Both Sides Now

It’s not Mother’s Day in England this month. They celebrated Mother’s Day in March. Still, I think of Mum more than usual when I see the cards in the shops. I wish I saw her more often.

She asks after her grandchildren and great-grandchildren when we talk on the phone. I had a bit of a moan about one of my daughters-in-law last time Mum and I chatted, and she reminded me of how we were often at loggerheads when my boys were little.

Mum constantly advised me on parenting, often in a very forceful manner. “She won’t listen!” I told my husband. “We do things differently nowadays, but she insists she knows how to do it the right way, and I’m wrong. We fight all the time. I dread her coming to the house. And we used to get on so well. I don’t think our relationship will survive it.”

It did.

Back then, babies were laid on their side in the crib, with a pillow behind them to stop them rolling on their backs, a bumper pad all around. Mum insisted Heath should be on his stomach. When we stayed with her, I’d check on him and find him on his stomach and have to turn him. Asking Mum to not roll him was a waste of breath.

He formed the delightful habit of banging the back of his head against the wall. Mum said he’d damage his brain.

I was alert the entire time we stayed with Mum when the boys reached the crawling/standing up stage. No gates to stop them crawling upstairs or falling down them. No safety knobs on the cooker to stop them turning on the burners. Not only were knives and other sharp objects left on the kitchen counters, Mum kept a little step in the kitchen so she could reach the top cabinets. My boys soon learned how to get up on it.

Mum said, “You grew up all right.”

I responded, “We didn’t grow up, we survived!”

Heath was tired every evening around six or seven o’clock, but I kept him awake until nine. He’d only nap for an hour, and then be up the rest of the night. Mum said I was cruel. Tom and I went on vacation to Scotland and Wales when Heath was 10 months. I called home after two days. “I’m exhausted,” Mum said. “Heath was up until two in the morning.”

I said, “You let him fall asleep in the evening, didn’t you.”

These are just a few examples of how we disagreed.

But now I’m a grandmother and I’ve turned into my mother. I am somewhat hampered in the “trying to correct obviously deficient parents” department, because I don’t have daughters. I do have daughters-in-law. Do I agree with every aspect of their care of my grandchildren? Damn right I don’t. But they are not my daughters and I don’t feel I can come right out and say anything. I make subtle little comments, usually to my grandchildren. Mum did the same. I recall her saying to one of my brother’s boys, “Poor little chap. No wonder you’re so cranky in the morning, as late as you stay up every night.”

So there we were, thirty years later, chatting about it in a light-hearted way. “Weren’t we silly,” Mum said.

A mother and a grandmother, I see both sides now.

There are always exceptions to every “rule,” but grandmothers don’t, as a rule, think their daughters or daughters-in-law are stupid and incapable of caring for their children. They don’t interfere for interference sake. No matter how they try to guard their tongues, they can’t help butting in now and then. All of us are positive we know best at one time or another. Perhaps your mother drives you crazy, sticking her nose in where you don’t think she has a right to be. But perhaps, if you look at it from both sides, you’ll see she is driven by a grandmother’s love for her grandchildren.

Mum and I laugh about it now. It’s just another in endless examples of how kids don’t understand their parents any more than parents understand their kids, this time in the context of young mothers, their mothers and parenting. What a shame we have to grow up before we understand our parents’ motivations, but that’s the way it is and will be. I know I often said to myself, “I won’t do/say/act that way when I’m a mother.” And of course, when I became a mother and faced the challenges, I often did/said/acted just as Mum had.

Mum and I were not at odds all the time. She was my rock in so many ways and still is. No matter our differences, she gave her children the most valuable commodity in the world. A mother’s love. A grandmother’s love.

And for the past fifteen years, a great-grandmother’s love.

I’m looking forward to the time when she’s a great-great-grandmother. We’ll watch the interaction between the latest generations and know just what they’re going through. And we’ll probably give each other knowing looks and have a jolly good chuckle.

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