Parents of Childfree: What–I Don’t Get to be a Grandparent?

Mothers Day

My grandmother and my mom

When I decided to do Families of Two I will never forget my mother’s (that’s her on the right in this photo; on the left is my late grandmother) initial reaction. She told me she was not going to tell any of her friends what I was doing. I asked her why……She felt that she would be seen as not having parented me very well if it turned out I did not want to become parent myself. We had a heart to heart talk. I told her that she was a Great mom, and one of the many reasons why is because she raised my brother and me without expectations of how she wanted our lives to turn out, other than being happy. We were taught your life can look any way you want it to look but the most important thing is that you are happy.

While I think she thought she would likely become a grandmother one day, she never pressured my brother and me. Neither did my father. As it turned out, I chose not to have children and neither did my brother. So she has no grandkids. I really think she would have loved to have been a grandmother and would have been a great one.

As her friends became grandparents an interesting thing happened. When she got together with women friends, all they wanted to talk about were their grandchildren. She often felt awkward and out of the loop, with nothing to say on this score. She would talk about what my brother and I were up to. She would talk about the darling elementary school children she was tutoring. But so often she experienced the conversation as quickly reverting back to the grandkids.

She and I talked about how this seems to parallel lots of childfree people’s experience with their friends who are parents. In my interviews with childfree couples, many people talked about how they felt their parent friends could not talk about anything else but their kids, and grew less interested in what they were up to in their lives—at least they did not really ask them about this. In essence, my mom’s experience as a childfree grandmother was very similar to the childfree themselves.

Why can parents or grandparents not seem as interested in their friends who do not have kids or grandkids? They do not have this one big thing in common, but So? Not having this big thing in common often changes a friendship over time to one that is not as close.  Does it have to be this way?

In my experience the answer is no. I have been lucky to have great friends who are parents. There lives are very much about their children but they remain just as interested in me and my life, even though it looks very different from theirs in some major respects.

But why is it often not like this? For lots of folks, it is just harder to keep the friendship alive if the parties do not have a lot in common. Not having a lot in common anymore can lead to insecure feelings about the friendship. And insecurity can lead to judging the other person. But it needn’t. If I love my friend, no matter if s/he is a parent or not, a grandparent or not, I will always genuinely want to know about what is happening with him/her and his/her life, no matter how different it is from mine. And being genuinely interested in the other has to go both ways for the relationship to remain strong.

Tell us your or the experience of someone you know regarding wanna-be grandparents who don’t get to be–how to best handle pressure to have them? How can it affect relationships?

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