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The ‘glory years’ between parenting and grandparenting

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Q. In a recent column you said that a mother’s “glory years” begin when the last child leaves home and that they end when the first grandchild is born. But why do the “glory years” have to end when the first grandchild is born? This seems incredibly depressing to me!

I am in my 30s and raising three tiny children, so obviously I’m a long time away from this phase of life, but the idea still worries me. I’ve known several grandmothers who have become unlimited free babysitters for their kids, and I am not willing to do that. Once I’ve raised my children, I am done with the 24/7 baby life. Of course I will want to see the grandchildren and will be willing to babysit, even on a regular basis, but I intend to have my own life — professional and otherwise — and I’m going to tell my children what my limits are.

And yes, I know that many unexpected things will occur, but my priorities won’t change. Right now my children are No. 1, but I’m not going to take the back seat forever. No one should have to do that, especially after putting in all the time and effort it takes to turn a child into an adult.

A. Of course you shouldn’t take the back seat forever, but “baby life” is more than a car ride on a bumpy road.

Right now you’re still absorbing the rules of parenthood — the ones no one ever warned you about — and it seems like they’ll last forever.

A walk with the children takes twice as long and goes half as far.

Another load of laundry needs doing before the last load is put away.

And the more toys young children have, the more they play with your pots, your pans and any cardboard boxes they can find.

While you’re lurching from one day to the next, your children are growing up, and so are you. A full-time job might overwhelm you now, but you do need to work for a few hours a week — for pay or for free — to keep you talking in complete sentences, to keep your mind nimble and to remember that the world expands your intelligence the way children expand your heart.

You are close to your children now, but just wait until they begin to spread their wings. Their differences — and their needs — will invade the privacy of your mind as they never have before. Even if you get a fancy job one day and your children move 3,000 miles away, your own memories will send you back into motherhood mode the minute your children have children.

You’ll notice it when your daughter calls to tell you that everyone in the house is sick, and then you’ll quickly ask, “How are you?” before you ask about the baby. That’s because your own child will still be No. 1 with you and you can’t help being worried about her. As you know so well, sick parents take better care of their sick children than they ever take care of themselves.

It’s when you ask about the baby, however, that your heart will clutch. The minute you remember how you rushed your croupy son outside to breathe the cold night air, you’ll be taking her baby’s temperature, if only in your mind. The effort is nearly the same.

There are pluses to all this caterwauling, and the greatest of these is this: You will never have to worry about your grandchildren as much as your grandmother worried about you. We now live in the Age of Antibiotics — the first time in history when parents can confidently expect their children to grow up — and our cemeteries are no longer littered with little gravestones. This is a blessing we tend to forget.

There is another blessing, too, and it has been around since time began.

If you rear your children well, they will become your friends and your confidants, and one day you will depend on them the way they now depend on you. That’s the nice thing about priorities. They move down to the next generation.

Send questions about parenting to advice@margueritekelly.com.

Chat Thursday at noon Join Kelly for a live Q&A about parenting and other family relationships and also read past columns.

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