Parents of little ones focus their time around their children, exactly as they should. Teenagers, on the other hand, no longer require a parent at the bedside to care for a common cold or qualified babysitters. When the kids leave home for college and adulthood, friendships can feel more balanced as Moms regain some of the leisure time NotMoms are accustomed to enjoying.
In 2010, after her friend’s only child left home for college, a NotMom I know told me, “I’ve got my girlfriend back!” Her rejoicing was short-lived: her friend welcomed a grandchild in 2012, leaving the NotMom with a sadly familiar sense of separation. As a NY Times blogger recently described it,
“We are once again on the outside looking in, arranging our get-togethers around a new round of birthday parties and family trips…The feeling of being an outsider is most keen when I am with a group of women. I am an oddity.”
It’s not that childless women neglect to focus on the positives in their lives; in fact, a focus on anything but the absence of children offers the self-contentment that every woman craves. It’s the feeling of not fitting in that can’t be shaken off so easily, and those feelings can strike at any age.
From NotMom to NotGrandMom. Another transition “they” don’t warn you about.
In a warped definition of “luck,” I learned firsthand about the NotGrandMom experience earlier than most. A very close friend became a grandmother when her son was barely out of high school. At the time, our friendship was only a few years old, started when she was close to becoming an Empty Nester. Instead, she became a Re-Nester. She wasn’t happy about it. Neither was I. I listened, and comforted her as she worked to accept the impending changes ahead. It felt inappropriate to complain about how those changes would impact me.
Almost immediately, my friend peppered our conversations with updates about the pregnancy. When the undeniably adorable baby Lily arrived, my friend frequently re-arranged her schedule to babysit days, nights, whenever. While her son and his girlfriend struggled through their freshman year at college, I doubt even she was aware of how often her emails and Facebook posts were filled with photos and stories of Lily laughing, napping, in the bathtub, or in the bouncy walker. Acceptance of grandmotherhood seemed to come quickly for her. Not so for me. And because I had once hoped to be a mother, I had my own struggles with rekindled grief.
Did I speak up about my feelings? Yes, eventually. And, carefully. Bless her, she regularly began asking, “Can you stand another story about Lily?” I don’t think I ever said, “No,” even if that was how I felt. I appreciated that she acknowledged how I felt, and I know our friendship benefitted from it.
Now, Lily is headed for kindergarten and her parents (and maternal grandparents) are the primary caregivers. My friend has reclaimed her life by registering for graduate school hundreds of miles away from Lily…and me. I’m proud of my friend, and happy that we’re still connected by phone and by Skype. She’s an awesome grandmother, and still my very good friend.
When Lily turned 5, my friend flew in for the party. As she happily shared stories about the birthday girl, she said she didn’t tell me she’d be in the area because she only had a couple of days. She assumed I wouldn’t be able to fit in a visit. I wish I’d had the opportunity to prove her wrong.
If it sounds like I envy little Lily, I do. She’s blessed to have such a devoted grandmother, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, my experience, just like the one shared by the NY Times blogger, makes me think that as increasing numbers of women without children connect with each other online and off, women without grandchildren will find each other, too. One in five American women will never have children…or grandchildren.
Photo Credit: Actress and NotGrandMom Helen Mirren by Giles Keyte