Potential Grandmother Ponders Old School Parenting vs Modern Parenting

4 years ago
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I’ll be 57 in July, a not-quite-grandmother age and a not-full-time-mother age. My son and daughter are in their mid- and late-20s, unattached, and focused on their professions. They’re experiencing life as they should be, so I don’t want to pester them or anything but … well, I do get just a little envious when I see a woman my age holding the hand of a toddler.

As much as I want to be a grandmother, I don’t want to be a grandmother now necessarily, because my kids are not ready to settle down and have kids. I don’t mean to be redundant because you get the idea, but I struggle between pragmatism and daydreaming.

There are some women I know for whom being a grandmother is as appealing as getting the senior discount at a restaurant — it’s not the food, it’s the acknowledgment of age. They adore their grandchildren but don’t want to be called “grandma.” Instead they’re called a made-up name that they pretend the child invented, or “grandma” in the language of far removed ancestors that doesn’t sound anything like “grandma.”

I don’t lie about my age. I don’t see the point. It’s like stuffing your bra in junior high. It’s an illusion until some boy gropes you and then you’re screwed. And I never understood the grandmother uniform: neither the sweat outfit with the bigger-than-life image of the grandchild nor the lunch-at-the-yacht-club perfectly creased slacks in a pale color and prim sweater — an outfit that chides, “Children are seen and not heard.”

Being a grandmother won’t make me feel suddenly old, but invigorated. At home, writing at my desk, my uniform of choice is jeans with holes from, uh, too much thinking, and Vans sneakers or a tossed-on sundress and bare feet. Grandchildren will give me a better excuse than being a writer to dress down everyday.

Image: Alex Bikfalvi

The only thing that worries me about being a grandmother is dealing with modern parenting. It comes with the territory — the old school butting heads with the new generation of parents.

A few years ago, I lived in Park Slope, Brooklyn — Ground Zero of cutting-edge parenting. As a freelancer, I’m around during the day, walking my dogs, running errands and exercising when most people are at work. In Prospect Park on the weekdays, I noticed it was me and scores of young white children with dark-skinned caretakers. On the weekend, the parents showed up and it seemed a bucolic sea of whiteness. It was not unlike Soho in the '80s and '90s when I raised my kids.

“I’m getting a T-shirt that says ‘Awesome!’ on one side and ‘Good job!’ on the other,” said a man, sharing my bench in front of a muffin shop. He was an aging British rocker; in his 50s, pencil-thin with tight rolled-up jeans, a form-fitting button-down shirt, and a rockabilly 'do — big and wavy on top, tight on the sides. He was attractive and hip. Next to him was a sandy-haired, adorably dressed boy of about 5 with Down syndrome who was eating a yogurt with a spoon and his fingers.

“That is what I call ‘performance parenting,’” he said glancing at me and gesturing to two mothers in front of us; trim, ponytailed, in yoga clothes with 5-year-olds. The children walked along a low cement ledge and then circled back to do it again; the sort of thing children have done since the beginning of time. But the mothers, in loud voices, exclaimed “Good job!” and “Awesome!” and spoke to and about their children in voices that should have been intimate, not broadcasting.

“Why are they praising their children?” I asked, thinking I would have used the distracted kids as a moment to talk to my friend.

He explained to me that it is the trend to praise your child constantly, along with giving awards to the whole Little League, and not noting the truly gifted artist in the class.

“It is a ‘good job’ when my child climbs a ladder and slides down a slide, which he hasn’t mastered yet,” he said.

We spoke awhile and then parted ways.

You know how it is when someone points out something that you hadn’t noticed and then you see it everywhere? Well, I cursed my rocker friend for making me aware. Now I saw it everywhere. The mother who instead of telling her son to hurry up, said, “Good job!” when he finally stopped playing with the water in a drinking fountain while I waited, panting from a run; the mother bargaining with her tiny daughter about moving away from a door at the post office so a worker could open it and give a man his package; the father wondering loudly to a toddler in a stroller blocking the aisle in a small wine store, which of the costly French wines mommy wanted to drink. I saw so many of these circumstances that they were the rule, not the exception.

When I moved to Northampton, Mass., a couple years ago, I figured I left the over-indulgent, show-off parents behind. But then I discovered it is ubiquitous. Last winter was about as freezing as it gets. One day when I was rushing home with my two poodles, the three of us shivering, a woman beckoned me — would I cross the street so her snow-suited child could play with my dogs?

“Sorry,” I said, “we’re freezing and heading home.”

“We’ll come over there,” she said, crossing the street.

In disbelief, I kept walking. I could hear her behind me explaining to her whining child that they’d find other dogs.

This sort of thing has happened with my dogs a couple more times. Instead of letting the child absorb "no" as an answer, there is endless explaining, and I’m the bad guy.

My knee-jerk reaction is to say, “There is something wrong with these parents!” but then I remember when I raised my kids. It was the beginning of organic baby food, Mommy and Me classes, Diane Keaton in “Baby Boom,” designer baby clothes, Snuglis and fancy strollers, baby-rearing manuals, and even before the baby was born, the emphasis was on doing what was healthiest — Lamaze, underwater births, birthing chairs, Leboyer method, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” … We were anxious parents. We wanted to do it right. The peer pressure was intense. We did everything in our marriages and jobs that our mothers didn’t and we wanted to do babies like that too.

In retrospect, I guess I understand these new zealous parents better than I thought. They are anxious; they want to do the right thing; they learn from one another; they are vulnerable. There is nothing scarier than being entirely responsible for another human being who is completely dependent on you. Only grandmas know it all works out.

Originally published on Purple Clover

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