably dressed, perfectly made up and extremely glamorous (the one favouring bright colours and flowing cashmere, the other impeccable tailoring). They were supremely jealous of each other, and I once saw them engage in a bare-knuckled seafood eating contest, only barely disguised as a polite lunch in a quayside restaurant on the French Atlantic coast. "It tastes of the sea!" they cried, cramming their mouths as live creatures tried to make a run for it across the linen tablecloth.

With the passage of time, my grandmothers have acquired mythical status. Two world wars, emigration, bereavement, fortunes made, fortunes lost, a bombed house, a lost child, a tragic love affair. Summers spent with our feet in the sand, winter walks on foggy beaches, a medieval French town by the sea, a vegetable garden with tomatoes the size of apples, mysterious objects such as grapefruit spoons – grapefruit spoons! – belonging to past eras, a bright green Renault 5 stuffed with cousins, a string of badly behaved cocker spaniels…

Distant and neglectful of their own children, they were lavish towards their grandchildren and they have so stamped themselves upon my imagination that I have yet to write a book in which they do not feature.

Western society isn't great at marking rites of passage, or at defining major roles. In my own bumpy transition to motherhood, I didn't stop to think too much about the transition my own mother and mother-in-law were going through. Caregiver, babysitter, educator, treat-giver, confidante – what is a grandmother supposed to be? Nan, Nana, Gran, Grandma – Babushka, Granna, Mere. What is she even supposed to be called? In many countries, it is grandmothers who are the primary care-givers. Many women who come to work in the UK choose to leave their children to be brought up in their home country by their own mothers. Conversely, I have friends whose parents have told them not to expect help with their grandchildren – "I've done my time, now it's your turn."

Distant and neglectful of their own children, they were lavish towards their grandchildren

What role exactly should grandmothers play in their grandchildren's lives? My mother and mother-in-law's approaches to first time grandmothering were characteristically different. One became mildly affronted at the suggestion of routines to be followed ("I've had four children, I know what I'm doing"). The other wanted lists of instructions so she could replicate exactly what we did ("Everything is so different now"). I tried hard to relinquish control in the former case, and to assure the latter that what I wanted more than anything was for her to develop her own relationship with my child. I have been incredibly lucky that both women have wanted to be involved with my children from the very first day, each in her way providing precious support, including for lengthy periods during the school holidays.

As the children have become teenagers, they think nothing of hopping on a train to visit for a night or a week. They text, they email, they chat on the phone. They know that they can turn to their grandmothers for advice and support, and that they will hear a different message from them than from me. Sometimes I will agree, sometimes I won't, but that doesn't matter. As the girls grow up, they have to form their own opinions, and their grandparents are able to offer them different wisdoms and perspectives.

I am so grateful that for all the rows and differences between my parents and their respective mothers (there were many, and they ran deep), neither party allowed those divisions to come between grandparents and grandchildren. If they had, I would never have heard first hand stories of the war, or learned that it is perfectly acceptable to go out to buy fish in turquoise silk pyjamas. I would not have War and Peace on my bedside table, and I might not know that walking barefoot on the beach in winter is the best feeling in the world. I would not have travelled to France to kiss my grandfather one last time as he lay dying, or fed my grandmother raspberries in her final days, and I would not have the relationships I do with my cousins and uncles and aunts. They were both, in many ways, terrible role models. I certainly don't model my parenting on theirs, or even on my relationship with them. But that, to me, was never the point. For all their faults and eccentricities, my grandmothers opened my eyes to the world in ways that no one else could, and my children's grandmothers are doing the same for them.

What do you think is the principal role of grandmothering? I would really like to know.

Natasha's latest book All About Pumpkin is published by Faber, and features a very stubborn grandmother and her equally stubborn grandchildren. It's available now from Amazon.

By Natasha Farrant

Twitter: @NatashaFarrant1

LullyDully Thu 15-Oct-15 12:56:19

My grannies so different. Very supportive, kind and loving. Knitters and card players. I loved them both so much. They were Victorians and great.

I just hope my GC love me as much. We are very close.

Greyduster Thu 15-Oct-15 13:48:44

I didn't have a lot to do with my grandmother - didn't see her very often. When I did see her, it was a case of sit still and don't fidget, or go out to play until it was time to go home. My own mother wasn't a paragon of maternal virtue and wasn't much of a role model. I think I made my mind up when I got married that, if nothing else, I would be a better mother to my children than mine had been to me. As a grandmother, I had no role model, but I see my role as being to reinforce the love, care and life skills that my grandson (8) is given by his parents, to add to those life skills if I can, and above all, to have fun. We are at the stage now where his relationship with us is changing because he is becoming more independent and he is now more focuses, during the two days a week we have care of him, on spending time with his friends than he is with us, and that is exactly as it should be. A gradual loosening of the reins.

Luckygirl Thu 15-Oct-15 14:00:56

My GPs were hated by my parents - both sets - so we did not see much of them, but I got on fine with them when we did. However, getting on with them was seen as a betrayal so I was not able to establish any sort of real relationship with them. Fun eh? sad

I suspect that I am a better GM than I was Mum because I am not under so much pressure. My children are really good Mums - I so admire them.

gillybob Thu 15-Oct-15 14:03:34

If I lived to be 500 I could never be as good a grandma to my DGC as my grandma was to me.

I just keep on trying. Practice makes perfect and boy do I get plenty practise. [little monkeys are never away]

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 15-Oct-15 14:14:14

What a nice change to have a blog that is actually something to do with the book being highlighted. And a blog that makes you think the book might actually be worth buying.

jinglbellsfrocks Thu 15-Oct-15 14:16:44

I am rapidly becoming my grandmother in many ways.

I guess if a person has some degree of loving and caring qualities, they will be a good Mum. And a good Gran. One way or another.

Falconbird Fri 16-Oct-15 06:37:09

My mother was a very difficult mum. My parents had lost their first child (a little girl) at 14months and I was born 10 months later and there were no more children.

Mum always seemed confused by me. She was fearful for my safety but cold also be quite neglectful, mean and sometimes cruel, sometimes loving and possessive.

When I had three sons in the 1970s mum seemed to enjoy them very much. I guess they were a change from girls and in her mind sadness, there were three of them and they were boisterous and usually healthy. They made her laugh and she used to cook them big Sunday dinners and loved watching them eat.

She was a difficult mother but a really good grandmother. Looking back I think the boys made her feel more optimistic about life.

Sadly she didn't live to see her great grandchildren although she lived to be 90.

kittylester Fri 16-Oct-15 06:58:52

My mum favoured my brother and, as a grandmother, had favourites too. I don't know what sort of a mum I was or even what sort of grandmother I am but my daughters and dil are all better than I think I was.

thatbags Fri 16-Oct-15 10:26:00

There are no shoulds and no supposed to bes to being a grandparent that do not also apply to every other kind of person. Grandparents are people. People vary. That's all there is to it. Be yourself.

TerriBull Fri 16-Oct-15 10:47:51

I think grand parenting in my own grandparents day was a fairly uncomplicated affair. We visited them a handful of times a year, and visa versa, they gave us Christmas and birthday presents and that was it. I regret now, since embarking on genealogy research, that I didn't have long conversations with them about their own lives and grandparents, but they passed away one by one between me being aged 7 to 22 so I was either too young or too disinterested to have the sort of relationship that I would have with them now, if that makes any sense, if of course they were still alive, which would be highly unlikely given they were born in the 1890s sad

I sometimes find the expectation of a grandparent's role today slightly alarming, on one hand we have grandparents who have fallen foul of their own child/ren/in-laws, who have been cut out of the gc lives, for whatever reason and at the other end of the spectrum we have those who play a large part in the raising/looking after and funding their gc, sometimes willingly and at other times reluctantly.

As a grand parent, I see my role as one step back, I'm happy to have them for a day once a week, even an over nighter, I like to have an input, but I don't want to take over the parental role.

TerriBull Fri 16-Oct-15 10:48:45

vice versa not visa versa

TerriBull Fri 16-Oct-15 11:21:45

Following on from Natasha Farrant's piece at the beginning, Margaret Forster's book, Isa and May is about a girl, strangely named Isamay, a hybrid of her maternal and paternal grandmothers' names, two very different women and their adult granddaughter's relationship with them.

I think it's absolutely essential to be the grandparent you wish to be and not engage in a one up-manship with the other side.

mollie Fri 16-Oct-15 11:35:44

I don't think so. Afterall, being a grandparent is a second chance for most of us to enjoy having (grand)kids but without the awful everyday responsibility and slog. I don't think mine was much good as a mum but her grandsons love her. On the other hand, my own grandparents were diabolical parents (in a detached, uncaring way) and weren't any different as grandparents so perhaps they didn't see my arrival as a second chance at all!

Marmight Fri 16-Oct-15 11:46:52

I think I was a better mother than I am a grandmother. I am afraid I do not subscribe to the 'my grandchildren are the most important and miraculous people in my life - I love them beyond imagination' brigade. Sad (?) but true........

Nelliemoser Fri 16-Oct-15 11:51:54

IMO you need to have had a good mother yourself to be a good mother and grandmother.

mollie Fri 16-Oct-15 12:06:32

Good point, Nelliemoser. When you become a parent you have two choices: follow the examples of your own parents or improve on them. In hindsight my parents didn't do too badly considering their own dodgy childhoods but of course I didn't appreciate that at the time. When it was my turn I was determined to do a better job (of course), not sure I did but I tried.

annsixty Fri 16-Oct-15 12:14:41

I can't agree with that Nelliemoser I hope I learnt what not to do from my mother's example and trust I am a far better mother and grandmother than she ever was.

janeainsworth Fri 16-Oct-15 13:41:36

Not sad at all Marmight - realistic I would say!
I'm not sure it's good for children to be overwhelmed by several adults all regarding them as the most important thing in life. Think of the stress of having to live up to all those expectations!

Cosafina Fri 16-Oct-15 13:52:59

My grandmother (I only ever knew one) was awful, but I adored my great-grandmother.
I think I was lousy mum (18 is too young to have children), but my DGS seems to adore me as much as I adore him, so I think I'm turning out to be a better grandmother than I was a mother!

Greyduster Fri 16-Oct-15 15:10:57

With respect, nelliemoser, I think that's a ridiculous statement. On the basis of that, I would have been the world's worst mother. I can't even begin to tell you some of the stunts my mother pulled when I was young, just so that she could go out and drink in the middle of the day and not have to bother about me. I would have killed myself rather than bring up my kids like that! I may have had my faults as a mother, who doesn't, but I think my kids would agree I've done a pretty good job.

FarNorth Fri 16-Oct-15 16:53:30

I'm like Cosafina. I was a rubbish Mum in many ways but hoping to be a better grandma - DGD is only 2 at the mo.

Nelliemoser Fri 16-Oct-15 17:32:30

Greyduster and others I am sorry about how my comments sounded. That was probably not the right way to have phrased the point I was trying to make.

I was thinking of very early child bonding processes. What I had meant to get over is that in very early months and years emotional neglect does seriously damage children and reduces their own ability to parent properly. Unless there is some good intervention early enough, this can persist down the generations.

To have had good basic nurturing in those early years can set up children with enough emotional resilience to weather a lot of other difficulties which might come later.
There appear to be number of people on GN who according to their stories have done just that.

In almost all of the "serious case review" child abuse cases, that have made the headlines in recent years, the child's parents/partners themselves have had long histories of very disrupted and abusive families.
Most parents are "good enough" despite the difficulties.

KatyK Fri 16-Oct-15 17:55:05

I agree that nurturing is so important. My Irish Catholic mother gave birth to us (8 of us). She fed us and clothed us (just about). We never had holidays or days out or anything like that and were somewhat neglected. I was never kissed or hugged. I never felt the same as the other children who would sometimes say to me 'my mum says I can't play with you because you have nits' or whatever. My siblings and myself have no confidence and low self esteem to this day. When I had my own DD, I had no ambition for her other than to be loved, clean, looked after and have whatever we could afford to give her. I just wanted her to be the same as every other child, which hopefully she was. Looking back I would have done a lot differently (I was only just 20 when I had her). She has turned out to be a good, decent human being who is giving her own daughter a very good life. She wants more for her. My granddaughter tells me I am a lovely nan, so I'm happy with that.

M0nica Fri 16-Oct-15 18:41:55

Like all things, it depends, some bad parents will be rotten grandparents, some will be surprisingly good.