Grandchildren: one of the most rewarding and happy relationships you can enjoy in life, and for many, the best bit about growing older. But where does it leave those of us who are yet to have the title of ‘grandparent’ bestowed upon us by our children?
A nationwide survey in 2011 of over 5,000 grandparents and 6,000 non-grandparents by the London School of Economics*, found that having at least one grandchild is “associated positively and statistically significantly” with overall life satisfaction.
It also suggested that the full benefits of becoming a parent may only be reached when our children go on to become parents themselves. The excitement of waiting for the new arrival, those long-awaited new born cuddles, and being there for them and helping as they grow up, real privileges of being a grandparent.
Unfortunately for some of us, our own children may have expressed a desire to be child-free. Others sadly find that having a child isn’t biologically possible. Some keep their cards closely guarded to their chest, leaving us wondering if our dream of grandchildren will ever become reality.
Figures from the Office for National Statistics reveal that one in five women are reaching the age of 45 without having children; almost twice that of our generation*.
The deeply emotional impact on those of us faced with the prospect of never becoming a grandparent is real and significant. Feelings of disappointment, loss, grief and envy are not uncommon as the worry sets in that we may never experience the special relationship that we can see our friends, neighbours and relatives enjoying with their own grandchildren.
So, if we do not know the intentions of our grown-up children, are we entitled to ask if we might ever be grandparents? Would our children balk at a conversation about their family planning, or would they welcome our carefully-worded questions, perhaps understanding our excitement and how life-changing it will be for us to become a grandma or grandpa?
Online forums are raft with posts from would-be grandparents in need of a platform to share their yearnings for a grandchild. Many agonise over if they could, or should, broach the topic of future family plans with their grown-up children and their partners.
One thread on GransNet has received a host of interesting replies. It comes from a would-be grandparent, desperate to know the future plans of her two married sons.
Broaching the topic
‘WaitingGran’ posted the following on the internet forum GransNet:
“I have two sons, both of whom are married to lovely women in their mid-thirties. They’ve been married for 3 and 6 years respectively and there don’t seem to be any grandkids on the horizons for either? I daren’t bring it up – a friend of mine was told off quite aggressively by her daughter when she asked – but I’d really love to know if it’s in their plans or not. So, I can either a) resign myself to being a non-grandma or b) know that I have to be patient for a little longer and perhaps they need support. Of course, they could either/both be having problems conceiving which I’d love to support but also don’t want to interfere with. But what if they simply don’t want kids? I’d rather know now so I can deal with the loss of never becoming a grandma.”
The responses varied in their advice. One lady, ‘JackyB’, responded:
“My eldest DS’s [darling son’s] wife had several miscarriages. They went through a terrible time and didn’t tell anyone about it. I wish I could have supported them more. Now their first child is coming up to 2, we are back in the same position again – will keep our mouths firmly shut and our questions to ourselves.
How did we feel about mothers and in-laws asking us when we were in that position? Whether you’re trying or waiting or are definitely not going to have children, I don’t think anyone wants to be badgered. So, even if you are very close, this subject – as everyone has said – is, unfortunately, taboo.”
‘GrannyBen’ was a little more to the point, replying:
“Hello waiting gran. I can fully understand how you feel but, if you ever get the urge to discuss the matter with them, please just lock yourself in the loo and wait for it to pass.”
Others thought it was fine to ask your children or in-laws about their family plans if the question fitted in with a more general conversation about future plans.
One lady, ‘Deedaa’, responded:
“I think it would be all right if you were having a general conversation about the way life is going. Is she hoping for a promotion at work, are they happy where they are or are they thinking about moving in the future? A mention of children could fit in quite naturally, as long as it was from their point of view, rather than a “When am I going to be a granny?” approach.
Easier to discuss with daughters?
Many people find it easier to discuss more intimate conversations and private family matters with their female relatives. It makes sense then, that conversations about family planning tend to occur between mother and daughter. But where does that leave those of us who are mothers of sons?
Can we easily approach our sons, or perhaps our daughters-in-law to discuss the personal matter of pending motherhood as easily as we perhaps could if they were our daughter?
Some respondents to the GransNet post believed that yes, the discussion would be easier to have if she was planning to talk to daughters, rather than her sons or daughters-in-law, about the future chance of grandchildren. One person replied saying:
“I would imagine that it would be easier to talk to daughters about planning babies than to sons but I think it all depends on your relationship with your children. My youngest daughter has had medical problems which may well mean that she can’t have her own babies, but we have always had a very open relationship and talk about everything.
I’m close to my DIL [daughter in law] but know that her relationship will always be closer with her mother and would never have talked to her about this.”
Are you waiting to be a grandparent? Have you asked your own grown-up children if they are planning a family? Is the conversation easier to have with daughters rather than daughter-in-law’s? Do you think it is prying or rude to ask couples about their plans to have children?
*The Telegraph Jan 2016