Generally speaking, the human species produces more boy babies than girl babies. By age eighteen, women are slightly outnumbering men in the United State, though in some other counties, that shift happens later.
By age 85, women outnumber men (in the US), by a ratio of two to one.
Gloria Steinem is quoted as saying women are the one group that grows more radical with age. Maybe. It’s also the case that women as they mature become part of an increasingly large majority in any one population cohort, and they thus become more visible–literally, economically, and politically.
There is even something called the Grandmother Hypothesis of evolution, which says that as the toughest grandmas started living long enough to help their daughters raise children, those daughters-of-the-toughest were free to HAVE more children, and thus the gene pool tilted in favor of longevity and durability.
Anthropologists have hopped onto this bandwagon to posit that when Grandma became a free caretaker, then leisure, art, song, storytelling, and many other forms of culture got their first boost. As a species, we have a very long period of infantile dependency (30 is the new 18, anyone?) and here again, having a generation of Grandmas who stop having their own children, and instead turn to assisting their adult children and grandchildren, allows us to do a better job equipping the offspring we have for a successful life.
When my pregnancy became high risk, my mom, a registered nurse then in her seventies, dropped everything, flew across the country, and spent weeks in a pokey little apartment looking after me, and then the new baby. I finished law school because my mom saved my bacon; my daughter got an extra six weeks at home before starting daycare because of my mom.
I’m not trying to denigrate the role of grandfathers–I wish we had more grandpas for
longer! But I am raising a question about the unsung contribution of the older woman. Her stock in trade is practical help and selfless love, but in this age, when so many politicians have forgotten the essence of community and service, when more and more children are raised in poverty, when more and more elders are living in poverty for longer–even after having worked their entire lives–maybe it’s time for Grandma to get on her high horse.
Have older women made a difference in your life? If you could mobilize the Grandmas, where would you aim their determination, fearlessness, and resilience? Or is Grandma already so busy looking after her increasingly poor and overworked family, that her plate is too full for her to become socially active? What do you think?
To one commenter, I’ll send a signed copy of The Duke and His Duchess, and The Courtship. Esther and Percival Windham’s novellas aren’t coming out in print until September 1, but they are among my favorite stories, and they were a joy to write.
I’m traveling again this week, so my response to comments might be limited, but I do want to hear from you! Over to you….!
Oh Grace, I’m getting all kinds of nostalgic here. My maternal Grandma lived in Calif. and I wrote to her from when I was so little all I could do is scribble to my early 30s when she died. Remember letters? When you took the time to think about what you actually wanted to say before you sent the thing off. I LOVED writing and getting letters from her.
My father was raised by his aunt who was like a grandmother to me. She and her two bachelor brothers lived on a farm, She was just a good hearted, hard working farm woman all her life but she had a big influence on my life – more than I realized at the time.
One of the first things I did when I retired was help my sister babysit her grandchildren. At the time, because she was watching two of her children’s kids, she was putting in more hours per week than either of them separately.
My godmother was a huge influence on my life–another hardworking farm woman, who happened to have six kids of her, AND a master’s degree in dairy science before women were getting masters’ in much of anything.
But those examples underscore my point. Older women are so busy plugging societal holes (my mom was also free daycare to some grandkids for years), that they’re impact as a whole is watered-down. They give so much, so quietly, that they remain politically invisible.
Both of my Grandmothers influenced me. My Nana Molly was a kind, resilient woman who raised five children after her firefighter husband was killed in the line of duty. She was a fabulous cook and could she bake! Nanacame to live with us and I remember coming home to freshly baked bread and cookies. She would sit me down and ask about my day. She made me feel important!
Nana G was widowed at a fairly young age, too. She went back to school, got a job and supported her family. She had a strong work ethic which she passed along to her children and grandchildren. Nana loved to travel and to shop. She took me into Boston and bought me my first Prom dress and later my first interview suit. We had so much fun taking the train, shopping and having lunch.
I think Grandmas should enjoy their retirement whether that means babysitting grandchildren, volunteering in the community or eating lunch with friends. I think as women — we have the power to positively impact our children, friends and relatives.– because we lead by example.
Grace–Safe travels and enjoy your trip!
As women, we ALSO have the power to vote, and in the older years, we have the most powerful vote… but I don’t think we use it. Social Security, which is not government funded, is being eyed for cuts, when one out of three seniors–hard workers like your grandmas–already live in poverty.
Why shouldn’t grandma’s vote on that issue be respected? Prom dresses are fine memories, but having enough to eat in your old age ought to matter too.
I agree that 40 years ago when Nana Molly died and 22 years ago when NanaG passed retired woman were not perceived as politically or socially active.
Nana G had to go back to school to support her family as her husbands police pension covered the bare necessities. I think the woman who worked during WWII and raised their families while their husbands served were active socially and politically — and politicians became aware of how important woman and their votes were to their candidates.
I am not sure why there is so much voter apathy –it’s wide spread.
Most of the younger folks I work with do not vote.
Maybe people don’t realize that there vote CAN make a difference?
I see so many of my acquaintance Grandmas bring the sole caretaker of their grand babies, and I feel so bad for them, trying to balance taking care of an elderly spouse with illness and also energetic grandchildren at the same time.
While living on a fixed income, with a bad hip because the deductible for the surgery is nowhere to be found, and the insurance company will only renew 90 days worth of pain meds….
Grandma has much to grumble about, but she mostly doesn’t. She roles up her sleeves and keeps on loving. I’m suggesting she can love AND vote, and write letters to the editor, and post a few memes on Facebook.
But maybe not. Maybe a life of taking up slack and coping and waking up tired just takes the fire right out of a woman, and if she can’t see that her efforts directly benefit a relative, then she just can’t afford to squander her energy on it.
With the exceptional exception of my good bachelor friend, overwhelmingly it’s the women in my life who reach out and support me: my mother, my friends, my beloved cousin.
While the men…? Threaten social security, make it harder for women to vote, attack access to health care, keep women off corporate boards even when they KNOW a diverse board is associated with greater profit?
I’m rousing some rabble here, I know, but I’m not sure Grandma can afford to miss the point for much longer.
A complicated matter. I do know that my sister has taken care of many grandkids. Her daughter had 7 but was a stay at home mom where her son had a child late in life (40’s) and my sister has been caring for him since birth. There are times when mom’s have no option and must work too but there are times when it seems everyone wants it all. My mom went to work because my dad’s mom came to live with us when her second husband died. It wasn’t the best arrangement in our case but I do know some where that’s worked out well. I guess I see both sides of the story lol. Personally, I think the ideal would be for both the mother and father to work but only 20 hrs. each in that way power and responsibility would truly be shared.
What a wonderful post on this my mom’s 62nd birthday.
While she did a wonderful job of raising her two kids, I think she has done more for us as adults or maybe it just seems that way. I honestly don’t know how I would have survived the last 14 years without her and my dad (I have an amazing father).
She also practically raised her other three grandchildren while my brother and his then wife worked full time jobs. I think it says something when on Mother’s Day this year she was called by two of those kids, one 23 and one 16 (a boy at that) and was visited by my 18 year old niece and they all had the same thing to say to her. They all said thank you to her for being more of a mom to them than their mom has been.
Her children and grandchildren will call her Blessed.
I am also blessed with a few other mother figures in my life who have been there for me through many trials.
Safe travels to you, Grace. You know these two books hold a very special place in my heart, especially The Duke and His Duchess.
Both of my grandmothers (both of whom had the same first name and I was named for both of them–hence the ‘Teenie’ Marie)were special to me. They helped out with our family of six children. They adored us all yet wouldn’t put up with any guff from any of us. My parents asked them to babysit and, if they were able, they did. Both were very active until their 90s and had active social lives.
My own late mother and my mother-in-law do not have the same close relationship with my children as I did with my grandmothers. Both had six children and both didn’t want to be taken advantage of with childcare duties. I respected their stance of not dropping everything for me and my children but the same cannot be said of my siblings and siblings-in-law.
One of the reasons they really didn’t want to help me and my husband out, I truly believe, was because of my son with autism. My Mom was more willing to take direction from me with regards to autism behavior issues but my mother-in-law was not and played babysitting *games* with me. As a result, my boys were closer to my mother then my mother-in-law. She wonders why…….and I can tell her why but she won’t like it!
I love the term for wise older man–a Sage–but I don’t like the corresponding female version–Crone. Can’t we come up with something better?
Older women have played important roles in my family, historically. My father was raised by his grandmother. My grandmother lived with us for 30 years and helped raise me. I was closer to her than my mom was. She taught me all manner of needlework and I love it to this day.
My mom who is 95 takes a great interest in politics and talks about it all the time (to my dismay) BUT she doesn’t take an active part – it’s all talk. She’s still smart as a whip and has common sense to spare so I wish she would get active in politics – the world would benefit from her perspective. But I don’t think older women are respected for their brains and common sense, rather they are loved for their nurturing. IMHO
I live in a retirement community and I will also tell you grandmas are having the time of their lives playing … golf, tennis, pickle ball, hiking, biking, dancing (my personal favorite) … you name it, they are doing it. Not having to be responsible for anyone these days is what retirement is all about. So perhaps that’s why they aren’t trying to change the world.
My Grandma has been gone 24 years, but she was one of my favorite people of my world. Her husband died young, leaving her with five little girls to raise. She never remarried. She always made all of us grandkids feel special and impotant and loved. My favirite memories are of spending summers with her. Welived 50 miles away, so my sister and spent every summer with her so my parents could work and not have to worry about daycare. We got to play with our cousins and visit our aunts. She taught us to sew, cook, and bake. We stayed up on Friday nights and watched tv until well oast our bedtimes. We adored her. She always told her granddaughters to always be able to support ourselves and not to wait on others to do things for us and to take care of us. She taught us that we had to have independent spirits to survive in this world. So, although I am happily married, I have always remember that lesson. I also remember being a much loved and cherished granddaughter. I miss her still.
Oh yes, my mother was who I relied on when as a single mother I needed someone to care for my son. She also went to amusement parks with us, shopping, out to dinner, you name it. She never drove, so it gave me pleasure to take her places, and she cared for not only my son, but both my sister’s children as well. She died at the age of 82, which was much too soon for me and I miss her every day. I learned a lot from her about facing adversity, standing up for yourself, and not relying on anyone to take care of you or make you happy but yourself.
My maternal grandmother lived in a different state but visited as often as possible. She was always available for a conversation and told us to reverse charges if we needed or wanted to call – she would have loved modern cell phones with national coverage. She worked full time and was politically active and did her best to pass on to us the importance of being informed voters as well as thinking and doing for ourselves.
My mother in law was always happy to watch our kids when they were younger and was full time day care for my niece for the first 4 years of her life. She still watches her 3 days. Keeping up with a young child drains so much of her energy that she doesn’t get involved with any political or social activities – her priority is family.
Gloria Steinem wears blinkers. As women age they acquire more assets and responsibilities. 99% of the older women I know, including myself, are far, far more conservative than they were in their 20’s.
In 1975 I belonged to NOW. Today I belong to RWA. I figured out that its a lot more fun to join with men than fight with them, and life’s too short….and getting shorter daily…not to have fun.
Hmm… both of my grandmothers lived to about 78. One grandmother died of heart disease and other of breast cancer. Actually one grandfather had the most impact on me. He lived to be 100. For the last 10 years of his life he lived not far from me. He was a good example of how to live a good life.
I would aim them at the politicians! Loved reading that the equality vote in Ireland was clinched by Grandmas.
Yes, fortunate to have wonderful memories of my grandma. We should recognize how invaluable they are in passing along wonderful life lessons and experiences. Nowadays kids don’t always even know where food comes from, much less how to prepare it! But many grandmas are great tutors in self-reliance, including gardening and cooking!
As a young girl of 16, I had no relationship to speak of with my mom. My grandmother had died when I was 13 and I was starved for that type of connection. I went to work in a retail store part time nights and worked with a group of 60ish something women. I remember them to this day!! They surrounded me with wisdom, guidance, and everything else a young teenager needs when transitioning to a women. They took me under their proverbial wings and guided me through a tough period in my life. This type of selfless giving is not just reserved for family members.
Well, I think Grandmothers can lead a happy long life by being of service to others. Helping hands are always welcome in my family.
Today is my birthday!
I loved this post! As with many others my grandmother (my mom’s mother) was one of the most amazing women I know. She was resilient, had a kind of “never quit learning” attitude regarding everything in life. Had a huge heart! loved people and learn new things. I miss her so much. I miss sitting close to her and hugging her and listening to her stories. She loved flowers and grew every herb she could. I will never forget one conversation we had – its one of those things that is set in time that you never forget kind of moment. She told me : Kassia, learn everything you can. If you get the opportunity to learn how to drive a tractor do it. There is always room in your head to learn a new thing. Never stop going to school regardless of your age… never get old for those things…” She was very poor when she was young, and worked very hard. She loved my grandpa – they were so good together. Oh if I could find one like him! anyway she was the wind beneath his wings and he knew it! She learned how to read as an adult and finished her GED when she was in her 60’s… The one thing I will never forget she did that did not surprise anyone in the family (because she was really a spitfire ) my youngest uncle is deaf and had to fight to be accepted at school – very few people believed he could make – well she did ! and she pushed him and he finished college but nobody would hire him. My grandmother went one day for a tour of Palacio do Planalto (the equivalent of the White House here) and the President of Brasil at that time was for some reason around greeting people – she went right to him and told him my uncle needed a job – she was not asking for charity – for a job. He took a picture with her and took her name… and my uncle has been in the same job for the last 30 years. We all laugh at that… and she advocated for anyone that needed. I wish I had half of her determination!
In my career as a home care nurse I saw several grandmothers sacrificing their money in favor of grandchildren that really did not need it – I saw several being really abandoned by children and grandchildren. It broke my heart.
I have a current co-worker- she is nurse in the field that works Tue and Sat and the other days she takes care of 3 grandchildren so her daughters can work.
My friend Pat got her Doctorate in Nursing and she is a grandma! I so love that woman!
The sad thing is I am never going to be a grandma! I never had children – so I guess I will have to adopt some….
I remember my Dad telling the story of when I was born…..that he and Mom were exhausted at home with baby. He heard me crying in bassinet along side of bed….he reached out groggy, in the dark to clasp the hand of grandma…all ready holding me.