Why Grandmothers Are Important
“Becoming a grandmother is wonderful. One moment you’re just a mother. The next you are all-wise and prehistoric.” — Pam Brown
In keeping with “Women’s History Month,” I wanted my article to focus on women and since the lock-down I have not been able to spend as much time with my grandchildren as I would like. Eureka! I will be right about grandmothers.
We will begin by looking at the role of grandmothers in the African‐American community from Reconstruction through the New Deal. It suggests that grandmothers were central to the economic survival of their families and worked as long as they lived, in paid labor and household labor, to help provide for their families. Grandmothers were the source of oral histories and narratives that helped their grandchildren resist the oppression of the larger society. This early role has been linked to the role of grandmothers since World War II.
While not every family has this dynamic (there is no right or wrong), science is beginning to show that grandparents, and grandmothers in particular, have played a crucial role in human evolution and most importantly, how we connect with each other.
We often think of grandmothers as providing a gentle touch for our grandchildren, but the role of grandmothers encompasses something much more concrete. Currently, 60 percent of grandmothers provide childcare for their grandchildren, according to Waite. In her book, Grandmother Power, Gianturco writes that the future of Africa may well depend on its grandmothers.
Nowadays a grandmother can provide everything from occasional babysitting to residing with and sometimes raising grandchildren. Grandparents, now more than ever before, are playing an increasing role for families because of the increase of working mothers. Thirty percent of mothers with children under five years depend on grandmothers to provide childcare.
What does all this means for our society and what should we be paying attention to since older people are the only naturally occurring resource in our society that is increasing. We are living in the “age of old age” with Baby Boomers retiring. Let us choose to look at this as a resource to be tapped which could help our harried society.
Today’s grandmothers are younger, healthier, and more educated. They have professional expertise and because Boomer grandmas came of age in the sixties, they know how to be activists and make the world better for grandchildren because they were activists when they were students.
Anthropologists and evolutionary biologists have been questioning the reason for women to go through menopause, a stage in life that we do not share with other primates. After all, would not it be better for the species if women were able to continue bearing children for the entirety of their lives? Note: I’m reasonably sure a man initially jumped to this conclusion. Men can procreate for as long as they can rise to the occasion.
The ‘Grandmother Hypothesis’ argues that the role of grandmothers in society helps shape who we are. Kristen Hawkes, an anthropologist at the University of Utah, who looked into this hypothesis and indicates that grandmothers have helped us develop an array of social capacities. This includes those that are “the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”
From a survival perspective, researchers suggest that if a mother has help with multiple children, larger families become more viable. They found that grandmothers can assist families by acting as supplementary caregivers, and also help with the collection of food.
The study acknowledged that, of course, in the real world many mothers get help from other sources, such as fathers and older siblings. But grandmothers are unique in the sense that they have often, but not always, already been a mother. They are qualified for the job without the distractions of youth and the sometimes dominant hormonal drivers.
In conclusion, the following are my non-scientific reasons why I think grandmothers are so important:
Grandmothers always seem to have the patience that mothers do not. Being a mother now I can tell you that is the absolute truth! I do not know where they or I, get it from, but grandmothers are able to stay calm even during the worst temper tantrums that would have any mother running for the door.
Grandmothers let you get away with just about anything! Or is this just me?
Grandmothers have a way of making it all better. They always seem to have the right words at the right time no matter the situation.
Grandmothers will play with you all the time. Wait. “Isn’t this what we are supposed to do?” I say, as we prep for another science experiment in the kitchen.
Grandmothers always seem to have time for you. Do not get me wrong, moms always have time for their kids too. But, grandmothers have that time that seems to never end.
I am blessed to be called Nana, to my three grandchildren. Being a mom is great, but being Nana is priceless.