Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bad Grandma?

My daughter and I were in the New York Times last week.

I actually was upset because the article made me out to be selfish, self-centered and frivolous and it appears most of the times readers came to that conclusion. After reading the article, if I didn't know me, I wouldn't like me very much either. In spite of my tentativeness around infants, I have always, and still do, believe that the birth of a child is a miracle and the greatest gift that God can give two people and will ever be in awe of this miracle. I relived my miracles with the birth of my grandchildren. I delight in seeing previous generations reflected in their hair, their eyes, their stubbornness, their little quirks - I see promise, I feel hope and I wish for my grandchildren to feel with every fibre of their being the love and connectedness that defines a family.
I guess I sometimes forget, in the anticipation of my grandchildren getting to the age of inquisitiveness and gullibility, that my children expect me to be a mother first.

My children, at the ages of 39 and 36, are sometimes more demanding than they were growing up - my grandchildren never make me feel guilty - my children are masters. The article was not about being a bad grandma - it was about being a bad mother and not in the tongue and cheek way of "her bad mother blog".
I am a damn good "bad" gramma and I was a damn good mother and I won't apologize for an active, well-rounded life that extends beyond my children. Somebody has to get a grip and it's not me!


  1. :)
    Sad but we adults (especially newer mommies) still want our mommies. When my mom came over to help out after my little one was born, I can't even tell you how much I appreciated just being mothered. I think having a child makes you appreciate your own mother more. Even if she does ignore you in favour of her grandkids ;)

  2. I haven't spoken to my mother since I was 16. I don't even think she knows I have kids. I'd have taken a mom who was pensive around newborns over what I got any day.

    I have no doubt that article spun your story to make a point. All of us who frequent HBM know that you are a fine woman.

    Never, ever read comments on those big websites. Ever. Even if you don't know the subject. It'll ruin your faith in humanity.

  3. Great post. For what it's worth, I didn't think the article was too bad, but I guess it all depends on the lens with with which you're reading. My mom is much like you, she loves me and my siblings and her grandkids, but makes no apology for having a life of her own. Personally, I think it's great. I've had to figure some stuff out on my own and she's not bearing down on me to do everything the way that she did. It also sets a good example for me and my daughter to see that, although motherhood is a wonderful thing, it's not the only thing.

  4. I read the NYT article and thought you were marvelous! I totally didn't get a vibe that you were bad- You can love your children and grandchildren with all your heart and still have and want to pursue other interests! It seemed like the writer thought once you became a grandma all you were supposed to do was knit and bake cookies and watch your grand kids...
    All I can say is from reading HBM is that I think you are groovy :) And not a bad mom, or a bad grandma.
    And I'm sure other people will say what I mean better than I say it myself, because I'm totally NOT knocking the knitting cookie baking grandma's! I just mean, I guess, that there are all different ways to do the same job equally well :)

  5. You remind me, very much and in good ways, of my own mother.

    Rock on, bad grandma.

  6. You are an inspiration. Her bad mother described you as a cool person who enjoys life so I had a picture of you before I read the article.
    Good on you woman for starting your own blog too. I will be definitly be reading.
    Happy St. Patrick's Day for tomorrow.

    J from Ireland.

  7. I am so happy you started your own blog. I would have been pissed at the NYT if I were you. I hope you will be posting regularly.

  8. When I read the article HBM linked from her blog, I read it as the daughter of a woman who seemed quite similar in thought as you, and that woman, I know very much, loves me and her four grandchildren. "Bad grandmas" have some of the biggest hearts, really.

  9. OK Bad Grandma. I've decided to like you. I love and appreciate that my parents are more hands off (much like you). They are letting me raise my own kids, my own way. When my children were born I didn't expect them to cook, clean, and take care of me simply because I chose to reproduce. And you know they didn't. I wasn't aware that it was supposed to be offensive. In all seriousness, adult children need to grow up and realize that their kids are their own responsibility, not grandma and grandpas. So kudos to you for daring to have a life beyond kids/grandkids.

  10. We awesome women are always getting our hands slapped for living outside of our roles. Consider it a badge of honor! :)

  11. If the article was about ME, I wouldn't have liked it either. I've been on the news before and was uncomfortable with the way my words and persona were spliced to fit the preconceived notion of what THEY wanted to portray. It is unsettling, but it happens.

    My mom does help out with the kids, but I try not to ask too often. She deserves her own life, she already raised her kids! I say the same of you.

  12. I read your daughter's blog every time she posts. I have never, ever thought you were a bad person, and your style of grandparenting is so close to my own, that if I chose to paint you with the tarry brush of badpersonism, I'd have to paint myself too. I thought you came across in the NYT article as a woman who has a life of her own and is enjoying the heck out of living it. I think most people had that same reaction and that you're mistaken about those who felt otherwise.

    My "boss" is 36 years old and has two small boys. These boys are farmed out to their grandparents CONSTANTLY. And I wonder, constantly, how they stand it. One of the grandmas retired from a career as a school teacher, the other from a noteworthy career as the regional head of a government agency. I can't imagine that they want to spend their retirements taking care of grandkids, but that is what they're doing.

    Me? My grandsons are 13 and 17. I've babysat once at my daughter's request, bless her. I have demanded to babysit from time to time, just to spend time with the kids, but they are not the center of my life. That's my daughter's job.

    I think you're a great lady, Ms. Judy Connors.

  13. My own mother is also a "bad" grandma, but she is here when I need her to be. And she loves my boys completely.

  14. I totally agree with Mr. Lady. We know you from HBM and, personally, I didn't get that vibe from the article at all. You've raised your kids, now its time for you. I've told my daughter the same thing - don't look to me to be a built in babysitter when you have children. It ain't gonna happen. I still got two at home I'm trying to throw out the nest a little early. Sigh.

    You go grandma! Love it that you got a blog hee hee. Now we get to hear ... the rest of the story roflmao!

  15. Good on you for being an individual in a world of clones :) I read the article (online) and I liked you.

    I hope one day my baby thinks of me as a "bad" mother!

  16. After reading the NYT piece, I immediately thought: There goes a major media outlet throwing someone under the bus to try eke some controversy out of a pretty-uncontroversial subject.

    I'd take an independent, loving Bad Grandma over a smother-y, no-life-other-than-the-grandkids Grandma ANY DAY OF THE WEEK.

  17. I want my kids to have a 'bad grandma' like you instead of the one they have!

  18. My own grandma is a great "bad" grandma. And while my mom sees my kids often, she still has a very active life that comes first. And I don't think that makes her bad. It makes me more self-sufficient and appreciative of everything either of them does for me and my kids.

    I have never felt anything but love from them (neither have my kids), and I don't want my mom's life to revolve around me and my kids because we have OUR own life, too.

    You go, bad grandma!

  19. I actually wish my Mom could be more "bad"... My younger siblings depend on her WAY too much- they had kids YOUNG (19 and 16) and my mom does nothing but buy diapers for them and babysit. And the thing is she LOVES them and does not resent them for it- but I wish my siblings could see that she is DYING to do something with her life. She spends all of her time taking care of them and not herself and I think she deserves some "selfish" time.
    So I never ask her to babysit or anything and then she misses seeing MY child because she is so busy with everyone else and feels GUILTY about it. And I'm just trying to save her sanity...

  20. My mother died before my son was born but she would have been a "bad" grandma too. I would've cherished every minute of it. Good on you for being your own person who also happens to be a loving grandma!

  21. My father traveled over a thousand miles to see my son for the first time when he was just under a month old. My step-mum cooed and held out her arms for Cass, my father just sat there.

    After about an hour he said 'I am so excited to be a grandfather. I will be much more excited when he grows out of the wrinkly red raisin stage and we can have conversations.'

    He's a very good grandfather.

  22. I thought you didn't come off too badly in the Times either. I thought you were depicted as taking a reasonable position. And I have twins with both grandmas many miles away. Mothers having boundaries always pisses people off, in my opinion.

  23. My mom doesn't do as much with my kid as I expected, and is totally and bafflingly uninterested in faking a phone conversation with a two-year-old, but I certainly don't hold it against her. She has a lot going on. I want her to enjoy her grandkid as she can and not feel it's a burden. She doesn't live that close by, either. That article, to me, didn't make you sound uncaring or uninvolved or whatever. Just adult, independent, content.

  24. I think it's great you have your own life and value it! I want to keep reading about you so I even added a link to your blog from my blog!

  25. You are very much like my own mother. I know she has all the love in the world for me, and my family, and if we ever NEED her, she's there. But to just want her here at my whim - she taught me a long time ago I can't always get what I want! And that's a lesson I try to teach my children, too. ;)

    Cheers to you, Bad Grandma!

  26. I left a comment at Catherine's and told her I thought you sounded fabulous. I read her post and the NYT article, and what I came away with was not a picture of a self-centered old bag, but a person who knows herself and knows her limits and loves her family. And really? That's the best any of us can strive for.

  27. I think I love you Bad Grandma. So glad you have a blog.

  28. The article reminded me of my own mother, whom I think is a pretty damn good bad grandma. So as I've told Catherine, I hope someday to meet you.

    Screw the critics and the assumptions they make.

  29. I get a feeling you are a damn good grandma and the NYT was just trying too hard to paint things in 'black/white'. My dad was the same way----no good with babies but he had formed such a bond with my oldest who he adored. I would've loved to have his "bad grandfatherness" around for longer but it just wasn't meant to be.

  30. I tried to think of something cool to say, but I'm not really that cool.

    My 'mom', the woman who raised me, the little voice in my head and the reason I try to do better and be better, sounds just like you.

    That might be 'bad' to some, but it's rockin' awesome to me.



  31. This is what I think: I think that times have changed.

    I think that when your children were small, parents's relationships with their own children were different. There wasn't the pressure to be the perfect parent. There wasn't the media. There wasn't google. The concerns that parents face now weren't likely concerns that you had. In short. Everything changed.

    Parents are now expected to be so freaking involved in every part of their child's development that to do anything else is considered negligence. Which is why they expect the same from their parents.

    Which is probably why the NYT spun the article out the way it did. It spun out selfishness when really, are you any different from what was the norm when your children were small? Probably not.

    Eras change and you are a product of yours. Shame on the NYT. Not shame on you. No way.

  32. I read HBM's post before I clicked over to the Times article and I was suprised by how they made you out to be. I ended up clicking away after reading a few comments because it seemed like so many of them missed the point entirely.

    My mother's opinion on baby sitting? 'Feel free to ask and I'll feel free to say no.' She figures she's done her share of childcare and dirty nappies, being a grandparent is about having fun and nothing else. I agree with her.

  33. When my first son was a few months old, I left him with my mom so I could run to the store and get him some formula. I was only gone 5 minutes as the store was two blocks away, but had left with my son hungry. We had never left him with her because she was always overly medicated and untrustworthy. This time, she was less intoxicated, so I ran out.

    When I returned, she was pacing through the living room, jiggling him and chanting, "Hush, you bad baby you!"

    She was our 'bad nana' and the boys will always remember her for that.

    We all have 'bad grandma's' in our lives, some are just better at their badness than others. You, are an awesome kind of bad. You love them, but also recognize the importance of loving yourself too. This is your time to live for you. I have always lived by the rule, "If you live your life for someone else, you aren't being true to yourself."

  34. I think for me the hardest thing is giving up the dream of my kids having the kind of grandparents I did. My grandmothers were my favorite people. They took care of us while my parents worked. They took us out to eat and showed us how to cook and bake and most of my happy childhood memories have them front and center. I would never leave my children to work or to go out and enjoy selfish pursuits so I don't need babysitting like my parents did. I do wish that when I was sick or hurt or having some other emergency my mother would help me out. She chose to move almost 3 hours away from all family and I admit I resent that and feel as though it was selfish. And when she says things like "I have to do what is best for me" I admit I don't understand. As a mother I can't believe I would ever put myself before my children or (future) grandchildren. They are my happiness. If I wanted to be selfish I would have remained childless.

  35. Erin? May I very respectfully point out that your children will not understand the concept of individualism, of personal time, of personal need? That doing what's best for you isn't selfish? If you left the kids with a sitter and got a pedicure, you'd teach them that you won't always be *right* there, and that they will still be okay, and that you're a whole person with needs and wants of your own. You also might not be so resentful of your own mother's choice to pursue her happiness....

    If you don't learn to put yourself before your children sometimes, you're teaching them that it isn't okay to take care of themselves.

    May I also gently inquire who it is that is supposed to sacrifice a life of their own to look after your mother, since you think that she should sacrifice what she wants to take care of you, and you're not comfortable admitting that you have any needs of your very own? Who is making all of these selfless sacrifices for her?!

  36. Yahoo! Just when I thought the Badness couldn't get any badder, here you are to prove me wrong. :) I've clicked on my plus star icon. I'm glad you are here! Continue on with your BAD self ;)
    Ame I. in TN

  37. I thought the NYT article was a bit harsh - but your daughter's blog post explained it better, and made me wish I had a bad mother! You sound like a world-class grandma!

  38. I have a hard time with the idea that it is a grandmother's (or grandparent's) responsibility to take care of her grandchildren as a rule. My mother made it clear when I was pregnant that she'd had her kids and as happy as she was to have grandchildren (and really looking forward to it!) she'd been a mother and she was done with that. She wasn't going to be babysitting, changing diapers, etc.

    I don't think it's selfish. YOU didn't choose to have more children. Seriously - I can't believe people act like it's bad.

  39. My mom and I always joke that she has more of a social life than I do! And you know what, I'm happy for her and my Dad. While they are always there when I need them (and vice versa), it's nice to know that they are enjoying their lives, travelling, attending fun and intelligent things and basically doing whatever the hell they please.

    So yes, keep on keepin' on. You're in good company. :)

  40. I sent the link to the article about you and Catherine because it reminded me so much of my own mother and about whom I wouldn't change a thing. So, go on and keep being a "bad" gramma. Your grandkids will LOVE you for it.

  41. First off, rock on with who you are. You have nothing to apologize for or explain, but I'm still glad the NYT article pushed you to start your own blog.

    SEcond, this is not about love -- mothers around the world express their affection and delight with their children in vastly different ways. That's all good. So, there was never any question in my mind about your love for your daughter or grandchildren, regardless of the somewhat skewed picture from the article.

    But my last point is not about you personally, but about the issue of expectations and the mother-daughter relationship. I'm not sure why we have to talk about this as one extreme or another. Why do you have to be a knitting, baking, hovering, ever-present, ever-available, no-personal-life grandma OR a badass, independent, smart, witty, fierce and fabulous one? Is there nothing in between?

    This isn't about guilt. I don't judge you at all for the type of life you choose to lead. MOre power to you. But if I were your daughter (which doesn't imply that she SHOULD feel differently, only that I do), as much as I'd understand you and accept you, I would also mourn not having some part of that "traditional" grandmother -- the "drop almost anything because my daughter needs me" thing. And I realize it's because I am totally biased and think my own mother has miraculously hit on just the right combination. I have twin boys and in the first year of their life, if it wasn't for my mother's ministrations, both towards me and my boys, I honestly believe I would have gone bat-sh&% crazy. She dropped off cooked meals when I was getting 1-3 hours of (interrupted) sleep/night for 6 months straight. She bounced one boy while I bounced the other when both were crying uncontrollably. She forced me to nap and watched over the boys when I couldn't walk straight anymore. And so on. Then she promptly took off to her apartment in Nice, France as soon as I was back on my feet. She stayed there and traveled, partied, went to concerts and did whatever she damn well pleased for months. Now that I really don't NEED the help, when she's in Toronto (about 6 months of the year), she's available to babysit IF SHE DOESN"T have plans already (she has a far busier social life than anyone I know). She drops by about 1 or 2 times a week to play with the kids (always announced), then takes off when it's bedtime/bathtime, physical labour parenting time. And when she sees that I'm overtired from trying to balance work and family, she insists that I nail down a weekend when I should leave the kids with her and take off with my husband for a true break. I don't NEED this type of support from her, it's just that she's one of my favourite people in the world and I'm hers, and we like to help each other out whenever we can. I would do almost anything for her and I suspect, eventually, she will need me in some capacity and I'll be there for her. We hold each other up emotionally in times of need (she's cried on my shoulder a few times as well). But we also go to concerts together, shop like mad when we can, argue loudly and ferociously, and laugh often together. But I never think of her as less independent or less of a badass because she also likes to take care of me and her grandchildren when I'm most in need of it.

    When I ask here where this model of grandparenting came to her, she simply says that it's exactly what her own (Romanian) mother did for her. It may be a cultural thing... Probably it's just different sorts of personalities.

  42. thanks for the post and the perspective.

    adult children more demanding.... (pause, think, think, think)

    As a 46 year old man, I've recently had issues with my mother not being there for me. And by being there, I mean emotionally. I think what I've been looking for are some "atta boys" and "good jobs" regarding me getting my act together regarding marriage and fatherhood.

    You see, I suffered from "I don't want to grow up syndrome". I played all through my 20s and into 30s. Granted I lived on my own and paid my own way but I just played and partied, never taking life too seriously. In my early 30s I met someone and we had our first of two children when I was 37. Around that time I started working in a career type job. It's now that I am in my 40s that I am looking for the seal of approval from mom, which she only occasionally gives, and half ass at best.

    Thanks to you I just had a light bulb over my head go off. Is it her place to coddle me all my/our lives? Or didn't she do her time and now she's off the hook. (she did a great job raising me and my 3 sibs as a single working mother).

    Thanks for the post. I've been reading HBM for a while now, I look forward to HBG posts now.

  43. I don't think the article makes you come off particularly poorly. However, how did you not see going in that you could possibly be unhappy with the way you were potrayed?

  44. While I am selfishly disappointed at times that my mother isn't as involved with my child as I would like (because she has her own life), she is still WAY better than my mother-in-law, who has NO life outside of her children and grandchildren. I can't keep her away from our house! Hurray for bad grandmas!

  45. I read your daughter's post first, then clicked on the Times article. I guess I had a pre-set understanding that you are a GOOD "bad grandma" in her eyes. I can kind of see how others might have gotten a bad impression from that article. It did seem a bit hard on you. Kudos to you for standing your ground on being the "bad grandma". It's awesome if new parent's can count on their parents for lots of help, but it most certainly should not be a given. How will we feel one day when we can finally rest, looking back at a job well done, and someone calls us back to duty for the next generation! Cool if that's what you want, not so cool if it's just expected.

  46. I think one of the most important things a mother can do for her daughter is to let her raise her own children. My mom let me make my mistakes with my kids (none life shattering thankfully) and rejoice in the accomplishments that I attained on my own. For that, I love
    her more!

    I'm looking forward to be a long time reader of Bad Grandma.

  47. The pond scum of humanity inhabits the comments sections of newspapers. For some reason, it really brings out the worst in people.

    My mom is much like you. She raised five kids and then was done. She liked to see the grandkids a bit, but they never stayed overnight.

  48. you have obviously done a wonderful job because catherine is amazing!and if you are not a cookie cutter gran so be it. as long as your grandbabies know you love them then thats all that counts.

  49. I am so sorry that people decided that article was a complete representation of you. My in-laws and parents are completely opposite of you...and it can get annoying. My mother-in-law wants my 18 month old girls to spend the night "at least once a week". I am glad they love their grandchildren, but sometimes I want to scream BACK OFF!
    Keep up the good work bad gramdma. You obviously are a fantastic mother, and have enabled Catherine to be one as well. Most importantly, you are allowing her to be the parent. I look forward to more posts in the future. Perhaps I can pass on some bad grandma tips to others.

  50. My mother is a fabulously bad grandma. She asked to attend the birth of my daughter, and made it there with ten minutes to spare after a frantic eight-hour drive that she made in seven hours. She knew it was an amazing, wonderful experience, and she was thrilled to be there.

    Then she was attentive enough, but not really all that *into* my daughter for a few years. Once the baby turned into an inquisitive and interactive toddler, my mom's interest grew, and now they're very close.

    A similar story happened with my son, though he was born only 2 hours after my water broke so she had no chance at all of making it in time for the birth.

  51. "My children, at the ages of 39 and 36, are sometimes more demanding than they were growing up - my grandchildren never make me feel guilty - my children are masters."
    It's good to know I'm not alone. Some days I think being the "Mother of a Mother" is harder than it was raising five kids!

  52. You are such a thoughtful writer and spirited woman. I wanna grow up and be just like you.

    Catherine and I are friends online and IRL (in real life). We have spoken before about the roles society just loves to foist on us and how the mainstream media loves to propagate those positions because they are a lightening rod for controversy. And, controversy of course sells papers.

    But, luckily we are smart mamas and just because it's in the paper in all of it's one-sided glory, doesn't make it real.

    What is real is that we are a spectrum of emotions, wills and desires. Very few people are either on the black or white of any spectrum.

  53. My children are now 21 and 17. My mother and mother in law (who reaped the benefits of THEIR mothers helping out with the kids and house when they needed it) were just about useless to me. My parents lived 100 miles away and both had a full time jobs, which they wouldn't have needed if they'd been more financially prudent. My in-laws were retired, financially solvent,and in good health, but made it crystal clear that the only grandkids they were interested in were their daughter's. Their son's kids could go jump in a lake. Once, I was forced to appear at jury duty. Our regular sitter had an emergency, and in desperation, my husband begged his mother for help. She reluctantly agreed, then never showed up. (she later claimed she overslept) Which left me explaining in front of an unsympathetic judge why I had a four year old and an infant in tow. It was hard, but we made it through the years by paying babysitters and day care, and by swapping babsitting with friends.

    If I am ever lucky enough to become a grandmother, damn straight I will help out when my children need me. There is no need to be a doormat or give up the things you love, but I feel that if they are able, grandparents have an obligation to help both with their time and their money. You can't take it with you, after all.

    And what goes around comes around. My mother in law passed away and my father in law is now in poor health. I'm not about to drop everything and rush to his side. I take him a meal and visit with him now and then, but he can pay nurses and "home health aides" who leave him sitting in urine and rob him blind. I'm BUSY. And my children feel no connection to a man who ignored them during their growing up years so he could spend nine months out of the year in Arizona where the weather was better, playing bingo. My own parents stupidly moved 1500 miles away for peace and quiet. Well, they got it. Now that they are getting on in years, I think they are lonely and could use some help aroubnd the house. I'll be damned if I'll stop what I'm doing to get on an airplane. They made their beds, now they can lie in them. Oh well.

  54. Hi! I read the NYT's story a while ago, and didn't think for a moment you were a bad mother/grandma/person for having a life of your own. In all honestly, I thought those who said their parents had to help them with their kids were way out of line. I am a firm believer that if you choose to have kids, you better think of how you'll handle babysitting, etc beforehand. Grandparents are ment to enjoy their grandchildren not raise them.

    May be it is beacause I was raised in a family that believes it's the parents' job to parent their children and the grandparents' job to spoil them rotten. My grandparents occasionally had us for sleepovers, took us out (park,zoo, etc) but mainly because they wanted to and sometimes to give my mom a break.

    When I become a mother, that's what I expect my mother and MIL to do. I want them to enjoy their grandkids and be 'bad' gradmas (albeit, can't see them discussing their grandkids' sexlife like you!).


  55. I read the article and while I can see how the writer tried making you out to be the "bad grandma", I don't see you as such.

    I think that it is great that you have your own life because you should. I wish my mother would have her own life and leave the parenting of my children to me.

    She gets "too" involved and it actually hurts the relationship I have with my daughter> Grandma is better in her eyes because she gets away with murder at her house.

    What do people expect? That women are to leave school - get married - stay home raise kids - then as soon as her children have children - she is the raise them as well? It seems that people who think this must feel as though a woman's place is in the home with children - even if it is not with her children.

    I say that you should enjoy your life. As long as you love your grandchild and have their best interest at heart (yours as well) then you are doing great!!!!!

    Oh, and when I become a grandma - I guess I'll be a bad grandma too...LOL...My children are currently only 5 & 7 and I am 28. I have spent my adult life raising children and will be doing so for many more years. When they become adults, it will be my time to travel and enjoy the life that I missed out on by starting a family young.

  56. Well, I have a whole different spin on this grandma thing. I remember when I was little, my grandma watched me, her youngest grandchild while my parents worked, for a while. She had many other grandchildren. She was really good to me and I liked staying with her. She was at least 70 years old at this time. Well, she was very poor. As were we. My parents made a big deal out of going out to my other (Maternal) grandma's house every other weekend. Over time, this older Grandma got the short shrift. She lived maybe half a mile from us. I think back on this, and it makes me so, so sad. How her heart must have hurt over being ignored. I can not even understand how this was allowed to happen. I hope her other children and grandchildren treated her better than my parents and I did. I think my
    Dad just did whatever it took to keep my Mom happy. This should be a wake-up call to folks. I wish I could go back in time and make it up to her. I really do.

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