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The Grandmother Gene

EDITOR'S NOTE: I am deep in the weeds on the Ryan/Romney plans for Medicare and Social Security and could use some extra time. So here's a very old post I like from the earliest days of this blog, 2004, updated slightly from the original.

category_bug_journal2.gif Because I was thinking a week or so ago about looking grandmotherish, it’s a good time to mention my theory of the grandmother gene.

When I was in high school in the mid-1950s, it was more common for girl graduates to get married and have babies than go to college. Some even dropped out a year or two early to get married and if they weren’t pregnant within a few months of the wedding, there was some heavy explaining to do to parents and in-laws.

A large number of the girls I knew in high school had a serious jones for babies. But that urgency never touched me in the same way. There was so much to know about the world, so many places to go, things to see, people to meet, books to read and I knew a husband and baby would hinder those quests.

When I did marry seven years later, I wanted some time to work out the relationship, find out what sharing a life, forever, was all about before I brought another person - one who would need full-time attention - into the mix.

When it turned out that forever lasts only six years, I was relieved to be divorcing sans a child or two. It was hard enough to start over while confronting all my own conflicts without having to juggle the emotional well-being of kids too.

I was 31 years old and I believed I had a long time before I needed to face the imperatives of my biological clock. Plus, the mommy thing still wasn’t registering strongly.

As my life crept toward 40, however, I had to take the baby matter seriously once and for all. After a year of private struggle to-and-fro-ing the issue, I decided against it. There was no one on the near-horizon I wanted to marry and I dismissed the idea of becoming a single mother because I believe, whatever might happen to a relationship later, it’s a good idea to give a kid a shot at both parents up front. And I still wasn't hearing the siren call of motherhood.

Perhaps the biggest reason for the postponement of babies and my final, late 30’s decision to forgo motherhood was that I didn’t much like kids. They’re loud, expensive, tend to get the sticky kind of dirty and they want you to pay attention - all the time.

I was way too focused on me, I believed, to be much good at that and what’s the point of having babies if you’re not going to give it your best effort. I would not feel unfulfilled without a child, I decided, and having settled the issue I moved on without a backward glance.

I have never lamented that decision. I have no doubts that it was the right one for me and I still feel pretty much the same way about kids in general except for the unexpected eruption at some point in my 50s of what I’ve come to think of as the grandmother gene.

Does this happen to every woman? Are we programmed for this even if we skip motherhood? Geez. I spent all my adult life diligently avoiding my friends’ children. I sent gifts. I showed up for christenings and the earliest birthday parties that are for the grownups anyway. I sent money at bar mitzvah time. But baby sit? Not a chance. When I gave parties, the invitations stipulated “no children.”

Then out of nowhere, I found myself going all gooey when I saw a mother in the street pushing a pram. I’d be rushing off to a meeting or a dinner with friends or just neighborhood shopping on Saturday and when an infant turned up in my view, I’d get all soggy at how cute the kid was.

Since this about-face, I’ve discovered all babies are cute and now I’ve even got what I consider a couple of kid friends.

I’m still not sorry I didn’t have children. Had I done so, I would have been a decent mother because I was born responsible and I take my obligations seriously. But I would have missed a lot of other things I've done in life and I suspect I would be sorry now about that. We choose different paths, each of us, and I am happy with mine.

Which is why I can’t figure out how this grandmother gene kicked in.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jackie Harrison: Who Put the Apple on My Car?


Loving aunts and grandmothers are some of life's greatest gifts to a kid. Absolutely priceless.

Married with children is simply not in everyone's cards. The family unit was much more important back before capitalist entrepreneurs found better ways to feed, clothe and house us all. As an economic unit families no longer serve the basic survival needs as they did in hunter-gather times and even later when growing and raising food for individual needs was necessary.

Not that there isn't some social benefit to family life today but people have to work at creating a cohesive life together in today's urban lifestyles much more than they did in a more agrarian period.

Though I never ever peered into prams or went gooey over babies, I thoroughly enjoyed my own years of full-time, full-on mothering. And when my daughters became mothers I was right there at their deliveries and took care of their households for the first few weeks, just as my own grandmother had done for my mother when my siblings and I were born. I was also a doula for several friends. And I adore my grandchildren more and more, the older and more interesting they get. Nevertheless, I don't have even a hint of the 'grandmother gene.' Other people's children still don't interest me whatsoever and I made it very clear when we first moved to this village, where there were a lot of young mothers, that I never babysit.

Ronni...What in the world is a
"serious jones..." ???

In High school the decade before you, the only way to be
sexual was to marry. The babies just came along as a result.

Had I been wiser then, and not
so gullible to the indoctrin-ation, I now know for sure that marriage and children would not have been my primary choice.....

That was just a bit of old-timey, 50s, slang. "Jones" was "habit" or "addiction" applied back then to drugs that over time, came to mean strong desire. "Serious" was, well, serious.

I always wanted to be a mother. Because a man was necessary to fulfill my dream I got married. My maternal instinct was strong and I still get all gooey when I see a baby.

I do, however, think that you made the right decision to avoid motherhood because your maternal instinct was not strong and children are hard enough to love and raise when you want them, but would make you miserable if you didn't like them very much. And trust me when I say, there are times when the most devoted mother does not like her children at all. If you were viewing motherhood as a responsibility those times would drive you over the edge.

The best part of being a grandmother is that you can give the children back to their parents when the child become unlovable. Maybe that's why your 'grandmother gene' is kicking in. You are probably bombarded with stories of what my clever grandchild did and it may make you think you are missing something.

Just a thought, but have you considered sponsoring a child in need? You get letters and photos from the child and that might fulfill the desire of the grandmother gene.

Your experience and mine are very similar. I did not want children, loved sending gifts to others..and have no regrets. I, like you, also developed a sincere LOVE of all babies--this happened for me as I was in my 50's. I even got to work for awhile in a daycare where I got a whole new outlook about little people...I feel grateful for that experience, except the little monsters kept giving me their colds, so I had to quit. If anyone would have told me while in my 20's that one day I'd work in a daycare I would have rolled my eyes and told them they were certifiable. I DO think women have an innate quality to want to nurture..even when they are consummate business people. My view on the whole "child-free" thing is that it is an absolute brilliant decision when one knows it all along--like you and I did!

It is called biology. We are biological animals and we cannot deny that.

I share your thoughts about having children. I also made the choice not to be a mother, and have no regrets. At this stage in life, when I see how sweet little babies grow up and become ever so entitled, and treat the parents with disrespect and the most painful disregard, I am quite satisfied with my choice.

I have had three children, and tend to think that it was because I was raised in the 40s and 50s in a very small town in a very oldfashioned soceity and felt obliged to marry a man if I wanted to enjoy any of the physical "joys". Also, I was in my late 20s or 30s before there was any kind of reliable birth control available.

I love my children dearly and wouldn't trade them for anything now, but the jury is still out as to whether I would choose to do the same things if I were young in this day and age. Hmmmmm

By the way, "jonesing", I think, was derived from "keeping up with the Joneses" ... seriously wanting everything everyone else had for no other reason than to improve your status in society. It ended up meaning a huge, overpowering desire for anything.

I did not really have a 'thing' for babies, despite having five children. I didn't feel bereft when I did not have any grandchildren. that is, until I had my granddaughter in my arms. For you, it has all been about choices in life. And , so too is this a choice for you. I think it is wonderful for children to have 'friends' that are not family. So, if at this time in your life you feel like the occasional 'child fix time', why not take this choice, and simply enjoy. I do believe children allow us to simply take more time to simply be, and enjoy the simpler things in life. perhaps it is not so much 'grandma gene' but a recongition of that yearning ?

Deep within me dwells this crotchety "spinster" aunt who does not tolerate poorly behaved children. At all.

I got swept up in the pressure of marriage too and had two daughters and now a college age granddaughter.

I solved the the ill manners of granddaughter by telling her when with me that grandma's rules applied. (I heartily recommend this to all gms). She is beautifully behaved with me and other elders and we adore each other.

It's all turned out surprisingly well.

I am very late bloomer.


Wow, Ronni and Celeste--we bucked the trend back in the day, didn't we?! I've never been, and still am not, a kid person. Any mothering instincts I may possess (and I'm not at all sure every woman has them) go to cats, my own and as a volunteer for a cat rescue organization.

I thought in the late '50s and still do that far too many children are born to mothers who may not be ready for a child or are ill-equipped to care for one (I fit into both categories). Everyone told me back then that I'd be sorry in my old age if I didn't have children. They were wrong. I've had no regrets. I've had a largely satisfying professional life and (finally on the 3rd try) I met my wonderful husband in 1976.

Although there's been progress since I was in my 20s, I had hoped that today's young women could feel completely open to giving the child-free option serious consideration, but I don't think we're there yet. The Religious Right isn't helping matters, but what can you expect from folks who don't believe in evolution or climate change?

That grandparent gene is awfully strong; I find myself admiring and engaging little ones in the mall and on the bike path and in the grocery store.... and then they go back to their parents. Perfect!

I, too, never liked kids much, except for my own (and that was a welcome surprise!)but I can hardly wait for my soon-to-be-a-bride daughter to get going and pop out a grandbaby for me to love. Damn good thing her maternal instincts are bursting out of her and she, too, can hardly wait.

How nice when a plan comes together.

I would probably be like Elizabeth. Consummed by youthful passion, married within a few months and 6 years later
there were 3 children and realized I did not even know the person I had married. Was to late when I came back to earth. If I had been smarter
much would have been done differently. Divorced at 42 and I am very aware that I would not have 4 children and 5 grandchildren that bring me so much joy at this time of my life -if I had been thinking at the age of 20..

Neither of my daughters has chosen motherhood. I think I assumed I'd be a grandmother some day. I have to admit that grandmother gene is alive and well in me and I would have loved the chance to have a grandchild.

I come from a family of six children, four males and two females. While I married young and had three sons, my sister never married nor had children, and I think she has been at least as happy as I have. I know she has avoided some of life's most difficult moments, and has had a lot more time to enjoy other interests. She has also been a wonderful aunt. None of my sons, though all grown, have married or become fathers. My husband and I invested a lot of our time in our children, although we both worked more than full-time in our jobs, as well. I remember being awfully tired during a lot of those years. I think my adult children are still enjoying having a lot of free time to indulge their own interests. While I would enjoy being a grandmother, right now we're taking care of my husband's 92 year old mother, and that is a fulltime job in itself, so it's probably just as well that we don't have a darling grandbaby to draw on our time as well.

To Miki...
I almost never disagree with the estimable Miki who commented above, but this time I must. To "jones" - meaning to crave - has nothing to do with keeping up with the Jones.

It started in New York decades ago and has been attributed to originating with junkies who hung on Great Jones Street in the west Village.

I'm with you on all points. And I spend more time smiling at babies, too, but think it's because now I have more of a reverence for life and appreciate the potential of each little person with something like awe.

Maybe there is a grandmother gene. Way back (I'm thinking caveman) the older women would have had to help raise the children and this gene would have helped them jump in. I know today there are a lot of grandmothers raising children but it's usually because of irresponsibility not the unending toil of the mothers. Anyway I coo & gush over babies too...still no grand kids though.

My email is grammylyn. Does that tell you something? I love being the matriarch of a large family of 3 children, 6 grandchildren, and 5 great-grandchildren (maybe more down the line). I worked with children for forty years and loved it, starting with a summer playgroup when I was only 15, babysat, took care of nephews and friends' kids,
did hundreds of kids' concerts, taught pre-schoolers etc..I wouldn't take a million dollars for those experiences...BUT...I wouldn't give you one cent to repeat any of it! I am so done with all that, all except my own offspring, and I don't get to spend a lot of time with most of them, so my tolerance isn't really being tested.

I try not to overthink this. It's just that kids are so darn cute. We have grandkids, and our renters next door have a baby and a two year old, and well, they are so darn cute, like many other baby animals: puppies, kittens, lambs...

Did the grandmother gene wear off for you? I did a lot of baby sitting when it hit me (also in my fifties) but now that I am eighty, I just love making eye contact with babies (and dogs) but the idea of getting seriously involved has departed. Renee

I was a 50's product, too. Plus a "good" Catholic. I never had much to do with children as I grew up, so the arrival of my first baby, far away from grandmother, was traumatic. And they just kept a-coming: 4 in 6 years, all girls. That's when I said to heck with the Pope and got my tubes tied. The girls all turned out lovely, and have presented me with 14 grandchildren. Way too many, but super kids, all. Babies never used to interest me, even my own, but I must confess to "gooeyness" over grandbabies. I'm presently packing up my Grannymobile (license plate: GMAMOBL) for a journey to see the littlest ones, driving all the way from Iowa to Maine, stopping in Michigan where my daughter with the seven kids lives. I'm still not terribly interested in other people's kids, but recall my mother commenting on how she was becoming "just like her mother", making up to little ones in grocery carts. I confess to winking and smiling at them too.

The term "Jonesing" didn't make it to California. News to me.

Even when I was a kid I really didn’t like kids (myself included, psychologists form a neat queue on the right) so when the time came that that was an option for me I dismissed it out of hand. I have never regretted that decision.

I never liked or played with baby dolls as a child -- had adult paper dolls. Always said I'd never wed, but if I ever did I certainly wouldn't bring any children into this world. I liked kids, was very close to older brother's -- imagined myself as their Auntie Mame -- but never got gooey-eyed over little ones.

Recall in my early twenties being referred to as an "old maid" by a caring and loved family member who hadn't meant the remark to be disparaging, but given the attitudes then, I was both hurt by the judgmental labeling I perceived and angry 'cause I intended to follow my own inclinations -- too heck with the societal expectations.

I did gradually warm to the idea of wedding in my late twenties, then waited five years to my early thirties before having my children. Enjoyed them immensely from day one and still do.

Marriage any sooner would have been a mistake for me and whoever I wed, as it would have been having children any sooner than I did -- a mistake for the children's sake. I am enjoying grandchildren, but they live so far away, circumstances in recent years have complicated our being able to be together as frequently as we would like.

Life can be a trade-off in some ways, depending on many factors when shared with another, additional family members, and/or other family responsibilities are present. Ideal possibilities to minimize trade-offs are just that -- possibilities that vary for individuals.

Sounds like you chose what worked best for you. Think your emotional reaction in your fifties was pretty normal and may have had to do with more than just "babies" and a grandmother gene. In fact, when I was around 50, or a bit younger, was a period of time in my life when I, too, was more emotional, "examining" my life. Not just me, but some friends, too, -- we all had the babies, a husband, so emotions wouldn't crop up on those issues. We were talking, reading all kinds of books, they were each going down their own different paths.

I do recall telling my doctor, who was a confident, when I got a physical at 50 yrs that I needed to get ready for the next fifty years of my life.

Well, I'm a little over half way down the road on that time line. My special doctor inconsiderately and unexpectedly died very soon after being diagnosed with lung cancer.

Renee Watkins...
That's become true for me - that the most of intense interest in babies of 20 years ago when it first emerged has subsided for me.

I notice them now, as you say, along with dogs and I sometimes enjoy cute baby YouTube videos but they affect me about the same as cute animal videos.

Tarzana said: The term "Jonesing" didn't make it to California.

Aw c'mon....dontcha remember
Basketball Jones?

And who didn't love Nicolette
Larsen's "Dancin' Jones" ?

Like all "genetic predispositions", the one for my mothering is not universal. Many women are instinctively driven by the urge to mother but some (perhaps more than we might think) are not. How many of us are born with the "killer instinct" (either metaphorical or real)? How many are born with musical abilities or superior hand-eye coordination (basketball champs raise their hands).
We are all a melange of talents, abilities and- challenges. I'm directionally dyslexic and can't read maps- 99 percentile in linguistic abilities and 15% in math)

Yet, many of us assume that all women are born to be mothers with culinary double forks in our fists. Alas it ain't necessarily so. My mother-in-law was by her own admission, " not a good mother" but thought she would be a great grandmother but it didn't work out that way and her daughter didn't inherit any special talents in the mothering area either. My own mom put me and my two brothers in the care of her sisters immediately after she gave birth. Much later, I learned that she had suffered from a rather severe case of post-partum depression.
So, I take real pleasure in the company of my grandchildren and feel sorry for the women who don't get a thrill out of the touch of a tiny hand in theirs.

I got my personal pronouns mixed up. I'm a man and should not have used "mine" or "our".

I've been pondering this particular entry for a bit and I have come up with a theory.

It is now SAFE for you to like babies again. Back when baby production was possible, you couldn't like them for fear that the following may happen; 1. you might be mistaken for the mother 2.somebody might think you wanted a baby of your own or 3(shudder) ask you to babysit. You could even started to re-think your firmly held views on Ronni as a parent.

Nurturing your indifference of babies was the safest thing to do. Now that reproduction is off the table, it is safe to like the dimpled knees and bright eyed, gummy smiles.

What do you think?

Having a jones, a drug addiction (or gambling, racing, etc.) was a known term in the black community of the 70's in Palo Alto, CA. And I heard it again in the mid-80's in northern CA.

Ading my name to the chorus of those who consciously didn't reproduce & am totally happy about it. Get my kitten fix at the shelter!

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