Donne Davis is an enthusiastic grandmother who loves nothing better than to spend time with her three granddaughters. In fact, Donne was so enamored by the entire experience of becoming a grandma that she founded GaGa Sisterhood as an outreach to other grandmas regarding the joys and challenges of their newfound roles. The Sisterhood has grown greatly in numbers as these modern grandmas exchange experiences and observations as well as participate in support groups.
Donne has written for several publications including the Huffington Post. She has also published a practical guide for grandmothers and moms: When Being a Grandma Isn’t so Grand: 4 Keys To L.O.V.E. Your Grandchild’s Parents. The paperback is available on Amazon. The ebook is available on Barnes & Noble. Donne is also a speaker and conducts workshops.
“I coach grandmas on how to build mutual respect, trust and empathy with the parents of their grandchildren so that they can be a unified team in raising the next generation.”
I can honestly say, as a grandma myself, that Donne has captured the essence of a grandmother’s heart and provides the platform of exchange and support for today’s grandmas to become a vital part of their grandchild’s life.
Enjoy the following interview with Donne Davis ~
You mentioned in one of your articles that if parents know that we as grandmas respect them and follow their rules, they’ll trust us with our precious grandchildren. Would you expound on this team mentality a bit more?
Today’s parents are busier, more stressed and more “conscious” than we were. The hallmark of this generation’s parents is that they think about parenting a lot. They’re on the Internet following the latest trends in parenting strategies or talking with their friends about what works and what doesn’t. Consequently, they have very definite ideas about how they want to parent — often very differently than we parented them — and they don’t want to hear how we did it. They may come across as confident but deep down inside they’re insecure and want validation from their parents.
They also need all the help and support we can give them. We share a common purpose with our grandchild’s parents: we all have a stake in the welfare of this child and want him to develop into a healthy, self-actualized human being.
I encourage grandparents to sit down with the parents early in the relationship and ask them to explain their parenting philosophies. Be curious, interested and supportive. Ask questions — non-judgmentally — about how they would like us to be involved. Then respect their wishes and follow their rules. When you do, you’ll earn their trust and be able to reap the rewards of spending time with your grandchild.
Do you see that grandmas today understand their position of importance and impact on their grandchildren?
Yes, I know many grandmas who have sold their homes and moved near their grandchildren to take care of them. Many of the members in my GaGa Sisterhood are “granny nannies” and take care of their grandchildren several days a week so that their adult children don’t have to pay for childcare. One of my grandma friends in her seventies takes care of her three granddaughters, all under seven, drives them to school, picks them up and even puts them to bed.
Baby boomer grandmas are healthier, more vibrant and more involved in their grandchildren’s lives. According to AARP, almost three million grandmothers in the United States see their “job” as taking care of their grandchildren.
As grandmas, we now get to be playmates rather than disciplinarians. We have more time, more patience and more appreciation of just being present with our grandchildren. We get a second chance to fix the mistakes we might have made as mothers and experience the joy of feeling young again.
How did you find being a grandma more challenging than being a parent?
One of the fascinating aspects of becoming a grandparent is the new relationship you have with your grandchild’s parents. Your roles will be reversed and the balance shifts. That child you raised will now be the one making the rules that you’ll be expected to follow. Try very hard to follow them, if you want time alone with your grandchild.
As grandmas, we must learn to hold our tongues. We must become more agreeable to avoid antagonizing the parents who now hold the cards and the power to deny us access to our precious grandchild. We walk on eggshells, bite our tongue and do things their way. If we’re wise, we learn to readily apologize for our mistakes and take the “high road” whenever conflict arises. We learn to refrain from speaking our mind even when we find their parenting methods foreign to us because it’s their learning process. Our role is to be supportive, empathic cheerleaders.
What are the biggest challenges grandmas face today?
Today’s grandmas face lots of challenges: living far away from our grandchildren and not getting to be a bigger part of their lives; feeling left out or unappreciated; not getting along with our grandchild’s parents. I recently reviewed a book on my blog, Invisible Grandparenting, which deals with one of the saddest challenges that grandparents face — being denied access to their grandchildren. The response to my post was overwhelming and heartbreaking.
There are millions of these Invisible Grandparents who, because of personality conflicts, custody issues, distance, or consequences of choices made long ago, have no way to pass values and memories to those who mean the most to them. Often, grandmas, in particular, are too ashamed to even talk about their situation.
Another big challenge grandmas face is the relationship with their daughter-in-law. The problem often begins when the mother-in-law expects her family’s traditions and rituals will continue to be observed. When they’re not, she can become difficult. This problem arises when the new young family must decide where to spend the holidays. An even bigger source of in-law conflict is religion. If a son marries someone of a different religion and converts, the grandchildren will be raised with different values and this can become an ongoing source of grief for the grandma.
How do you think the values of family rituals and traditions can be strengthened between generations?
I grew up in a family that valued rituals. We celebrated all the holidays together and my mom always made our birthdays a special occasion. Rituals are the glue that connects families. Our family rituals and traditions are a big part of the legacy we hope to pass on to our children and grandchildren.
To achieve this, we must once again tread carefully and observe with sensitivity to get cues from our adult children about the ways they want to celebrate and create their own traditions. The worst case scenario would be to force our traditions on the younger generation. We need to sit down as a family and talk about old and new traditions to enjoy with our grandchildren.
One of my favorite books, The Book of New Family Traditions by Meg Cox, explains that holidays are only the barest beginning of the use of rituals. The simple rituals we do everyday when we greet each other, sit down to meals or say goodnight create the true tapestries of our family. When we understand how important these simple rituals are, we can begin to incorporate more of them into our visits and get-togethers. We can strengthen our rituals by making them fun and allowing everyone to participate in creating them.
When we appreciate the value of family rituals, we can make sure to acknowledge big occasions or important milestones with celebrations. We can celebrate good news together or find a creative way to console a grandchild who suffers a loss or is going through a stressful time with a simple comforting ritual. These traditions demonstrate hands-on love to our children and grandchildren.
What is at the heart of your book, “When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand?”
For the past 13 years I’ve been thinking and writing about the importance of the grandparent relationship and the impact it has on our relationship with our adult children. When we become grandparents, we are thrust into a new dynamic. We go from being a twosome to a threesome and the power shifts. Now our children are calling the shots and our role is to stand on the sidelines and be their cheerleaders.
Sometimes this can be a big shock to Boomer women who’ve worked hard to achieve their independence and power. It’s not easy to take orders from your children when you used to be the one in charge. But the sooner you realize that’s the way to be included on the team, the easier time you’ll have.
My idea for my book began during heated discussions at our GaGa Sisterhood meetings. We vented our frustrations and commiserated with each other about how challenging this new dynamic can be for us independent grandmas. Then I began to realize that we Boomers have created children who are just as independent and feisty as we are.
My purpose in writing my book was to share both sides of the grandparent relationship, so that grandmas can understand how moms feel and, in turn, moms can understand how grandmas feel. I surveyed 50 moms to find out what their challenges are. I asked them about their conflicts and misunderstandings in the grandparent relationship, what they wished for and what advice they had for us grandmas.
Although the title of my book, When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand, may sound like it’s all about the problems, it’s actually a practical handbook to help grandmas navigate this joyful and complicated journey into their new relationship.
I came up with a simple acronym, L.O.V.E., to help remember four keys to building a loving relationship with your grandchild’s parents and fostering empathy between the generations.
Learn the parents’ language so you understand their philosophy.
Own your shared purpose of nurturing a healthy, adjusted child.
Value the parents’ hard work and good intentions so you share mutual respect and trust.
Empathize! Empathize! Empathize! Empathy is infinitely more valuable than advice.
This last reminder to empathize is the most important advice of all. Even though we natural-born, advice-giving, problem-solvers may feel inadequate when we soothe our adult children with phrases like, “oh that must be so hard” or “oh, you must must feel so exhausted,” that’s what they most want to hear from us. They want to know that we understand how hard life can be for them as parents in today’s fast-paced, information- overloaded, technology-based world. They don’t want fixes; they want feelings.