Leslie Stahl Comes to Bal Harbour
By Tali Jaffe Minor
Leslie Stahl has been a Sunday night staple for more than 25 years, broadcasting into our homes as a correspondent on “60 Minutes” since the early 90s. But it’s a more recent role that has us tuning in this week, when Stahl makes an appearance at Books & Books on Wednesday to promote “Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting.” Here, Stahl reflects on the many roles a grandmother plays, rivalries and just what it means to be a “Lolly.”
As a very new mom, the experience of watching my parents and in laws transition into grandparents is fresh in my mind. The tears flowed fast and hard. And a softening instantly followed. Can you try and describe those first minutes in the presence of your grandchildren?
When I held my first grandchild for the first time, I had a jolt of full-body happiness. The depth of this wallop of joy was totally unexpected. Everyone tells you that being a grandparent is a reward, a gift from the gods. But no one tells you about the physicality of this new kind of loving.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to write this book: to see if I was unique or if all grams get this “high.” Answer: Pretty much all of us.
With many of us facing longer hours, required travel and longer commutes, time spent with grandparents has shifted from special treat to full time childcare. What did your research uncover in terms of the correlation between grandmother assistance and mothers in the work force?
Young parents today are exhausted and stretched thin. Even when both work, they’re not making as much as my generation did in terms of purchasing power. And everything is more expensive, including good child care which can cost as much as college.
So our kids need us both financially (and many of us are stepping up and kicking in) and as babysitters. Actually, there’s a developing trend in the country where on retirement more and more grandparents are selling the houses they’ve lived in for 30, 40 years and moving to help out and be in the grandchildren’s lives. We’re becoming granny nannies!
Did you find an increase in the number of Grandparents raising their grandchildren outright?
I did find that more grandparents are raising their grandchildren, far more than I knew about. Part of the reason is drugs, part is due to the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and some is from the ravaging of families by the 2008 recession. This used to be a phenomenon of the inner cities. Today it has spread to the suburban middle class.
I found that some of these custodial grandparents are reborn by taking care of small children again. Others, who thought they were heading to a retirement of traveling and taking it easy, resent it.
Though motherhood is a universal experience, there are practices and trends that characterize every generation. What would you say are some of the most significant differences between yours and your daughter's approach to parenting?
Young parents look at the way we grandparent and say, “Who are you?” “Who invaded my mother’s body?”
A parent’s job is to police. A parent is all about “Do your homework.” “Clean up this mess.” “You can’t wear that!” etc. Their assignment is to mold an upstanding citizen who finishes school and doesn’t use the wrong fork. A grandparent’s job is simply to love those children. We become, quite naturally, permissive and indulgent. I’m convinced that the day we become grandparents, our ability to say “no” is functionally disabled!
Any opinions of trending names for "grandmother"? I've been hearing Gaga a lot!
I have signed books to Woggy, Fancy, CooCoo and Glamma. I’m Lolly. But actually, I’ve met only a handful of grandmothers with these specialized handles. Most of the women are Grandma, Grammy, Nana or Mimi. Same ole.
How has your relationship with your daughter changed since having children?
When I was researching the book, I came upon case after case where the mother-daughter relationship improved and deepened into best-friendship once the baby was born.
However, I also came upon situations where daughters have not forgiven their parents for some childhood infraction and actually forbid their parents to see their own grandchildren. This is cruel, and sadly more common than I ever expected.
But generally, I think young mothers are getting along better with their mothers today than my generation did.
Let's talk about grandma rivalry! Any experience with that?
A grandmother I spoke to about this said she’d never been a jealous person, so this rivalry took her by surprise. It does seem that there is an inherent, hard-wired competition between the two grandmothers. “Am I getting as much time with the baby as she is?” “Does the kid like me as much?”
In my own case, my daughter’s mother-in-law (aka the Other Gram) and I talked it out. The airing was a good thing. We’re friends now, both realizing that there are never too many people who love our grandchildren.