Today’s interviewee, Sally Wendkos Olds, is an accomplished writer, with special expertise in child development, families and travel. Sally has 11 books and over 200 articles to her name. Even more importantly, she’s the devoted grandmother of 5 lucky children.
Sally’s book Super Granny: Great Stuff to Do With Your Grandkids is packed with original and exciting activities for modern grandmothers to do with grandkids of all ages, from high-tech intercontinental Skype chats to simply eating your dessert before your dinner!
Sally’s book and award-winning blog address the new breed of grandmothers who don’t look like the fluffy-haired, passive picture-book stereotype of the past. Glamorous, jet-setting, technologically savvy, the Super Granny is more likely to catch up with her grandkids via Blackberry than slump on the sofa with tea and biscuits.
Here at Books and Adventures we recognize that learning and reading is an adventure which children share with many people beyond their immediate family. Friends, teachers and relatives, including grannies, have so much to offer as we learn and grow.
Sally kindly took time for a Q-and-A with Books and Adventures by e-mail. There’s more on her work here, and you can find the Super Granny book here.
Q: The Super Granny ‘doesn’t look like the grandmothers in the picture books….like your own grandmothers or even your own mothers. And you don’t act like any of these either.’ What’s brought about this generational change?
A: One major reason this generational change came about is the improved health and vigor of today’s Super Granny generation, due partly to the fitness revolution, which encouraged women (and men) to exercise more, eat better, and in general pursue a healthier life style. Youthful experiences and attitudes have also played a part: people in their sixties, and even seventies, don’t consider themselves old and don’t act old (“60 is the new 40”). The new technologies are helpful, but the bigger change is in Super Granny’s willingness to use them.
Q: You also note in your book that grandmothering is an ancient tradition in which today’s grandmas still take part. So what common ground is there between Super Granny and her predecessors?
A: Grandmothers have always been the traditional “next-best-to-Mom” in terms of loving and caring for children. Even today, if a grandmother lives nearby, is healthy, and doesn’t have outside work commitments, she’s usually the caregiver of choice while Mom is at work or school. And in most cases, you couldn’t ask for anyone more loving to your children or better able to take care of them.
Q: How does a busy Super Granny make that time for her grandchildren? Are there sacrifices involved in being a Super Granny?
A: All through life we set priorities in terms of how we spend our time. No matter how busy a grandmother is, if the will is there to be with your grandchildren (and it usually is), you can manage to carve out some time for them. It’s not the quantity of time — the number of hours we spend — but the quality, so that when we are with our grandchildren, we are totally with them. This is what matters in any relationship, and what can be meaningful in a really short span of time.
Q: You have experience of living and working in Nepal, which clearly had a major influence on your life. What did you learn from Nepalese grandmothers? Is it truly possible to be a Super Granny without a cellphone, Skype account and plenty of frequent flyer points?
A: Sure, you can be a Super Granny without all those techno gadgets. The grandmothers I met in the hill villages of Nepal didn’t have any of them! Of course, the ones I met did live close to their grandchildren and were a constant presence in their lives. It’s harder, of course, when grandmothers (like me) live far away from our grandchildren and don’t have the time or the means to visit frequently, but still there are so many ways of reaching out. I do use phone, email, and Skype — but also snail-mail. Kids love getting letters, poems, and cards that they can actually touch — in addition, of course, to presents!
I have lived far from three of my grandchildren ever since they were born, so I am especially aware of the need to make extra efforts to have a relationship across the miles. And that’s why my book points out so many activities that Super Grannies can do long-distance — some that I have done myself, some that other grannies told me about.
Q: ‘Grandparents and grandchildren share a common enemy.’ What does a Super Granny, devoted to her grandchildren and armed with a roster of cool and creative projects, feel about the current debate around ‘Tiger Mothering’ and ‘Attachment Parenting’. Is having a Super Granny going to help a child get into law school? Or is it all about fun and frivolity?
A: There are many styles of grandmothering, just as there are styles of mothering. Some Super Grannies focus on fun and frivolity, while others are more interested in stimulating their grandchildren’s intellectual curiosity and offering projects that will, in fact, help children achieve in school and in life.
There’s no one right way for everyone. When I was researching my book, I was struck by all the different ways that the grandmothers I met related to their grandchildren. So some of the activities in the book don’t have any goal other than enjoying your time together, while others are more oriented toward education. You have to allow for individual differences in families and in individual personalities of both granny and child.
A Super Granny might relate one way to one grandchild and a different way to another. As long as you let all your grandchildren know that you love them, you don’t need to be the same kind of grandmother with each one.
Q: The research on parenting and child development is advancing all the time. Have your opinions on how we should bring up our children changed dramatically over the years between your roles as Super Mom and Super Granny?
A: My opinions about the important issues in raising children — being sensitive to their individual needs and encouraging them to follow their own interests and abilities, while helping them to become competent and caring members of society — have not changed. What has changed is my attitude.
I have discovered over the years that some of the things I worried about as a young mom — and even an older one — didn’t come to pass, and that lets me be more relaxed with my grandchildren than I was with my children. I care about and love my grandchildren as much as I did (and do) my children, but I don’t worry so much about them, and as a result I can enjoy them more. This is one of the glories of being a grandmother!