Saturday 22nd January 2022

Life Stories #1. On Being A Grandmother. Pt1.17/51 #LifeThisWeek. 34/2020.

Life Stories #1. On Being a Grandmother. Pt 1.17/51 #LifeThisWeek. 34/2020.

On Being a Grandmother. Part One.

Recently in Australia, a book was published and both Debbie Harris from here and I were taken by its contents and messages about “being a grandmother”.

Debbie’s post is found here. 


Helen Elliott


March 31, 2020

An anthology of essays by twenty-four Australian women, edited by Helen Elliott, about the many aspects of being a grandmother in the 21st century. It seems so different from the experience we had of our grandmothers. Although perhaps the human essential, love, hasn’t shifted much? In thoughtful, provoking, uncompromising writing, a broad range of women reflect on vastly diverse experiences. This period of a woman’s life, a continuation and culmination, is as defining as any other and the words ‘grand’ and ‘mother’ rearrange and realign themselves into bright focus.

The contributors- Stephanie Alexander, Maggie Beer, Judith Brett, Jane Caro, Elizabeth Cheung, Cresside Collette, Ali Cobby Eckermann, Helen Garner, Anastasia Gonis, Glenda Guest, Katherine Hattam, Celestine Hitiura Vaite, Yvette Holt, Cheryl Kernot, Ramona Koval, Alison Lester, Joan London, Jenny Macklin, Auntie Daphnie Milward, Mona Mobarek, Carol Raye and Gillian Triggs.

We ‘chatted’ on-line as bloggers do and both thought, what about a post or two on this topic. Knowing not everyone who blogs is not a grandmother/parent nor has the experience to draw on, we set out to go like this…publish in Life This Week under #Life Stories #1 and then in a few more weeks, #Life Stories #2.

This first post is based on  a series of questions devised by Denyse Whelan, in conjunction with Debbie Harris, to be the start of a blog post about

Being a Grandmother.

THIS image captures all 8 of our grandchildren so beautifully. Photographed by our daughter, in conjunction with our son to be my 70th Birthday gift as an album. 2019. The first grandchild is in the white dress.


The First Experience of Becoming a Grandmother.


What do you remember about your grandmother(s)?

I had a loving but strict maternal grandmother, Nanny, and I was the first grandchild. I was loved and cared for but when she became incapacitated by a stroke which eventually claimed her life in 1957, her husband, my “Papa” tended to be the one who spoiled me as life went on.

My paternal grandmother, Gran, was a formidable, strict and somewhat sad grandmother. This was, as we tend to think now, as a result of her becoming a widow in 1935 and raising 4 children (my Dad was 11) alone, other than help from her mother who had come from England to give the family a secure house to live in. Gran would at times, share some of her ‘life stories’ with me as a teen as I asked more questions about her life in England then as a War Bride post WW1 but most times, she would sink back into nostalgia and sadness.


What struck you initially about the news you were going to be a grandmother for the first time?

How happy I was…because, the news came in a year that was plagued with money worries,  health fears and more….so this news was the B E S T.

It was, however, not greeted as universally ‘happy’ as we, in a business that we owned, were not doing well at all and I admit my husband’s reactions did not mirror mine for good reason. Very concerned with what else was happening at the time.

We found out in about April, May and the child was due late December. By then, we had liquidated the business and we were very much on the ‘back foot’ with what would be happening to us, house and income-wise (I was still employed) so I did have to “calm” myself. However, big distraction for me and will always remember the time like that. 


Did you make any choices/decisions about being a grandmother when you found out this was going to happen?

I recall, being young…at what would be 47 when I became a grandmother but I did not let that phase me. I remember feeling the delight and angst and all the in between feelings because “I” had given birth but my daughter had not..yet. I was, I am pretty sure, deciding to be the most helpful grandmother I could be to allow the parents to ‘parent their child’ in the ways they wanted to and planned. This is always good in theory. Practice not so much initially. See further on.


And, in your case, was the news from your son or your daughter?

The news was from our daughter and eventually her husband. 


How did you find out?

THIS is a good story! My daughter had been married for just on two years and in that time had completed her Uni degree and was a trained K-6 teacher. She sought casual work and was soon snapped up by the school where I was Deputy Principal. I was not part of her ‘getting the job’ as I wanted (as did she) for this to be the school’s choice. 

She was part of a large group of relatively young female teachers and I, the D.P. was given the role of sharing the news that there had been a case of Rubella in the student population. This was something I passed on privately to each teacher as applicable, including our daughter.

At Recess that day, she came to my office door and asked for a private chat. Closing the door, she shared that “I think I am pregnant.”

Oh. Wow. My goodness, what a way to find out and yes, I was excited but of course tempered by the news of her vulnerability at this stage. The NSW Health Dept advice, which I shared with her, was to go to your doctor and tell him/her. That afternoon she did. The pregnancy was confirmed and she did some blood test for anti-bodies. I can’t quite remember the result but she had Rubella as a child, so was deemed, as best it could be proven, to be OK.

Again. Wow. I remember telling my husband of the news and he did not share my intense enthusiasm but not because of that….he was managing a very tricky time in his business and work life.

Nevertheless, I hugged my secret until our daughter and then son-in-law shared the news with family and friends.

And, recently. Love you J.R.

Were there any conditions/limitations set by the parents-to-be for you, the new grandmother in the making?

I cannot recall but I remember being able to share some of my excitement with them and the extended family which included my son-in-law’s parents and my parents and my husband’s parents. This child would be the first great-grandchild too. I also tried ‘not to overdo’ my enthusiasm as I did not want to over-shadow the parents at any time.

I did, for my sake, and to honour  the future grandchild (our first one, and that of my son-in-law) start a grandmother’s memory book. Oh my goodness, I did have some fun and I admit, the scrapbooking and photography as a journal  probably started then as I added newspaper clippings too. At age 5, this BIG book, was finished ( I remember crying that it was done…as she was off to school!) and eventually it was handed over to my granddaughter some years after. I did keep it at our house for years as she enjoyed looking at it too.

It was not until she was quite a few months old, that I was told by my daughter to reduce my ‘oversight’ of their “I am her mother”.

Lesson learned…Big time. Not always remembered but I took it all on board.


Did/does the ‘role’ work its way out for all?

The role as the grandchild grew changed as she did. However, even now, we have a close and loving bond without being ‘in each others’ pockets’. I am so proud to be her Grandma always. But as I said above, I did need to take more of a back seat. 

About My Name.

My parents were known by their first names – their choice – by their grandkids. I wanted a traditional grandmother’s name and I chose Grandma. I spoke to my son-in-law’s Mum and she was happy to be Granny. Sorted! My name did change a bit over the years as the first G.D. started to speak. I have been known as: “Gummy” “Brandma” “Grandma” and “G-Ma”. All fine!

Are/were there hiccups?

Like any relationship there are ups and downs but thanks to wisdom gleaned over time by me observing others and of course, remembering “I am not her mother” and that I also got to drop this child back home after caring for her. A completely different way of child-care…. all fun, some responsibility but not 100%.

Share the highlights of the birth and after of your first grandchild.

For the last month or so before the baby’s due date of close to Christmas Day my daughter developed some symptoms which meant she had to leave her teaching role early, get advice from her obstetrician and continue to see him. In that time, I was also on  leave as I had a whiplash injury from a rear-end car accident on my way to work…thank goodness for work cover paying my salary back in those days.

Whilst we had never really talked about when my daughter would return to teaching in detail, I was already planning a grandchild care package at home! This came about with little or no expense when our next door neighbour donated all of the young girl’s bedding, cot and so on to us. My parents had always had room for our children to stay over for holidays and weekends and we (ok, mostly me!) wanted to do similarly. And yes, my husband did eventually come around to it all.

But she (we never knew the sex) was yet to arrive!

My daughter had 2 or 3 visits to labour ward at the San for testing for ‘leaks’ and was told, no you are OK on most occasions until very close to Christmas. It was a Saturday evening, my son-in-law was at a band gig on the other side of Sydney, and I went to their house to get takeaway tea and keep my daughter company. She told me on arrival, I am still leaking….and rang labour ward (again!) and they said “come in.” We grabbed the food first and I am pretty sure she drove us to the San. Up we went (with hospital bag this time) and after the check and a call to her doctor, she was admitted.


Mobile phones were ‘in’ but in their early days but we managed to let her husband know and then, from memory, I took their car home and collected mine and waited. The next day, a very hot Sunday in December, labour was kind of happening….and I was asked to bring some things over to her. I did.

THIS was when I knew I could not be a help at all. I saw her husband helping gently and she was doing all she had to…and I could not help. At all. So, I quietly took my leave and we waited….until much later on Sunday night. We got a call that labour was in progress fully and could we please bring her husband a Coke…caffeine and sugar needed!! We laugh now, but when presented with what my husband found at home: a diet Pepsi, it was not going to do the trick!

We came home…settled into bed, to see Sunday turn into Monday AND……

12.13 a.m. You have a granddaughter and her name is J.R.

Stunned and stoked and all those words, I “think” we slept and the next morning I was off to buy all things pink and more….

Meeting J.R. 

I entered the single room where my daughter and granddaughter were. My son-in-law had to be at work on the busy pre-Christmas retail day. I looked at this dark haired child in a crib…and thought “how did you arrive to be in our family?”. Both of our kids had been blonde/bald!

After that, it was chatting with my daughter who was still in that post-birth shock and she shared how it all happened rather fast after a ‘threat’ from the Obstetrician about a ‘caesar or forceps’…I eventually took my leave…and went to the shops! This baby girl had arrived 2 days before Christmas and no way was Santa not going to visit.

When I returned the next day with Santa bag and little tree, it meant Christmas was going to happen for the birthday baby.

What, if any, were any ‘lowlights?’

Interestingly the lowlights were in some way related to my disappointment in how many people “turned up” to visit the new Mum and baby…the room was chockers….and people just wanted to chat…with each other and my daughter. I was glad to see what was happening, and as most took their leave, and J.R. was crying, I asked the last couple to please leave…and they did. I think first night after birth should be up to the parents who comes…and I know now this is better managed.

Our wee GD with dark hair.

Special Memories of the First Weeks.

The hospital allowed our daughter and husband home to our place for Christmas lunch and they ‘minded’ J.R. in the nursery. They went back in the afternoon and we visited in the evening to allow the parents to go for a walk and we got to do our first ‘babysitting.’

I made J.R. a little cardigan. I am so NOT a knitter but was determined to “make my first grandchild” something. She wore it home. Lovely. Then it became a cardi for her bear I think!

The new family joined us for the first evening meal at our place and we got to go on a walk around the park. My neighbour over the road offered me a free ticket to a show in the city and I turned it down because “first meal” at our place.

On Australia Day, when she was just one month, we hosted a Welcome To Your Family event with the extended family and it was lovely. No christening etc. Just this.

Then, just after this, my daughter got a phone call from the principal at the school where we both worked, offering her full-time teaching, starting the next week. She accepted after he was fine for me to take part-time leave 3 days a week. Her Granny would drive down from the Central Coast to do the other 2 days and so began a long, tiring, rewarding, learning, and loving experience of “Grandparent Care At Home”: for 6 months!


There will be another post in the series in June. I will share the questions then too as Debbie and I devised. If you too are a grandmother it may be something you would like to share.

Thank you for reading…It ended up being a longer post than I thought.

Biggest thanks to J.R. for being the subject…the first…the only…one who could get away with calling me “Gummy” and I would answer to it!

This captures her so much too…totally biased Grandma!


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  1. Apparently I can’t read! I thought the prompt was I saw!! Off to see if I have a life story handy…will be back to change mine, possibly, otherwise it’s probably my most interesting life story…

    • Ah Lydia let’s blame being at home. This prompt was “Life” and I changed it slightly to Life Stories #1 to suit today and I Saw is early June. There is another Life Stories later too where Debbie and I have some more questions to respond to.

      Happy First Day of Term 2…kind of.


  2. Your story shows how much you love your first grandchild. Thanks, Denyse, for sharing this.

  3. Interesting post. I don’t know if I’ll get to be a grandmother (we got married later, so our kids might be older if they have kids) but I think it must be a very special bond you make – all the good stuff without having to do the bad stuff. And at this point in life, you’ve seen so much that you just want these happy little people to share their infectious joy!

    • Yes indeed. We also cared for our son’s 3. The first till he went to school and the second too. The third was till she was 2. It is and was a privilege to relax the parenting stance and take more time. To notice, to be and to connect.

      Mind you, we (I) did eventually wear out somewhat and that was close to the time we were deciding to move on. However, I still remember so many of the days with incredible love and much sentimentality.

      Every google photo reminder lets me trip back down memory lane with those we cared for from 2007. The earlier lot (like this one and her siblings) were photographed by real cameras where we had to get photos developed!!


  4. Denyse
    Thank you for sharing your memories of being a grandmother for the first time. It’s a beautiful perspective. I could read moments of my own mum’s experience in your account. Especially in those first few weeks of working with the new parents!

    I wonder if I’ll be a grandmother one day too?

    SSG xxx

    • Oh I am glad you could take something from this about your Mum too.

      About wondering if you will be a grandmother too. Sigh.

      It’s something that may or may not happen but seeing your love for your son, I reckon grandparenting would suit you too!


  5. Such a lovely post Denyse, beautiful memories made and shared. I am so glad we got together to make up these questions and share our stories. Your memories of the birth of your granddaughter are so special and it’s great to have her permission to share! It’s a fabulous bond you have and I look forward to developing that bond in years to come with all my grandchildren. I must say I loved writing my answers to these questions too 🙂 thank you for the idea of us getting together for this prompt!

    • Thank you kindly for continuing the conversation which led to this idea.

      I am glad that we have made this as a memento to our grandmothering…and more to come in our future post.

      I will look forward to reading your post soon too.

      My granddaughter emailed me to say how much she loved reading this too. She also paid tribute to me and her Granny.


  6. What a beautiful post Denyse. It brought up so many memories. You’ve created a beautiful bond and the love you have as a grandmother is obvious,

    • Thank you Jennifer for your kind words. Yes, I am so privileged to be a grandmother. I never thought there would be 8 grandchildren in our lives…but there you go! Life does this. Brings sweet surprises.


  7. This was such a lovely read Denyse. I hope I am around to be a a grandmother one day. I had lots of kids so that my family line would be huge. I hope my plans come to fruition.

    • Oh I hope so too Jody.

      What a beautiful thing it will be to see your kids with their kids.

      It is something I definitely treasure and all good wishes that you can too one day!


  8. I loved this interview! What wonderful thoughts on being a grandmother. I can identify with the feelings of bursting at the seams wanting to tell people a grandbaby is on the way but having to wait until the parents give the OK. Being a grandmother is the best role I ever had! 🙂

    • Oh yes, the bursting with pride thing..,.so hard not smiling with delight too.

      Thanks for your identification with this story.

      When Deb and I complete the next series of questions, we will leave them at the end of the post so others such as yourself may choose to select them for a blog post too.


  9. Ah, the bond between grandma and her grandchildren is so special. It was lovely to see it from a grandma’s perspective and a first timer too!

    I only had one grandparent, my nana but she was an absolute treasure and although she’s been gone longer than I had her in my life, I still think of her and miss her every single day.

    Was it just as special/easier to navigate your role when the other grandbabies came along? Had you found your grandma groove?!

    • How lovely to read of your memories and connections to your Nana Sam!

      It’s a good question ….I was so ready to be Grandma. Even at 47. I think for me, I tried to make up for not enjoying my mothering times at home and as I was more experienced and had time for the grandchildren it was so enjoyable.

      I guess it’s part Infants teacher-me to connect with kids of all dispositions and interests and each of the grandchildren is different.

      There are similarities of personalities within the group and some are ‘easier’ to create the bone with initially but all know they are loved and cared for by us both: Grandma AND Papa.

      He plays a big role in the complimentary part of me…if you know what I mean.


  10. I often didn’t live anywhere near my grandparents so one of them I met on only a few occasions – and she’s the last one still alive! Still live on opposite sides of the globe to each other though.

    • I guess that may be the case with quite a few people.

      Interesting to know she is still around too. I wonder does she think of you.

      My parents lived in Sydney when we were teaching in outback NSW and my Mum so wanted to see us, she and Dad drove to Moree – about 10 hours, then hired a small plane and flew to where we were teaching (and isolated!) in the floods of 1976. My mum was not the most brave of people, but she did this and for me, that was a powerful way of expressing her love for her then 4 yo first grandchild.


  11. Thanks for sharing this lovely part of your life of becoming a grandma for the first time. I bet the novelty never wore off each time after that too! It brought back memories of my grandparents – particularly my maternal ones as I got on better with them than my paternal side

    • It is the best..and memories are wonderful. I liked it very much of course when Ms J.R. read it and loved it too! Something about maternal grandmothers I think. I know I was fortunate as was my daughter with my Mum – they had a very close bond…and it IS a privilege to be Grandma x 8. Phew!! Thanks Sanch, I liked hearing that about your Grandmother. Denyse