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I’m a Wannabe Grandma Whose Hopes Are Fading Fast

'When do you plan on having kids?' is a forbidden question.

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illustration gif of wannabe grandmother looking at other grandmothers with grandchildren
Rami Niemi
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My twice-a-week walking pal Jane, a retired teacher and school librarian of grandmotherly age, bounced up my driveway beaming not that long ago. “I’m getting the baby overnight!” she gleefully exclaimed. Almost instantly, I felt the familiar pangs of Grandma Envy — a jealous reaction caused by a void in my life that increasingly appears to be gaining permanence: I have no grandchildren and very much want them.

I am 73, and I experience Grandma Envy a lot. It flares up when friends send me photos of their grandkids baking cookies with them, trick or treating in adorable grandma-made costumes, or blowing out their birthday cake candles with grandma standing right next to them ready to help. I feel it when I see a grandmother pushing a happy cutie pie on the playground swings.

I have been known to wander over to the babies’ section in the department store just to admire the onesies. When you ask someone what they plan to do in retirement, the answer you are likely to hear is: “I want to spend time with my grandchildren.” And I may never get to do that. It cuts like a knife.

My children are 26 and 23, admittedly on the young side to start a family. But both remain vocal and adamant that bringing a child into this insane world is an act that borders on criminal. The truth is, as much as I want to be a grandma, I don’t entirely disagree with them and completely agree it is their choice to make, not mine.

When the topic comes up, I generally get a recitation of all that is wrong with the world: Global wars, climate change, multiple random mass shootings, natural disasters, intolerance, prejudice, hatred, dysfunctional governments, corrupt politicians, food insecurity, killer pandemics, never-seen-before viruses, wildlife extinction, intense heat waves, record-breaking storms, massive floods, snowfalls taller than buildings, drought, wildfire infernos, bees dying, disappearing coral reefs, unaffordable housing and economic uncertainty.

It makes me want to sing along with Barry McGuire’s 1965 hit "Eve of Destruction."

The world is a mess right now — no argument from me on that. I also accept that parenting may not be an important path for everyone to go down, although it certainly was for me.

My kids seem to be part of a rising tide of young adults who say they aren’t planning to have children. Some call it choosing to be childless or childfree by choice, and the reasons why they feel that way are as varied as the individuals. Much of the stigma has lessened for women who choose to not become mothers. They no longer are expected to do the old-time generational two-step: get married and start a family.

Honestly? I do understand it. I just selfishly hate it. I created my own family through adoption by choice. I had spent my child-bearing years chasing a demanding but much-loved career, and traveling the world. I filled my holiday tables with other single friends who served as my surrogate family. I never yearned to be pregnant and when it didn’t happen, I let it go.

It was all fine until one day it wasn’t. I woke up in my early 50s and could no longer pretend I was the woman in the cartoon slapping her hand to her forehead and claiming “OMG! I can’t believe I forgot to have children!” I hadn’t forgotten; I just had different priorities at the time and regret was creeping in around the seams of my well-tailored life.

Given that my biological clock had run out, I turned to international adoption and brought home two beautiful toddlers from China. It was the smartest and best thing I have ever done. My kids have brought tremendous joy and meaning to my life. Is this where I surrender my “liberated woman” card and admit that I wish I had become a parent sooner?

I have pushed myself hard to be the mother these precious children deserve. I have learned from them how to value a kind word and how to forgive those who would use unkind ones. I have risen to the occasion, found strengths and patience I didn't know I had, and have come to believe that the very reason I came into existence was to launch these two children into happy, fulfilled lives.

From them, great things will flow. And yes, it pains me to know that grandkids may not be among those flowing great things. So as much as I would love to discuss what my grandma name will be, I will instead be sharing with my kids the advice published in the Aug. 14, 2023 edition of Psychology Today by Karin Arndt, a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Washington, D.C.

She wrote to an audience of peers: “Listen closely to your own psyche and disentangle your desire from that of other people and the larger society: What’s yours, and what’s theirs? … Become as conscious of your fears as possible — fears around becoming a mother (e.g., fears of being a bad parent, feeling overwhelmed, losing your independence) as well as fears around choosing not to be a mother (e.g., fears of future regret, being alone in old age).

Arndt probably should have added “fears of making your own mother sad don’t count either” to her list.

Are any of you wannabe grandmothers — and still waiting? Let us know in the comments below.

Follow Article Topics: Fulfillment
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