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.


Which Simpsons character are you? I took the test and was identified as most like....Dr. Hibberd. At least I wasn't Barney or Ralph the paste-eater.
I have been enjoying reading the ongoing diary of new parenthood by writer Michael Lewis (photos by his wife, Tabitha Soren -- yes, that Tabitha Soren ). I guess this is Slate's stab at Salon's groundbreaking and sadly missed Mothers Who Think section (for which I used to write). I have also been perusing the reader < A HREF=""> responses to Lewis's parenting essays in Slate's form, The Fray, with more than a little consternation. After Lewis wrote about his discomfort with any of the "let 'em cry" baby-training methods that populate the modern American parenting landscape, many, many readers expressed the view that Lewis's newborn daughter is simply manipulating her parents by waking to eat at night.


Like just about everything else related to human lactation, Americans are sadly misinformed about how our babies are biologically hardwired to eat, sleep, and grow in the first year. As Katherine Dettwyler, an anthropology professor and specialist in cross-cultural infant nutrition has noted, human infants need to nurse very frequently, including during the night, because human breastmilk is very high in water content and is digested quickly. This is true of all the higher order primates, which is one reason why mama apes keep their babies close, day and night. Many other mammal species have a much higher fat- protein content in their breastmilk, allowing the mother to nurse her offspring very infrequently. Rabbits, for example, only nurse their babies once every twenty-four hours.

I nursed my 6 year old daughter until the month before she started kindergarten (you can see a picture of here as a nursing bambino HERE by scrolling to the very bottom of the page. She's the dark-haired baby you see.) and my youngest son, now 4, until he was 3. They eventually stopped wanting to nurse at night (before age 2 with a little gentle encouragement from my husband and me), but that first year of almost constant nursing *is* tiring until you get the hang of it. Since we have always kept our babies in bed with us rather than in a babycage (crib ;-), I eventually got to the point where I would barely even wake up to feed and settle the baby.

But even with my first baby, whom I did not breastfeed, I never let him cry himself to sleep in order to "train" him to sleep on an adult schedule. I never have been able to figure out why we think it's okay to let babies and young children wail alone behind a closed door when if we did that to, say, a bedridden old person with insomnia in our care, it would be considered literally abusive.


I've been listening to Lamar Alexander's new radio spots (he is running for Senate here in Tennessee since Republican incumbent Fred Thompson decided not to run again due to a recent family tragedy), and I kept wondering who it is that Lamar reminds me of. That's always been in the back of my mind when I see or hear the guy, but I just couldn't figure it out. Today I finally did.

Lamar Alexander sounds exactly like Pat Boone. He looks a good bit like him as well. Don't you think so? By the way, my mother's little brother, my Uncle John B. Anderson, wrote the Rolling Stone cover story on Pat Boone to which I have linked above. Family mythology has always maintained that it was the lowest selling issue of the magazine in its history.

It seems that the mean, cranky, vile majority who populate the infamous newsgroup (read the newsgroup for yourself) have decided to harass blogger John Scalzi this week. Read back through the childfree newsgroup and you'll see that this bunch is always outraged by something someone somewhere has written about parenting or family life.

A few years ago, a couple of them decided that I was the target du jour after I had written something at and then asked a few questions about their philosophy at their newsgroup. Within 48 hours, I had been inducted into the 'Breeder Hall of Shame' along with the mother of the McCaughey sextuplets (even though I myself have only given birth to three "odious liitle spawn" -- that's what my children were referred to on this particular childfree website). One enterprising website creator took a photo of me from my book jacket PR shot and altered it so that I had 666 inscribed on my forehead, plus horns. I sent it to everyone I knew. It was hilarious. I wish I had saved a screenshot but I think the site is gone now.

Please note that these people are not just folks who have decided not to have kids. They are also not people who simply prefer adult company and become annoyed when parents allow their children to bother other people in public places. They are people who HATE children and amuse themselves by spending their time posting disgusting, often-violent fantasies of what they would like to do to babies and kids on their newsgroup.

Not long after I first encountered the gang, writer Kymberly Seabolt wrote a
terrific article
on the subject. Also, after being referred to as breeders in a pejorative sense by the alt.sopport.childfree pundits, a group of very clever writermamas I know decided to claim the meant-to-be-insulting moniker as their own. They published a terrific anthology of parenting essays in 2001 called Breeder: Stories from the New Generation of Mothers (Seal Press). It has been a big hit.