David Brooks in his essay ‘The Odyssey Years’ describes the usual four familiar life stages: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and old age. To this he says two have been added in the last generation. I suggest that both have resonances and relevance for us the grandmother.
One is the active old age from which we are benefitting, because it gives us time, space, health, and energy to attend to our grandmother activities. We are able to see more of and be more actively involved with our grandchildren than ever before, even when they live faraway.
The other stage he describes is the one he refers to as ‘The Odyssey Years’. In the decade between twenty and thirty where our generation, the so-called Baby Boomers married and began a family, the millennials are delaying because the reasons for doing so have largely been removed. Secure employment jobs aren’t for life. This impacts on mortgages buying houses and postponing moving away from home. The old recipes for success, like further education or working your way up through a company are no longer guaranteed. Courtship rules have been scrambled. Marriage provided women with income, a status and a sense of identity. Now with efficient birth control women are no longer pressured to get married. If they have well paid jobs, they no longer need a second income to raise a child either. One-parent families are not stigmatised, and active grandparents are often able to provide cheap childcare. For a decade or more after they enter adulthood young people are now able to travel and change jobs. They do still have traditional aspirations though. They report that they think of parenthood as a significant life choice, and one that will curtail their promotion at work or hamper their social and travelling lives. It is taken seriously, and until there is a right time, couples are postponing starting family.
So although we the older generation have the time and energy, we may have to be patient.
Does this story of Raymond Briggs’ parents paint a nostalgic view for of a more familiar bygone world, making us feel wistful or would that be casting a rosy glow over that post war time that had its own challenges.