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Who Gets to Name Grandma: The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers

Granny-Guru's Recipe Results in Thought-Provoking Book

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Granny-Guru's advice is based on interviews with mothers and grandmothers.

Granny-Guru's advice is based on over 40 interviews with mothers and grandmothers.

Photo © Carol L. Covin
Interview lots of mothers and grandmothers, asking questions about the role of grandparents. Take the most striking quotations and shape a mini-chapter around each, topping off with one of Granny-Guru's Grains of Wisdom. Organize the book around the four major stages in the lives of children. That's the recipe followed by Carol L. Covin, also known as Granny-Guru. The result is a book that offers quick bites of insight, combined with in-depth discussions that may take a while to digest.

Newborns and Babies

A mother of three small children offers advice for grandmothers who visit after a child is born: "Let her parent your grandchild. You help the Mom." You mean that grandmothers shouldn't sit for hours gazing into the face of the new grandchild while Mom cooks and cleans? Who would have guessed? Actually, although most grandmothers know that this is not acceptable behavior, it's a very easy trap to fall into, especially when the newborn is making those funny faces. Granny-Guru's Grain of Wisdom: "Take this time to bond with the new Mom, in her new role."

In this chapter, Granny-Guru also raises the question that gives the book its title: "Who Gets to Name Grandma?" Other items up for discussion include grandparents who don't use car seats, parents who move away after a grandchild is born, grandparents who refuse to babysit and other issues that are really important, especially if you are a sleep-deprived, hormonally driven new mother, or a woman who's just been blindsided by the reality of being a grandmother.


Dueling grandmothers, grandparents who substitute presents for their presence, grandmothers who date--these are a few of the issues represented in the second chapter of Who Gets to Name Grandma. While these are thorny issues, the theme that dominates the second chapter is that of conflict between the generations. I was intrigued by the section titled "Bite Your Tongue," which is basically about the problem of managing the grandmas. "Mom deals with her own Mom. Dad deals with his Mom." That's a system that seems to work, with one flaw. Mom is accustomed to her own family dynamic, as is Dad. But Mom is not used to Dad's family dynamic, and vice versa. The solution is for each parent to watch for signs that the spouse's buttons are being pushed and intervene before the situation gets toxic. Oh, and Granny-Guru reminds us that "the grandparents need to watch for signs to step back."

School Age Children

You might think that once Grandma's little darlings are potty-trained and off to kindergarten, mothers and grandmothers would enter a period of détente. No, there's still plenty to roil the waters, enough to fill two more chapters. Grandparents who show favoritism and parents who spend their money too freely are just two of the issues that arise during this period. Also, believe it or not, occasionally the grandchildren arouse the ire of their grandparents, as detailed in "The Mouth on That Child!" The surprising phenomenon of the indifferent grandparent also makes an appearance, most notably in "Your Grandchild Is More Important Than Tennis."

The section titled "High School and Beyond" is the shortest section of the book. In my opinion, that's not because teenage grandchildren spawn fewer problems. It's because no one knows anything to do about teenagers. Actually, the pieces in this final section reflect an acceptance by grandmothers that their kids have turned out to be pretty swell parents, and all that's needed is a little parting advice.

Interesting Issues, Sound Advice

And now for a few important details. Who Gets to Name Grandma is available as an e-book or in a printed version with a plastic comb binding. Covin's style is clear and readable, but she takes a few liberties with grammar and sentence structure. Still, she often says things exceptionally well, as when she weighs in on gift-laden grandmas: "I don't even take gifts when I visit because I do not want to set up that dynamic: 'Did you bring me anything?' Yes, I brought you a grandmother."

The real attraction of this book is the glimpse it gives of the other side of the generational divide. No grandmother will read it without some insight into how she might be seen by her daughters and daughters-in-law, and the younger generation will probably have a few "aha" moments as well. As for Granny-Guru's advice, it's helpful, but it isn't preachy or prescriptive.

In my position I am privy to many heartbreaking tales of family conflict, conflict so bitter that mothers and grandmothers land in counseling or in courtrooms. In the worst cases, broken-hearted grandparents are estranged from their grandchildren. If Covin's wisdom can avert just one of these disasters, then she's not only a guru. She's a hero.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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