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My Mother, Marguerite Joan La Liberte

With the recent 6% increase in birthrate for women above the age of 40 in the USA being characterized as a mini baby boom, we’re staring at the impending prospect of the “extended family” withering on the ancestral vine.

What this means is that one of the most significant liabilities of having your children after 40 is the risk of not having your mom or dad to turn to at times of kid-raising crisis.

For instance, when things get tough with parenting my kids—like this morning when Alex refused to brush his teeth while I imagined the school car pool lady exploding like an angry blow fish outside the front gate—I instinctively want to reach out for my mom and ask her what to do.

“MOMMMMMMMMM!”, I’d shout from the rooftops. But she’s not there. And she never will be.

In fact, she’s been gone for so long, sometimes I still need a photograph to see her face again.  It’s like she was swallowed up by an unrepentant wormhole in time and I lost her forever, at the tender age of 24.

All that’s left of her can fit in a dusty memory box in the attic of my mind—little puffs of meringue on a rotary egg beater before they are lathered on a tart lemon-filled pie crust. Pizza dough being pummeled into flour on the Formica kitchen table, just like my Italian grandmother had taught her to do it.

The tangy smell of vinegar mixed with water, her home made cleansing recipe for the windows and mirrors.

Then there was the giggle of mischief when she put us up to something normally verboten, like trouncing on the master bed as if it were an Olympic trampoline when Dad was at work.

It was another time—in truth, another century ago.

Where did she go? And where the hell is she now, when I need her most?

It is with concealed envy that I watch young mothers these days, toting their mothers behind them—the grandma—and taking their undying support and commitment to the next generation for granted, or with a sense of entitlement.

Oh how I’d love to strangle them, or rob them at gunpoint of the grandparents.

It’s a maternal condition that Allison Gilbert, author of Parentless Parents (http://www NULL.allisongilbert NULL.com/), understands all too well.

“The population of parentless parents is exploding and will continue to rise if the average age of women giving birth keeps getting higher and higher,” she says.

According to Gilbert, the upshot of this pattern means that more women having children after 40 are going to be parenting without the support of their own parents; and their children will have fewer years with their grandparents.

“We could read every parenting book in the world and still never learn what we really want to know from our moms and dads,” she continues.

“Many mothers and fathers report feeling jealous of friends who have parents.”

Worse, your children will also suffer from what Gilbert calls the Grandparent Gap—children without grandparents in their lives.

No kidding. It’s only a matter of time before some young entrepreneurial buckaroo invents an ancillary cottage industry for the over-40 mom market: Rent-A-Granddad, or Grannies-R-Us—“We do christenings, bar mitzvahs, graduations and weddings. No occasion too small for our septa- and octogenarians!”

Seriously, though, Gilbert points out that research demonstrates that grandparents play an important role in shaping a child’s development.

Damage control, she says, can be attained through making our children familiar with their grandparents who’ve passed on through photographs, storytelling and introducing them to important places—a way of keeping the memory “alive.”

Her book, which has garnered her several TV appearances, including on CNN, will prove a useful resource to many later life moms.

In the meantime, however, it looks to me like we’re all just part of a vast cosmic crap shoot against the miserly Grim Reaper.

Outliving my mother by 30 years, my 82-year-old Dad turned up at our house last Christmas and regaled my children with even more real life tales of his brothers on the WWII front, and how Uncle Tony fought with Montgomery in North Africa, or how he once trained with hockey legend Dit Clapper (http://bruinslegends NULL.blogspot NULL.com/2007/03/dit-clapper NULL.html) who played in the NHL for the Boston Bruins during the 1930s and 40s, and was later inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame (http://www NULL.legendsofhockey NULL.net/LegendsOfHockey/jsp/LegendsMember NULL.jsp?mem=p194701&type=Player&page=bio&list=#photo) in 1947.

I looked on, sincerely doubting that my children would ever again receive history lessons such as these.

Gilbert was right—grandparents do provide a rather exotic refuge from life as we know it.

Notes for this blog:

Allison Gilbert’s website and book: http://www.allisongilbert.com/ (http://www NULL.allisongilbert NULL.com/)

6 Responses to The Rise of Parentless Parents

  1. Michelle Schnaars (http://www NULL.MensesToday NULL.blogspot NULL.com) says:

    Angel,

    I so much enjoy your writing. You always bring me right in, and keep my attention throughout the entire article.

    This particular article tugged at my heart and brought tears to my eyes. It reminded me once more just how important genealogy is. I encourage over 40 moms, and dads, to write down as much information as they can about their families, such as names, dates of anniversaries and birthdays, places people lived, activities they participated in, etc. Health information is also important. And, just as your father told your children stories of WWII, I encourage families to write down similar stories, even their favorite holiday vacation, or the spots they visited as a child.

    After becoming a doula and childbirth educator, I encouraged the families I worked with to do their family’s genealogy. No matter when you become a parent, after a certain point this is the only record of our history, the only way we all have to reach back into the past and connect with our ancestors, and see where we have come from.

  2. pomomama (http://pomomama NULL.com) says:

    … and then there are those hit with the double whammy of mature motherhood and being an expat. My son’s grandparents are 8000km away, in their seventies and not with him at all for the day-to-day. I understand completely the envy of younger mums with a grandparent in tow on something as simple as a walk round the neighbourhood.

  3. Dalaimama69 (http://calgonmoments NULL.blogspot NULL.com) says:

    My parents had 5 kids. They bitched about it my entire life. They were awful parents. Relatives kept us a lot when we were small. Then my parents kept us in every activity possible or let us stay w/friends so they didn’t have to deal with us. To be a great parent, I just think of what they would do and I do the opposite. Joan Crawford had nothing on my mother.

    My parents had 4 grand kids by the time I had my son. I had my first child at age 27 and my parents weren’t interested in being grandparents then. I had my second child at 41 and they are even less interested in grand-parenting. My Mother has never met my daughter. Now I’m 42 and just found out I’m pregnant with my 3rd child. I’m not even telling my parents about this one.

    I spent my 20′s and 30′s being a referee between my parents rather than focusing on starting my own family. I got married at 40 and my mother disowned me because my husband is a different race. My teenage son is emotionally scarred from being around his grandparents.

    I’m so glad that I don’t have my parents in my everyday life to further damage my children. I’m a true adult, I’ve been on my own since age 18. I don’t want or need them in my life. They have been nothing but a source of embarrassment and disappointment my entire life.

    With so many other things to be concerned about with pregnancy after age 40, I think it’s irresponsible of you to try and guilt trip older moms. If a woman is over 40 and needs parenting advice from her mother then she probably has no business being a Mom. My sister is 39 years old and still lives at home with my Mother. She would be a horrible parent.

    My grandparents were in my life because my parents were teenagers when they had my older brothers. There was constant arguing about what my parents should be doing and weren’t doing right. I was close to one grandfather. By the time I was a teenager my family was completely shattered. I wouldn’t want to put my children through that living hell.

    Good grandparents are a rarity at any age. Your post reminds me of the old adage, “A bad father is better than no father.” I disagree with both. Just having a grandparent is not a guarantee that they will be a good influence. Showing photos, genealogy and stories is better than exposing a child to a train wreck of family members.

    • Angel (http://www NULL.flowerpowermom NULL.com) says:

      Hey, I’m really sorry you had such a painful experience with your parents. I’m sure the silver lining is that it’s made you a more devoted and responsible mother.
      My father lives thousands of miles away, my father in-law has passed and my mother in-law lives in another state. I’m fortunate in that, although the meetings with living grandparents are not frequent, the memories my children have of them are positive.
      I don’t think there’s any guilt-trip for over-40 mothers implied in the blog article. If anything, being parentless parents is yet another challenge to being a midlife mom and I feel we should support each other there as much as possible.
      I do not agree that “a bad father is better than no father”. I believe in positive experiences for children. I wish my mother could have met mine.
      Given that you are not supported by your parents, I very much welcome you to join our online group for all women on the journey of motherhood after 40 at: http://www.flowerpowermom.com/community (http://www NULL.flowerpowermom NULL.com/community). I’m sure you’d find some kindred spirits there.
      Congratulations on your 3rd baby at 42! :-)

  4. Christina says:

    Our daughter has no grandparents and it breaks my heart for her more than me I think, but I, too, feel envy when seeing kids with their grandparents and mothers with help from their moms with the taking care of children. We live away from extended family and with a 3-year-old at the age of 51, I am finding things a bit stressful at times. My husband can pick up the slack, but it is not the same as having other women in your life who will help out. We do talk to our daughter about her grandparents in heaven and as someone told me, she will not miss what she has never had, but I had a wonderful childhood with 4 grandparents until I was 17 years of age and lost the first one. There is nothing like a grandparent, but it is what it is. More posts like this one, Angel – loved it – kinda like church – don’t need sermons about “salvation” all the time, just how to live the day-to-day in faith and good humor! :D

  5. Michelle says:

    Hey Christina, You might want to check out FPM’s forum A Child After 40 -great support community -www.flowerpowermom.com/community.

    -best to you!

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