The reluctant grandmother

‘Am I ready to be a grandparent?’

The reluctant grandmother

Elizabeth Quinn is a writer, Francophile and single mother of three young adults. Just as we all ‘learn’ how to be the best parent we can, so the process continues when the grandchildren arrive. She shares her story.


I have never been especially keen on the idea of being a grandmother.

Periodically, my children would threaten me with it just for fun. I’m way too young, I’d say. Turns out I’m not as young as I thought. Or as immune to the lure of a newborn – first born of my firstborn, unwitting trailblazer of a new generation of my family, tiny repository of untold hopes and dreams.

My granddaughter lives 1700 kilometres away. My visit coincides with her arrival home. No mollycoddling for today’s new mothers in a stretched hospital system. I am in the kitchen preparing a homecoming meal. The smell of roast pork is a welcome greeting for the new parents. I wonder what their daughter makes of it.

She lies prone on my chest, oblivious to the weight of expectations.

She can lie like that for hours, happy to feel the beating of another heart. After all, she has only been out of the womb for 48 hours. Into the bright lights and loud noises of the maternity ward, the cold stethoscope and sharp pinpricks that are part of a newborn’s introduction to the world. I watch over her while the rest of the household sleeps.

The next morning, I take her for her first walk in the pram.

We discover a cafe that serves the best coffee and the best muffins in the world. Or maybe it’s the company that makes everything taste so good. I tell the barista this is my first grandchild. He comes from behind the counter to inspect her. One by one, his co-workers follow – young men with muscly arms, soft hearts and young children of their own.

It’s a privilege to witness a son during the early days of fatherhood.

For the first few days, my big, brash, funny boy cries every time he talks about the birth. He is awestruck, amused and engaged by the tiny bundle with the shock of downy black hair he has helped bring into the world. He is a solicitous partner: helpful, good-natured and hands-on. And sleep-deprived. He almost electrocutes himself changing a light bulb.

The new mother is exhausted, appreciative, intuitive. My granddaughter is in the safest of hands. I know that when I go back home, as I must after three days, the fortress will be secure. As it was before I arrived. As it will be next time I come to check the perimeters. The urge to make sure my chicks are safe is strong. It’s a grandmother thing.

Did you embrace becoming a grandparent? Were there ‘rules’ you told yourself to follow?

This article first appeared on

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    14th Jul 2019
    I was still working in a very busy job when my daughter became pregnant. I was happy for her and my son in law but felt disconnected from the process. My first grandchild was born and words can’t express the love I felt when I held him for the first time. There is a brother now, and they are the best!
    14th Jul 2019
    You are lucky to receive a welcome embrace as the Mother-in-law. Many daughter-in-laws are very protective of their first born.
    There is so much pride and joy being a grandparent. Treasure every moment.
    14th Jul 2019
    My daughter-in-law is Swedish, so I'm the only 'mother' she has in Oz. And yes, I'm lucky to have her and I do treasure every moment of my time with my granddaughter. Thanks for your comment Rosret.
    14th Jul 2019
    If I had known grandchildren were so much fun, I'd have had them first! Mine live in another state so I don't see them all that often. I didn't have any help and support from parents living overseas when I had my children, but it would have been nice to have my mum around. Had my first grandchild at 44 - didn't think I was ready, but he was such a delight. My first great grandson has just been born, and I can't wait to meet him!
    14th Jul 2019
    I'm a distant grand mother, by choice, and now perfectly happy not to have them close. I spent 6 weeks with them a few months ago, the same the year before. I was a single parent, my daughter had a good education, and unique, good hobby, and good family and home life. She now says she doesn't want a 'structured' upbringing for her kids. My daughter rules the roost and unfortunately, the kids are the rudest, most selfish, inconsiderate, uncaring, 'me, me,, now, now'. Her hubby does FIFO, and quiet frankly, I can see why he does it. She doesn't complain about his huge wage which means she doesn't have to work, and says it makes it easier to care for the kids without hubbies input. I was forbidden to say 'no' to the kids, they were allowed to eat what and when they want, most nights take away, different meals for each of 3 kids. One lost his baseball cap...I said I'd pop into the local op shop to get another one, and they all nearly passed out! No, will only wear labels, so went and bought one for $30. One kid dropped their IPad, (all have their own), so mum buys a new one. They expect everything, do no chores, constantly asked me for money which I now refuse to give then. One can barely read at age 8 because they 'don't want to'. I actually do not like my grand kids, so have pulled back. For last school holidays they asked for some money, I said no (I am on pension), I haven't heard from them since.
    14th Jul 2019
    That is so sad sunnyOz but in some ways I can sympathise with you, we didn't think we would ever be grandparents, only one of our 4 sons married, so a big relief when the first grandchild arrived, we were in our middle 70's old enough to be great grandparents but were over joyed when the little ones arrived, we now have 2, 8 and 9 years old.

    I can see them becomming a lot like your grandchildren sunnyOz, as they get older they are getting more demanding but in some ways it is our fault and the fault of their 3 uncles who have no children, evryone has spoilt them so now we have to take a step back and make them realise thery cannot have evrything they want.

    One of them gave me his Xmas wishlist, a Mountain Bike, a Scooter and a Drone, I said you will have to do a lot of jobs to pay for these, later the eldest one said, Nan look this is the Drone I want, he had a picture up on EBay on the computer and when I said No that is what the army use he said, " No Nan, I Googled best drone for a 9 year old and this is it", so what do you say to that?. We all live in a small country town so I see them on a regular basis.
    14th Jul 2019
    Keep your distance and treasure it sunnyoz, stay away from these self indulgents, nobody needs this lot in their lives! Spend your 6 weeks somewhere pleasant next year.
    14th Jul 2019
    As a grandfather I remember my wife saying she was not going to be one of those silly grandmothers who devote their life to their grandchildren. Being a grandmother was not going change her life. I can give you the year month day and minute when she did a complete backflip. He is 21 now and a wonderful young man, on his way to a law degree and hopefully his preferred career in the diplomatic corps and then politics. He works part time at BWS bottleshop and has a delightful young lady friend (he declines to call her his girlfriend). All 5 of our grandchildren are on track to be good citizens and a credit to their parents and grandparents.
    14th Jul 2019
    :-) They really do make you proud don't they.
    14th Jul 2019
    Love being a grand-mum - get so much joy and delight from our brood
    9 grandies and 5 great grandies. I was 50 when our first grand-child was born. They are all so individual and have their own special traits. Of course we love spoiling them with treats, a grand-parents privilege.
    We are blessed that they all live in the same town and not too far away.
    14th Jul 2019
    I am trying to teach them about saving, they have 3 money boxes, 1 for charity, 1 for saving and 1 to spend how they like, they also recycle the 10 cent containers so they are learning, at keast I hope so.
    14th Jul 2019
    One of mine is saving for a big ticket item. I said he could have $5 if he walked my dog and bought me some milk.
    He eventually returned with the milk and the dog in tow. He had bought everyone in the house lollies and he had stopped to eat an ice cream. I asked him about this purchase he was saving for. " Oops I forgot!" he replied. Still his Maths was good. He knew exactly how much $10 will buy.
    Next time I will keep the $5 at home until he comes back from the shops.
    14th Jul 2019
    There is a saying 'you have kids to have grandkids'. Had to wait a while but have 3 delightful grandies who all live very close. Their Mums are happy to share them with us. We see them often and feel so lucky. They love coming to our home and have lots of sleep overs. Mind you Grandma is a pushover and cooks their favourite foods for them and Grandpa shares his stash of ice-cream with them. There are strict rules though about the use of phones, devices etc. However it is handy that the older ones of 12 and 13 can fix computers phones etc. for us!! Now can't imagine life without them.
    14th Jul 2019
    Grandchildren are a total delight, even the naughty ones. I have four of each gender, all completely different in looks and personality, and all have grown to be polite and considerate. Ages range from 29 down to 11, from three children of mine. I now have one precious great-granddaughter, and can't wait for more. All live in different suburbs of the same city as I, so I get to see them fairly regularly.
    15th Jul 2019
    Grandchildren are wonderful. We both love ours to the moon and back lol.

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