Jackie Hill portrait

Written by Jackie Hill

An experienced teacher trainer, Jackie is a Founding Fellow of the Chartered College, Network Leader for WomenEdNW and Co-Founder / Strategic Leader for WomenEdNI.

NB This blog is suitable for all ages…

“Grandmotherly duties” – thoughts around this phrase have been rumbling in my head for some time. I’ve never been quite sure if, when or how I should share those rumblings and it was only on a recent trip to a “soft play” centre with my two favourite little learners that I decided it was time to “let loose”!  

Firstly, I want to make it very clear that, in my experience, becoming a grandparent can be one of the best new roles that you can ever take on. However, I have been surprised to find that it can also bring an unwelcome “tag”…

Let me explain: in January 2019, both my husband and I moved to a more flexible working pattern (3 days a week) but the processes to arrive at that, and the perceptions regarding our motivations, were quite different.

For me, the consequence of my request for a more flexible working pattern, was that I had to accept a move to a new role, giving up the one that I had loved and had hoped to retain.  Of course, this is a scenario which has faced many other women in education – I just had not expected it at that stage in my career.  I had explained that I wanted to be more actively engaged in certain professional networks, interests and activities – all of which would actually have enabled me to carry out my workplace role even more effectively.  These included DiverseEd, WomenEd (I’m Co-Founder and Strategic Leader in WomenEdNI and a Network for WomenEdNW), and The Chartered College (as a Fellow, and more recently Council Member).  

Coincidentally I had become a grandmother a year beforehand and when the initial communications announcing the change in my professional role appeared, the focus had shifted.  Yes, the explanation given for the move was that I wished to focus on other things, but only one was mentioned – “grandmotherly duties”!  I was really taken aback as I felt it created such a false impression – so I asked for it to be changed immediately. And it was, straightaway, thankfully.

Now, anyone who knows me, also knows that I adore my grandchildren (more than one now!) and may be wondering why I would be so annoyed at this interpretation. Well, in my view it goes to the core of my identity or rather the way many people’s perceptions of identity change when they find out you’re a grandmother – you’re now “over the hill” / past your best / on the way out – too OLD!   I subsequently discovered that one of my colleagues had a 4 year old much loved grandson but rarely spoke about him, for exactly this reason!  

Of course, this is a reprise of something similar that many colleagues in education experience earlier in their careers when they are told “it’s time to just focus on being a mum”.  However, when your children have grown up, you would think those judgmental assumptions would now be relegated to the past, so it’s a shock when they reappear in another way later in your career.

Jo Pellereau’s blog “Concentrate on Being a Mum” (and forget about work) outlines her experiences beautifully (Pellereau, 2020). Her assertion that “in many ways my commitment to education has been increased by my new identity as a mother” really resonates with me.  My new identity as a grandmother has not only re-invigorated my commitment to education but has also taken it in new directions which have been both challenging and uplifting.

I asked my husband if anyone ever said to him “Now’s the time to focus on your “grandfatherly” duties”.  His look of disbelief, said it all!!!  Of course, they hadn’t!  

This also got me thinking about “grandmotherly duties” – what are they? What could or should they involve…?  

Of course, each grandparent’s circumstances are different, so there can be do fixed set of “duties”, job description or person specification for this role that would work for all. However, I’d like to share just a few grandparently duties that are important for me: 

  1. Try to be a visible role model – for other grandparents, parents, carers and, of course, my family (especially the wee ones).  Remain professionally active and involved, and, where possible, demonstrate that abilities, understanding, desire to keep learning and sharing do not have to cease to exist or be important, just because a person has this additional role.
  2. Continue to develop my “voice” to support schools and other education settings to become diverse, inclusive and equitable communities – where different families, like my grandchildren’s, and indeed all others, know and feel they belong.
  3. Look for ways to help my grandchildren discover the wider world outside their own little corner, so that they realise they are global citizens, and understand how that opens the world to them (as well as their responsibilities to look after it and one another).
  4. Help them to develop the joy of learning and also of reading all sorts of books (was it wrong of me to feel a little bit pleased when my grandson became upset recently because the library was closed!?!?)
  5. Spend time together and have fun.

What other “duties” have I missed?  What would you add?

“DiverseEd; A Manifesto” feature in my day of grandmother duties because I took it with me to read at Soft Play! (Yes, I was the only Grandma doing that…)  The wonderful Chapter on Age includes insightful stories and reflections of others, highlighting the underused and undervalued potential contributions that many older colleagues still have to offer.  This also cuts across some of the other Protected Characteristics and, as the Editor for Chapter 4 “Marriage and Civil Partnership”, I’ve read, researched and reflected a lot about families and relationships, and firmly believe that ALL families should “experience the same positive environment, level of support, opportunities and VISIBILITY across the curriculum”.  The fact that this includes families with, or even headed by, grandparents is sometimes missed.

So, in practice, how should that visibility work?  In what ways could it break away from stereotypical images (rather than reinforcing them)? How should it be demonstrated through the staff in our schools and other educational settings too?

In reflecting on all of this, I’ve been reminded of the important role that my own amazing Gran played in my upbringing and her enduring influence on me.  She lived with us and she was a wise, constant and loving presence, a cornerstone for our immediate, and indeed wider, family – while at the same time being an independent, working woman who read widely, and managed her own finances plus other responsibilities, whilst also supporting others. In her sixties, she travelled abroad for the first time, on her own, to Australia.  She spent several months there, and wrote to us regularly to share her experiences – my brother still has the didgeridoo she carried back for him!

Similarly there are people like her today – who are ready to take on new challenges, to develop their professional and/or personal roles, and who are fit, willing and able to continue doing so.  What a waste when we write them off, or high-handedly decide for them that it’s time to “focus on being a mother” or their “grandmotherly duties”.  The choice should be theirs and roles need not be mutually exclusive. 

Moreover, there is a clear case for employing older workers (Makoff A, 2021) – increased knowledge-sharing through a multi-generational workforce has been identified as a particular benefit.  Makoff cites Stuart Lewis, founder of Rest Less (a digital community for the over-50s) who asserts that “demographic and societal changes including an aging population, delayed retirement and multi-generational workplaces will continue to be the direction of travel for a long time to come… the employers and HR teams that recognise this early, get ahead of the trend and embrace it early are going to be the workforces and businesses that thrive over the next decade.”

So I’ll leave you with some questions to consider:

  • How do you view colleagues and others in your school community and/or education setting and/or networks who are grandparents (or are of an age that they could be grandparents)?   
  • Have you relegated them to the “former players” stand or are you making the most of their experience, expertise and possibly even renewed outlook and perspectives on education, learners and schools?  
  • How could you ensure that diverse families, relationships and roles are visible and valued in your classroom, staffroom / workplace and communications?

References

Pellereau J, (2020) Concentrate on Being a Mum.  Available at: https://physicsjo.science.blog/2020/10/06/concentrate-on-being-a-mum/  

Kara B and Wilson H (2021) DiverseEd: A Manifesto University of Buckingham Press

Makoff A (2021) How can employers embrace an age-friendly workplace Available at: https://dileaders.com/blog/how-can-employers-embrace-an-age-friendly-workplace-culture/

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