1. Parenting
You can opt-out at any time. Please refer to our privacy policy for contact information.

Discuss in my forum

New Age Nanas: Being a Grandmother in the 21st Century

Study Manages to Be Scholarly But Not Stuffy

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating


New Age Nanas was created from interviews with over one thousand Australian grandmothers.

Grandmothers in the 21st Century don't parent in the past tense.

Photo © New Age Nanas

Over coffee two grandmothers share cute grandchild stories and muse about how different their grandparenting experiences are from those of their mothers and grandmothers. It's a scene that's repeated many times a day. When the grandmothers are social scientists in search of a new project, however, the klatsch can become a collaboration, which is what happened to Doreen Rosenthal and Susan Moore. Struck by the lack of research about grandmothers, the two began the project that became New Age Nanas.

How The Book Came to Be

The methodology chosen by the two authors was an anonymous web-based survey, to be followed up with personal interviews. Over 1000 Australian women completed the survey. In age they ranged from 34 to 92, with an average of 63. Most of them were married or partnered; one third were still full-time employees. They tended to be involved grandparents, spending over 12 hours a week in the company of grandchildren. Of those grandmothers, 24 were chosen for follow-up interviews.

Rosenthal and Moore were more interested in insights than in statistics, which was a wise choice. Drawing statistical conclusions from a group as diverse as grandmothers can be an exercise in frustration. But insights? Grandmothers are practically reeking with them.

The book is loosely organized into 17 chapters. Each chapter closes with a helpful summary and a section called "Nana Know-How" that crystallizes some of the ideas in each chapter into concrete suggestions.

In the Beginning

Like the authors of Eye of My Heart, the grandmothers interviewed for New Age Nanas report meeting that first grandchild to be an magical experience of wholly unexpected intensity. "She just leapt into my heart," one grandmother wrote.

The grandmothers wrote of thinking often of their own mothers and grandmothers as they learned their grandparenting roles. Not all of their predecessors were good role models, however. One respondent, Pam, remembered, "My mother and father retired to a country house with white carpet and glass shelving with delicate vases on them just at the level to attract small children. So it was horrendous going down to visit her and yet she would complain if we didn’t." Pam goes on to recall her mother saying that she would not be available to babysit, because she was through bringing up children. Such memories have caused many a grandmother to take a different tack with her own grandchildren.

Grandparenting Roles

Each reader of New Age Nanas is likely to have a favorite section. I especially enjoyed Chapter 3 about the roles of grandmothers. Loving and supporting is the natural grandparenting role, but modern nanas are also teachers, active companions, and providers of continuity, linking grandchildren with their family history and values. Some grandmothers also function as child care providers, either full- or part-time. The authors divide these roles into symbolic and instrumental functions and give concrete examples of how to best carry them out.

Another chapter that interested me was Chapter 5, about how becoming a grandmother affects the way a woman perceives herself. Interestingly, some women reported that becoming a grandmother made them feel more alive and more connected to the modern world and thus younger. Grandmothers also reported being more patient, less concerned with their looks and happier with their lives.

Another special interest of mine is how grandparenting affects our relationships with our children and their spouses, and a couple of chapters are devoted to those topics. The grandmothers tackle mother-daughter relationships and relationships with daughters-in-law before moving on to the other gender. I chuckled over the wit and wisdom of Sally's take on daughters-in-law: "I was very conscious of watching families and seeing when sons marry or partner, it just seems to be a natural progression that they drift to the woman’s family. I watched that and I thought I don’t want to lose my boys so I made a very conscious decision once they started bringing girls home. I thought, okay, if they like the girl, I like the girl."

The Bottom Line

New Age Nanas will interest grandmothers and those with an interest in grandparenting patterns. It will amaze and enlighten those whose ideas about grandmothers are rooted in last century. In the introduction, the authors quote journalist Natalie Angier, who says being labeled "grandmotherly" by the press means being "kindly, frail, harmless, keeper of the family antimacassars, and operationally past tense." The authors state that their book is intended to counteract that stereotype "by describing a group of women who are very much operationally present tense." You can read New Age Nanas in paperback format or as an ebook. You can even download it in iTunes. "Present tense" grandmothers expect no less!
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

©2014 About.com. All rights reserved.