There are grandmother hormones. They have not been named yet but one day, for sure, we will know that there are actual chemical connections that make our arms itch to hold newborns and drive us to the floor to play pretend with preschoolers when we ourselves are well past childbearing age.
These hormones are not the same ones that make us want to have children but they do have something to do with the desire to reproduce. They are the ones that make us want our children to reproduce. So I guess they serve the perpetuation of the species. We can’t do all that much about our children reproducing, even though people congratulate us on the birth of grandchildren, as if we did have some role in it. All the nagging in the world can’t produce grandchildren so don’t even try. But when grandchildren happen, oh joy. That’s when the hormones kick in because we do have a role to play.
Sorting out exactly what that role is, however, takes some finesse, because the urges are rather nonspecific. At first it’s all baby, baby, wanna hold that baby, look I can put him to sleep on my shoulder, just let me come and help out because I wanna be close to that baby.
There’s also a lot of “this is the way I used to do it” and “you used to be like this” and “why don’t you let me do this while you do that” –and these are the urges that need to be carefully regulated. The truly helpful moves must be separated from the move-in-and-take-over moves. Your memories and experience must take a backseat, wait in the wings to be called upon if desired. This is not your child, nor do you want it to be. Parents know best, even when those parents are your own children. It is often helpful to channel the takeover urges into things like cooking, cleaning, and laundry, which are almost always useful even if they are slightly less fun than changing poopy diapers.
As grandchildren get older, the grandparent hormones persist. They help us get younger, stronger, and sillier. They turn us into giant toys that can be dragged around, ridden, and climbed upon–grandfathers are especially good for this. The hormones stimulate our imagination, allowing tyrannical tots to direct us in absurdist, improvisational dramas.
My grandma hormones have been recharged by the birth of a new baby. I’m off to spend a few days again with the infant and preschooler. Helping out, of course.