My daughter and I are a lot alike. We share similar values: nurturing family ties, communicating openly, celebrating birthdays and holidays, taking care of our bodies with exercise and healthy food, vacationing together as a family and enjoying satisfying conversations with close women friends.
Becoming a Grandma
Thirteen years ago when my daughter was pregnant with her first daughter, she invited me to attend the birth. It was the greatest gift she ever gave me. On April 26, 2003, I stood at the foot of my daughter’s hospital bed right beside the midwife. When the little head emerged, the midwife gently lifted the baby and I saw that her eyes were wide open.
We looked at each other and in that moment, we formed a bond that has grown stronger every year. I leaped in the air and went completely gaga! Then I ran down the hall to find my husband and tell him: “We’re grandparents! We have a granddaughter!”
The next few days after witnessing Juliet’s birth, I told everyone I met – even the checker at Safeway – “I’m a brand new grandma!”
It was comical. When I came back down to earth, I realized I was I not the first grandma to feel this way. Every grandma I talked to was just as “gaga” about her grandchild(ren) as I was about mine.
I spent the next two weeks helping my daughter and the new baby. That’s when something even more important occurred to me – being a grandma is complicated – more complicated than being a parent because more people are involved and we’re not the ones in charge any more.
Adjusting to New Parenting Methods
I used to joke to my grandma friends that when I visited my daughter and her family, I felt like an anthropologist observing a native tribe and learning its customs. I watched and learned and admired how well my two granddaughters thrived as my daughter explained all the theories behind her choices.
During that first month after my granddaughter’s birth and in the years that followed, I realized that my daughter and I, while a lot alike, are also very different. I learned to “get on board” with different parenting methods that were totally new to me: attachment parenting, co-sleeping, breastfeeding on demand, baby sign language, homeschooling and following a vegan diet.
I wanted to know what other grandmas were experiencing so seven months after Juliet was born, I invited all the grandmas I knew to begin a conversation about what it means to be a modern grandma.
Fifteen grandmas sat in a circle in my living room and we told stories about what our grandchildren call us and how we got those names, the great lengths we go to see them, how we juggle all our roles to make time for them, and most importantly, how we get along with their sometimes-prickly parents. Grandmas have lots of wisdom and life experiences but we still face new challenges. When we become grandmas, we need support and reassurance from other grandmas.
Birth of the GaGa Sisterhood
That afternoon in my living room, a new community was formed — the GaGa Sisterhood, a social network where grandmas bond, brag and benefit. Over the past 13 years, grandmas from around the country have joined the GaGa Sisterhood. In our Silicon Valley chapter, we meet every other month to hear speakers who enlighten and inspire us to continue growing along with our children and grandchildren.
One of our most popular discussions was titled “When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand.” As grandmas talked about their challenges, we all nodded in agreement. The three most common challenges that grandmas identified are:
• Communication issues with their grandchild’s parents
• Not understanding today’s modern parenting methods
• Coping with feelings of being unappreciated or left out
That meeting confirmed my belief that grandmas are often reluctant to talk about their challenges. In 2012, I wrote a book about the grandparent-adult child relationship. I interviewed grandmas and moms to get their perspective on conflicts, misunderstandings and what moms wished they could tell grandparents.
4 Tips for Bonding with Your Grandchild’s Parents
In my book, When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand, I use the acronym L.O.V.E. to help grandparents remember four important tips for building a loving bond with their grandchild’s parents:
Learn the parents’ language so that you understand their parenting philosophy.
Own your shared purpose of nurturing a healthy, adjusted child.
Value the parents’ hard work and good intentions so that you share mutual respect.
Empathize! Empathize! Empathize! Empathy is infinitely more valuable than advice.
My purpose in writing the book was to share both sides of the grandparent relationship, so that grandmas can understand how moms feel and in turn, moms can understand how grandmas feel. It doesn’t mean that we’ll always agree with each other but through understanding, we can build mutual respect and trust. That’s the place my daughter and I have reached despite our many differences.
Donne Davis and her husband live in the San Francisco Bay Area. They have two grown children and three granddaughters. Her book, When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand, is available on Amazon. You can read her award-winning blog at http://gagasisterhood.com or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org