“My goal is to make the turbulence of our ordinary families a little easier to manage … Grandparents are the hinges of history, reaching back to our own grandparents, reaching forward to our grandkids.”
Dr. Gramma Karen: Jane, after I read Donne Davis’s blog about your latest and fourth book, I immediately read it and hoped I would have a chance to interview you. And, happily, here we are!
Rather than focus on the excellent content of your book about grandparenting, I would like to ask you a few questions about the process you went through to write it.
For example, being a grandparent is, after all, a huge topic. How did you decide what to include in this book? And a related question, what did you decide not to include?
Jane Isay: I had a clear outline before I started writing the book. I wanted to write a life-cycle book, beginning with the announcement of the coming baby and ending with the relationship between elder grandparents and their grown grandchildren. The chapter I didn’t anticipate writing, three years ago, was about custodial grandparents taking care of grandchildren because of the drug epidemic.
Karen: I did find your emphasis on the life cycles of grandparenting a useful framework. For example, a phase you describe that I had never thought about is when we become “elder grandparents,” that is, when our grandchildren become adults and the potential impacts this will have on our relationships.
Jane: When grandparents have lived long enough to have adult grandchildren, they may not be as fully engaged as they once were. The attention and affection of a grandchild at this stage of life is like cool rain on a hot day. And grown grandchildren can try ideas out on a grandparent, or complain, without fear of causing panic. It’s great for both generations. This is a special kind of love and friendship. So my advice to grandparents is take your vitamins and keep active!
Karen: Your other point: the opioid crisis you mention has hit grandparents hard. In fact, as pointed out in a recent 60 Minutes episode, “more than one million American children now live with grandparents, primarily because of their parent’s addiction to opioids and other drugs.”
Jane: And the number of grandparents raising their grandkids because of the opioid crisis is increasing. Caretaking grandparents love their grandchildren, and they do the best they can. Some live in communities where they are surrounded by concern and help. Others are alone and ashamed. One ray of hope is that families in this situation can benefit from the Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act that was enacted this past July; it is explained in an AARP article that this act provides resources and support for grandparents.
Karen: It is encouraging to know this legislation has been passed. On a different topic, I am curious: did you consider co-authoring this book, perhaps with someone in your family with whom you have shared experiences?
Jane: The book is informed by my experience and family relationships, but I felt that interviewing a variety of others, that is, people not in my family, and including their experiences, would add to the depth of the book. My kids are way too busy, anyway, to work with me on a book.
Karen: Since the book came out, based on readers’ feedback and your own experiences, have you changed your thinking on any parts of this book? Is there any additional material you wish you had included?
Jane: I could have dealt with some more extreme examples of failed family relationships. Maybe I’ll write about that on my blog.
Karen: Are there any specific people who have influenced or inspired you in writing this book?
Jane: Mary Pipher, whose Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls
I published 25 years ago when I was a book editor, showed me the power of a good story wisely told. Wendy Mogul, author of The Lessons of a Skinned Knee, was my model for this book. Both Mary and Wendy are wise and warm, careful to show by example what they mean to tell. These books come from years of experience but wear their wisdom lightly. They are my models.
Karen: Looking ahead, have you thought about your future projects, perhaps another book?
Jane: I am still thinking on this …
Karen: Well, if I may jump in with some unsolicited advice. Back to the opioid crisis: I am hoping you’ll think about writing a book for grandparents who are raising their grandchildren because their parents have drug-related problems and are not capable of parenting. I did some research, and although I could find many books about the drug epidemic, I could not find one book focused on helping grandparents who become custodial because of their grown children’s drug abuse.
Also, may I suggest you write a book on elder grandparents and their adult grandchildren. Many of us grandparents hope to live many more years, both as elder grandparents and great-grandparents. We would welcome you helping us to navigate those changes in grandparent status.
Jane: That’s very interesting, Karen. Lately I have been obsessed with the situation of elders who are coming to depend on their adult children, but find themselves uncomfortable with the advice they get, and hurt by the annoyance of the adult kids when they don’t do what they are told. I am looking for elders and their grown children to talk to me about this. I suspect there’s a generational communications gap we might be able to bridge.
Karen: I know many grandparents join me in looking forward to your next book, whatever topics you decide to write about. Meanwhile, on behalf of my readers, many thanks for this interesting and informative interview.
Ask Dr. Gramma Karen is published every other Tuesday.
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