Where have all the Grandmas gone?

With economist Sylvia Hewlett's new book on the growing phenomenon of women over 40 having first babies getting such huge attention, I've been doing a lot of thinking about the issue. As a GenX mama myself (I am 34 years old now and was 24 when I had my first baby), I fall on the other end of the spectrum. In fact, for the first several years after I had my son Henry in 1991, I never met another woman my age with children except the "clients" I dealt with in my then job as a social worker visiting homes in deep Appalachia.

The point that today's hip, savvy, educated women are "supposed" to wait until they are pretty well along in life to have a baby was hammered home to me one night in 1992 after I went to see Naomi Wolf (who was at that time touring in support of her first book, The Beauty Myth) give a speech at the University of Tennessee. After her speech, I went to the reception in her honor and stood in line to meet her. As I approached her, with infant Henry strapped to my chest in a baby carrier, Naomi Wolf began cooing and smiling at him. So far so good. She told me how cute he was and I told her that I was a fan of her book. After a few moments she asked me how long I had been babysitting him, since he looked awfully young. I proudly explained that I was his mother. She rolled her eyes in genuine amazement and then said with a rather snide chuckle that she had always heard that women in the South have babies very young and that now she believed it. She laughed at her own observation and then everyone around her laughed too. It felt like an insult and I actually felt like crying as I slunk out of the room. Today Naomi Wolf has "discovered" motherhood herself (waiting, of course, until the socially appropriate age for a college educated woman in the new millenium) and has even written a book about it.

For me, young motherhood has been terrific in most ways. I'm glad I didn't wait. I'm glad I never had to worry about seeing a fertility specialist for age -related problems in getting pregnant. I enjoy the fact that my children have been able to develop close relationships with several of their great grandparents, who are still very much alive. I am happy that when my children are grown, I will likely still have many years left to enjoy them and any children they may choose to have. I can't wait to be a grandmother.

Which brings me to a point I haven't heard mentioned in all the recent debate over women in their forties and even fifties having babies: who will take on the important cultural role of grandmotherhood? I am already noticing an anecdotal decline in the status and visibility of grandmothers in our society, which is certainly due in part to the fact that women are having their own children so late in life. I just wrote an essay on this topic and you can read it HERE.