Almanac

Community - April 24, 2013

So you think being a grandma is a cakewalk?

Local writer gives grandparents tips on caring for the 'fragile relationship' with adult children

by Renee Batti

The sun is always shining and the music is sweet when Grandma and her grandchild get together. That's just the nature of the relationship.

But the relationship between a parent and a grandparent of the little darling? That's often an entirely different question. And it's the question Menlo Park resident Donne Davis addresses in her recently self-published book, "When Being a Grandma Isn't So Grand."

The book is "not about having grandkids; it's all about the relationship with adult children, when you're a grandmother," Ms. Davis said recently over coffee in her neighborhood cafe, Plantation. "I'm really interested in the dynamic between mothers and daughters. It's a fragile relationship — there are so many layers involved."

A retired college recruiter, Ms. Davis learned first-hand how fragile that relationship can be after her daughter had her first child 10 years ago. The first-time grandmother was so enamored of the child, and her new role as a grandmother, that she began a group, the GaGa Sisterhood, "to provide a place where grandmas can bond, brag, and benefit," she writes in her book.

But as time progressed, "reality set in," she says. She started to feel a strain developing between her and her daughter, and began a journey on "a steep learning curve" to try to understand and resolve the source of increasing conflict.

That journey was illuminated in part by stories told by members of her group, some of whom had stopped attending meetings because their own situations as grandparents with fractured relationships with their children had become too painful, Ms. Davis writes.

The topic became part of the group's conversation, and in her book, Ms. Davis cites "the three most common challenges" that members identified: not understanding modern parenting techniques; difficult relationships with a grandchild's parents; and "hurt feelings that result from being unappreciated or left out."

But Ms. Davis knew she couldn't understand, let alone write about, the subject without looking at the big picture, half of which could be described only by parents. "So I created a survey for moms, with eight questions about the challenges of parenting, their primary sources of conflict, and advice for grandparents," she writes.

She devotes a section of the book to the insights she gleaned from the mothers, which, she said, most often centered on their stated need for respect and empathy.

Through the years, Ms. Davis has evolved from a generally care-free, ecstatic and involved grandmother — now of two girls — into a sort of Grandma Guru, leading her GaGa Sisterhood, for which she writes a blog, and writing columns for "Parenting on the Peninsula" and the Huffington Post on issues involving grandparenting.

Her columns can also be found on About.com, and recently, the sisterhood blog won a 2013 About.com Readers Choice Award.

Her book can be purchased at Amazon, and her group's website is at gagasisterhood.com.

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