Becoming a grandmother for the first time is as daunting as it is exciting, but what does becoming a grandmother in the 21st century really mean? Susan Moore has a taste of what you can expect.
Are you over 60? Imagine this exercise (don’t actually do it!): lift a case of wine off the floor to your shoulder and put it back down again. Repeat about 20 times over a couple of hours, and in between lifts, walk around with the case for half an hour, occasionally interspersed with sitting and standing again from a low armchair. How are your knees feeling? What about your back? Now mentally replace that case of wine with a wriggling 10-15kg toddler, and you’re back in the world of childcare, except that you’re 30 or 40 years older than when you did it the first time. Welcome to grandparenting!
There’s no doubt that becoming a grandparent is a joyous event; all the more so if you’re able to take an active role in your grandchild’s life. Many new grandparents find the experience gives them a new lease of life and sense of purpose. This is especially the case if they are fit and healthy enough to be ‘hands on’ with the grandkids – able to cope with the physical demands of baby minding and supervision of toddlers as well as keeping up with the energy levels and playfulness of young children.
My colleague, Doreen Rosenthal, and I, inspired by our own grandparenting experiences, recently conducted a study of over 1000 Australian grandmothers. The results are shortly to be published in book form as New Age Nanas: Grandmothering in the 21st Century. We’re following up with similar research on grandfathers. The average age of those we studied was mid-60s and typically they’d first become grandparents in their mid- to late-50s. These ages – the 50s, 60s and beyond – can be times of excellent health and abundant energy, especially in this era of good medical care and understanding of the importance of a healthy lifestyle. And indeed, more than 80 percent of our grandmothers and grandfathers described their health as good to excellent, reporting that illness did not impact on their ability to be the kind of grandparent they wanted to be.
But it is important to keep in mind that energy levels and endurance gradually decline with age, and health problems can intervene. Some of our respondents found they had to tailor their grandparenting role to quieter, more passive pursuits because of conditions ranging from the very serious (cancer, stroke), to less severe (sore feet) and from the chronic (arthritis, bad backs, asthma, obesity) to the temporary (broken limbs, recent knee replacement). Tiredness was a common complaint, even among fit and healthy grandparents. There was awareness of the need to be especially vigilant about bending or lifting, to protect backs, knees and muscles, and to maintain sensible eating and exercise regimes and preventive measures like routine medical tests and flu injections.
The thrill and excitement of a new grandchild inspired some grandparents to work harder at getting fit, so they could ‘keep up’, keep involved and live to see these precious new arrivals grow to maturity. And as our lifespan continues to increase and we learn better ways to combat the diseases of ageing, our potential to be not only healthy grandparents but with-it great grandparents becomes stronger and stronger.
Article written by Susan Moore, co-author New Age Nanas: Grandmothering in the 21st Century