Lesley Stahl is all over the media promoting her new bestseller, Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting and she’s creating quite a buzz about grandparenthood. I had the pleasure of meeting her before she spoke at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco and it was one of the biggest thrills of my life. She is warm, gracious, and intelligent.
As I read her book, I nodded my head in agreement over every line: I’ve either felt the exact same way or written about it on my blog or in my book When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand. I’m sure many grandparents will also feel the same. She truly captures the essence of what it means to be a modern grandma. Her book is filled with fascinating personal stories, both from her reporting career as well as from her own family.
Lesley is one of America’s most recognized and experienced broadcast journalists in America. She’s traveled the globe, covered the White House for ten years and is currently celebrating her 25th year on 60 Minutes. Now she’s covering what she calls “her best assignment yet” — becoming a grandma. She tackles the topic like a reporter with in-depth research on the science behind those feelings of being overwhelmed by euphoria. There are chapters with anecdotes on today’s granny nannies, competition with the “other” grandparents, cross-generational discord between mothers-in-law and daughters-in-law, working grannies, step-grandparents and the importance of grandfathers.
She decided to write the book because the role of grandma has totally captured her attention since the birth of her first granddaughter in January 2011, which she describes as “explosively elating.” Although she says there’s no way to describe this “full-bodied blaze of love” that is completely different from any love you’ve felt before, she does an excellent job of putting it into words. She was confused by it because no one told her it would throw her off her mark so much. She wondered if she was alone or if other grandmas also go through that. (Yes, we do, Lesley — that’s why I founded the GaGa Sisterhood!)
What she discovered from interviewing Louann Brizendine, a neuropsychiatrist and author of The Female Brain is that the pathways of our neurons and the way our hormones flow through our bodies are the exact same circuitry and pathway for romantic love as it is for baby love. So it really is falling in love except that it’s completely unconditional and it never fades.
Lesley lays bare her own life and relationships explaining that she and her mother clashed when she was growing up. But once her mother became a grandmother to Lesley’s only daughter, Taylor, she was besotted by love and softened. She describes the bittersweet moments of being torn between seeing her new granddaughter, Jordan in Los Angeles, while her mother, Dolly, was dying in New York. Dolly did get to hold Jordan just a few days before she passed away.
Another big issue in her book is the difference between today’s young moms and our generation of moms. No matter how critical and strict we were as parents, we love our grandchildren unconditionally, cannot say “no” to them, give them whatever they want, and we turn into total “mushballs” when we’re with them — it’s out of our control because it’s part of this “out-of-control total body loving.”
Lesley believes that today’s moms are trying to find a better balance between work and home and that they’re devoting more time to family. At the same time, she writes that many grandmas she spoke to think this generation of parents are overly absorbed in child-rearing, which can become an issue with the grandparents who may feel defensive about the kinds of parents they were. As a working mom, Lesley writes that she was never ever free just to simply, uncomplicatedly love her daughter. She lived with teeth grinding and stomach turbulence compared to now when she is completely in the present when she is with her two granddaughters.
Her book focuses mostly on the positive but what surprised and saddened her was talking to grandparents who are denied access to their own grandchildren and even ashamed to talk about it. She recommends grandparents who are denied access to their own grandchildren get involved helping other young children.
She devotes a lot of attention to the importance of grandpas and talks openly about her husband who has been battling Parkinson’s disease for many years. After their granddaughter was born, his symptoms went into remission. She attributes this to the positive effect Jordan’s birth had on him and says over and over that being a grandparent makes us healthier and contributes to our well-being and sense of purpose. She includes an inspiring chapter about a unique multi-generational community, Hope Meadows in Illinois, to illustrate how helping youngsters can be rejuvenating and replenishing.
The final chapter is a passionate “Call to Arms” for both grandparents and their adult children. Grandmothers have a five-star reputation and we have an obligation to put it to use in our grandchildren’s lives. We are vital to each other in promoting their health and happiness. In fact, as grandparents, we owe our very existence to our roles of providing our adult children with backup and our grandchildren with comfort. She encourages grandparents to pitch in and become engaged. She also calls on parents of young children who are denying or curtailing grandparent access to ease up and forgive for the sake of the children.
After reading Lesley’s book, I’m convinced she would make the ideal “Grandmother Ambassador.” She’s intelligent, articulate, vibrant and youthful. She completely understands what it means to be a grandma and she also empathizes with the challenges facing today’s young parents. Her book would make a wonderful book club selection for a mother-daughter group. It would help our daughters and daughters-in-law to understand that we just can’t help ourselves when it comes to showering our grandchildren with love.