Where have all the grandmas gone?


Last Sunday, I had one singer in my church choir for the early Mass. Everyone else had gone out of town to be with grandchildren. Cathy and I, not mothers or grandmothers, stayed behind. This is not unusual. Most of our singers are over 60, and most of them are grandparents. Although they like to sing and are devoted to the church, when it’s a choice between the baby and the music, the baby wins every time.
I can’t blame them. If my life were different, if I had children and grandchildren, I’d want to be with them, too. I might live somewhere else to be near them, and I might not have this choir director job that keeps me busy every weekend. I’d be busy with the kids. Or maybe not. Some families don’t get along, don’t live close to each other, don’t find time to be in each other’s lives.
I definitely see the charm of these new little people and feel left out sometimes. Monday was my birthday. I spent it alone. It was not terrible. I drove out of town, did some shopping, had an expensive lunch overlooking the ocean, sat on the beach, and hiked in a wildlife preserve. I got lots of calls and texts wishing me Happy Birthday. But if there were children or grandchildren, maybe I’d have been one of those moms at the restaurant surrounded by their family. I’d be the matriarch looking at the ever-growing dynasty that began with me and my husband: the children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, their spouses and their in-laws. Heck, maybe we’d need a whole banquet room. But then I wouldn’t have been able to sit on the beach, write, take pictures and relax. Or enjoy my crab-stuffed salmon in peace. So don’t feel sorry for me.
You who are reading this are probably younger than me, so things may be different when you’re in your 60s. A recent AARP article gave statistics for what they see as “the new grandmothers.” They say 47 is the average age of the first-time grandparent and 62 percent are still working. Those numbers are bound to change with the next generation as they did for the one before me. My mother and my grandmother quit working paid jobs in their early 20s when they got pregnant with their first children. Honestly, at my age they were a lot older. They’d never run off on their own like I did.
Today many women don’t get pregnant until their late 30s or early 40s, so they’ll be much older if/when the grandchildren come. A higher percentage will be still working. And at least a fifth, possibly a quarter, of today’s young women are not having children, so fewer of them will be running off to hang out with the grandkids. People without children will feel less left out because they’ll have plenty of company.
Cathy and I, the non-moms, rocked those songs at church. One of the fussiest people in our parish sent me a note saying the music was just beautiful on Sunday. So there.
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6 thoughts on “Where have all the grandmas gone?

  1. Hi Sue, I love how you really have embraced your life and are making the most of enjoying it, with or without children. Your birthday sounds like a beautiful day. Happy Belated Birthday!

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  2. Great piece, Sue, one that's been lingering in my thoughts since I read it. I find myself wondering a lot about what my future might end up looking like, 20-30 years from now. I'm in my 40s and while many of the good friends I have (male and female) are childless/childfree, will we still be there for each other down the road? I don't have siblings nor extended family I'm especially close to; I figure I may not have anyone but myself to rely on at some point down the line. It can be sobering to consider, even as someone who generally is pretty good at being independent and enjoying doing things on my own.

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