Children, Parents, and Grandparents

Ava Lon, who normally translates German, French, and Polish for us, contributes occasional essays for Gates of Vienna. Below is her meditation on the different roles played by parents, grandparents, and other relatives in the raising of children.

Children, Parents, and Grandparents

by Ava Lon

The subject of childless Europeans keeps coming up, in reference to the high fertility of the Muslim invaders.

Thinking about this issue led me to the conclusion that cultures (and I don’t say “civilizations” for obvious reasons) that have close-knit families have a strong advantage over the West. Grandmas, sisters, cousins, aunties, make having more children simply easier for a woman: they (her family members) can help with cooking with cleaning; they can babysit when she’s seeing a doctor, or spending an afternoon with a girlfriend. Add to that the fact that in those countries, having a cleaning lady is possible even for families with modest revenues, because it’s really cheap, and you have the one of the important answers of why Western females don’t procreate. One of the answers. Not the only one.

Don’t forget that being a mother is a 24/7 job. Women do need to take a break from that, like any other human needs a break from any other job. I went through this as a young woman: without the help of a husband (who was working long hours already and two jobs at one point, so I don’t blame him), without the support of friends and families (neither my mom nor my mother-in-law were reliable helpers), one is simply very, very lonely and very, very tired. I wanted more than two children and I had to earn each of them (staying in bed for nine months every time so I wouldn’t lose them. Even so, the first time around I did, and it is still hard, years later).

And yes, I am telling you how a mother feels when she has help, instead of telling you about all she should give to her children. You know how it works: mom happy, everybody happy; and like on a plane, in case of an emergency: before you give the oxygen mask to your child, take one yourself.

If you think it sounds like a truism, think twice. It is obviously a very important factor, not having guilt-free family support, not having to pay for a baby sitter, and not being able to come home a little later, for whatever reason. It is great to come home after an afternoon of errands and find your children happily playing under the supervision of your mother, or your mother-in-law, or your sister or you aunt or all of the above. It is great to simply be able to take a shower without having someone knocking at the door of your bathroom, yelling and crying. It is wonderful to be able to take a nap, after taking care of a crying baby for a number of nights, or breastfeeding. It is something that makes you want to have more children: you just CAN imagine, that you can do it, because you know this family members want those kids as much as you want them. They will take their time and appreciate it, because those kids are perpetuating their, genes too. They make life worth living; they give life a sense of purpose.

It certainly was the case with both of my grandmothers, who willingly gave some of their time to take care of me and my cousins on both sides of the family. The best kindergarten in the world cannot replace a devout grandmother or grandfather, because children should be raised by grown-ups, and not by other children. Don’t get me wrong; kindergartens have their place society as well, not the least because some mothers have no choice; and I command them for having children, despite not having any decent support.

I am actually blaming the idea of insurance and retirement funds for that development , believe it or not. My mom or my in-laws never had to please us (my husband and me), so we would take care of them later, so we would help them in illness and old age (not that I wouldn’t do it anyway). Therefore they never felt the need, the urge, the duty, the INSTINCT of supporting their children, their grand children, their genes, their legacy.

So if you tell me that European women are lazy or selfish I’ll tell you that some really are, and that many bought the feminist narrative (about being the victims of men, and the necessity of self-affirmation by the lack of progeny). But I’ll tell you who the really lazy, selfish people are: it’s the people from the generation of my mother and from mine who couldn’t wait to retire and have fun, somewhere on a beach for the rest of their lives. I met a number of them. And yes, they worked hard, and it’s their money, and what am I talking about? But the result is very visible, because absent grandparents are extremely contraceptive.

You can look at just the next ten or twenty years of your life, and then not care about the rest, or you can make an effort and first imagine that you grandchildren will actually live way beyond your life. What world are you leaving behind? What have you done for them that was done for you? You weren’t living in a void, either; I’ll bet your parents and grandparents worked all their lives and cared about future generations more than about the next beach and golf course.

My mom didn’t, and my in-laws didn’t, when I was expecting, and was on a serious bed rest. So we had to hire someone to help, although my well-off mother-in-law lived just around the corner. And it wasn’t just me: most of my friends couldn’t count on their parents where their children were concerned. How many times have I heard that a girlfriend wished for more than one or two kids, but simply had no support from her family, except at Christmas?

I don’t say grandparents are perfect caregivers: parents aren’t; nobody is. You might still need a shrink twenty years after your mother or grandmother passes away, I know. And having brothers and sisters is no guarantee against being lonely, but perhaps better socialized and less neurotic…

I used to live in China as an expatriate. Our neighborhood was about 33% white, 33% Chinese and 33% mixed families, all of which had a cleaning and cooking ladies. Most of those women were pregnant with their third, fourth or fifth child. We arrived with a four-year-old and a baby, so I was busy with the younger one, but had we stayed longer, I would have followed the trend and example and had at least one more. Returning to Europe — where children are your problem: they should be quiet at all times (not even talking about crying kids; giggling and polite ones also seemed to annoy the general public) and are only worth mentioning when they themselves become taxpayers — was very dissuasive.

What is wrong with the West is that in some places you cannot talk to your neighbor without prior appointment on the phone. Nobody wants to be bothered. Everyone’s time is money, everyone is important and “you are taking advantage of us if you want us to babysit,” as my father-in-law used to say. He is old and half-blind today. Who do you think brought him to the doctor? My son did. And he didn’t say he was taken advantage of. But he could have.

I am not bitter. I am describing a larger trend that should be overturned, if we want to survive as a civilization. My experience was very typical in Switzerland, where I was living when my children were born. I have heard it wasn’t very different from the experience of my French and German friends (of course I cannot support it with statistics — this is an essay about my life, not a research paper; but I would love to see if anyone every was interested in the subject).

When Hillary Clinton says that it “takes a village to raise a child”, I cringe, because she means that the government should have a say in what you teach your kids. Nevertheless: yes, it used to be the village, where people knew each other. Where your family and neighbors reacted when your son or daughter was misbehaving, and made sure you, as parent, found out about it. Where your parents lived next door and children could just walk into their or the neighbors’ house.

What’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with more role models in a child’s life than a mother and an all-too-frequently absent, father? What’s wrong with having more people than parents and a teacher (the government) to show the young ones what’s right and what’s wrong?

I think people should be encouraged to be grandparents. I wrote an essay about it a couple of years ago. This is also a tribute to my grandparents:

People today are busier than ever. Parents have little or no time for their children. Grandparents sadly either live far away or are unwilling to spend time with their grandchildren.

I am writing today to convince you to become not decent, not good, but outstanding grandparents. We all have parents and we all have grandparents. Some of us were more lucky that the others to have loving, patient grandparents with some time to spare. Tell me they were not important! Tell me that an empty place where a grandparent could have been wasn’t a painful place. They are as vital as our parents, or they are even more crucial than our parents.

Grandparents are important because they remember the world that our parents don’t — parents who in any case are too busy making a living to pay too much attention to the past (or so they think).

Yet the past, history, is what should teach us how to live today and how to plan for the future.

All too often we assume that progress is inevitable. The world is just getting better. But it isn’t always. My grandparents remembered a world before communism, with no food rationing, with freedom of movement (to travel), with a free unbiased press, with the freedom of speech. How I loved their stories about the world before WW II, before Poland sadly became part of the Eastern Europe!

Past generations teach us not to repeat their mistakes, if we only listen. And, really: all we have to do is listen. Who are we to say that communism would work for us tomorrow, if history teaches, it didn’t work yesterday in Russia, Poland, China, East Germany, Cambodia, Angola, Yemen, North Korea and Cuba?

Progress isn’t inevitable if we don’t learn from our grandparents. They know what worked and what didn’t.

My grandparents were rural teachers. They were very poor. Fortunately, as farmers’ children they both knew how to cultivate the land and take care of animals in order to survive. Their tiny two-bedroom apartment was a part of the school building. “The school” was just two classes across the corridor, in an 18th-century house, with thick brick walls, a large attic and a deep basement. My mother sent me there while she went to college and also during vacations and holidays. The house was situated in the middle of an orchard. I remember my grandfather grafting different branches from one tree to another, so that one tree could carry up to three different fruits. He also had beehives, and allowed me work there with him, telling me about bees’ habits. I was never afraid of them and they never stung me. He showed me the bees growing inside the honeycomb, and how to extract the honey with a special machine.

He kept rabbits that I fed when I was there. I refused to eat them, though, once I made the connection between rabbit on the plate and a missing rabbit in the cage…

My grandmother, on the other hand, always kept sheep. From sheep to sweater, I saw her go through the entire process: cutting the wool, washing it, combing, and spinning on an traditional spindle, dying and then knitting socks, gloves or sweaters.

I played around the house and often entered the classes, so I don’t remember learning how to write, read and count. There was also a school library where I spent a lot of time. And behind the house, on the south side, there was a vegetable patch and a berry garden (with strawberries, alpine strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, red- and blackcurrants and gooseberries) and a little vineyard, because my grandparents also made some home wine.

I was a city kid learning about the countryside, about the seasons and the animals. Before I was ten I learned how to saw, to knit, what to feed the chicken and the rabbits, how to make fire in old ovens around the house, how to make yoghurt and butter, how to bake different types of cakes and pies, and how to make fruit and vegetable preserves.

My grandfather was the one who cooked. My grandma simply hated it. He prepared meats and stews and made an incredibly smelly cheese. It used to chase me out of the house for hours at a time, when the rotten cottage cheese was heated and salted and caraway was added to it, before it was cooled down in form of a sausage.

I often think about what I learned effortlessly in their house. I never knew I was being handed a treasure until I compared notes with my friends: lessons of history and of survival that my mother simply hadn’t time or opportunity to give me. My friends didn’t have a childhood like mine.

We need to know who we are to function as human beings. We need to know how to survive every day: work, food, shelter, and on a bigger scale, learning from the past. Only the past can give us this answer to who we are and what we have to do. We need it for the present and for the future. Grandparents represent that past, which was also handed to them as legacy.

Please, become outstanding grandparents. You have more to offer than you might think. Your life, which might not seem exciting enough to you today, will be fascinating to your grandchildren one day: if life is better then, they will wonder how you made it. If it becomes more difficult, they will find yours even more interesting. And if their life is just different, you will still be able to compare and teach them right from wrong.

25 thoughts on “Children, Parents, and Grandparents

  1. In modern society most mothers, even those with young children, must work outside the home. Also, jobs are scarce and many young adults must leave the town where they grew up to seek work. They leave their families behind, not the other way around. Some people feel the need to postpone childbearing until they are established in their careers. When women wait until they are in their 30s to start a family, the grandparents may to too old to help or already passed. And when women can take only a few weeks off from work for childbearing or start having children late in life families are of necessity small.

    • lynn: agree, so many families are scattered around the country and lose contact with even siblings, cousins and grand parents, keeping only in touch with parents. Some jobs require moving around also. Women that work and have careers or businesses may have one child or none because day care eats up your income. Many men go along with one or none and some are concerned about overpopulation and finite resources, and population has more than doubled in my lifetime. Many have grandparents pass on before women are able to have children, as many are older and more settled before planning a family. Me and several friends moved around for years because of husband’s job and chose not to raise a family, we’re now in our sixties and seventies. With the world situation now, many say they will not raise a family. There are no guarantees that things will line up to expectations.

      • After my grandmother passed, for 7 years my grandfather made the trip to visit our family, and would stay on for a couple months. I realize now he likely wasn’t lonely, and certainly had more interesting things he might be doing, but he got joy out of sharing his life-experience with us four kids, seeing us grow. And for a grandparent you see the kids every half-year, and the growth is very noticeable, which must make it fascinating to reconnect and see all the changes. My point is he had to make considerable effort to visit, and then spend weeks with us with not much to occupy his time, but he clearly believed it was worth it, and was an obligation to the next generation he wanted to honor. I don’t buy it that people are too constrained by the economy and modern exigencies. We choose what we do, how we live, and what we have come to disregard. These are abstract losses, and perhaps the worst losses of all. Islam attacks us culturally b/c they sense our weakness, that our civilization is dying. This perhaps is one of the reasons why.

  2. What a great essay! These have been my thoughts too for a long time. I too had to raise my children all by myself with my husband . I cannot wait to be the kind of grandmother you describe.

  3. Ava, What do you think is the principle reason why wealthier societies have reduced fertility rates?

    • “Wealthier”? . . . in what way?

      Having a bigger warfare/welfare state that you – a tax slave – have to support at the expense of your family and the future of all that you hold dear, is hardly a form of wealth that sane people desire. However, after many years of state miseducation, you have probably been brainwashed into believing that measures like Gross National Product or Per Capita pre-tax Income are also measures of wealth. Who will inherit it all?

      (Answer: The future belongs to those who show up for it.)

      • One author, Gary Becker, in a paper in the National Bureau of Economic Research says that a big factor in the negatve correlation between fertility rate and socioeconomic class is the fact that poorer people simply do not know about contraception. I thought this was a trivial answer and I was trying to get a deeper perspective on this phenomenon. But it may hold no interest for readers here.

        • It may be that poorer parents and mothers view children as economic assets, capital assets, such that they can generate a future cash flow from each new child. This is what I have seen said by mothers in Calcutta, e.g. But this also seems rather a rather superficial reason to have a bunch of children….because we know that some children are unwell and very costly to raise properly.

        • William P: my view is that middle income and upper income are more educated and can afford good family planning or surgical sterilization so they can focus on careers, travel , a business, hobbies, etc. In developed countries even poorer people have limited access to medical care and birth control at free clinics in larger cities.

    • I have to agree with DeriKuk, that a big part of the problem, which is also responsible for absent fathers and for mothers, who need to work outside of the house (and I don’t dispute their right to do so, if it’s their wish), is the fact, that today’s honest, hardworking, decent people have to feed not only their own kids, but also a bunch of someone else’s progeny. They give up having more children to support someone else’s genes. This is not rational. It’s madness.

  4. Great essay Ava.
    Me and my younger brother were raised by a single Mother, all of her family was back in Croatia, she did the best she could.
    When I was around 12 I got caught breaking windows at the school with my friend Kevin. The police brought us home to Kevin’s house and dropped us off with his dad.
    God bless that man’s soul, he knew very well my home situation, so took it upon himself to administer the requisite Belting, I couldn’t sit down for a week.
    These days he would have his life ruined for making the right call, how can we fix that.

    • We can’t, b/c feminist discourse has decided that men are to blame for whatever’s missing from modern life. Thus all the subtle contributions men make have been excised on pain of having their lives ruined by the State. You can’t fight the State. So it’s a kind of vicious downward spiral self-reinforcing & utterly malign. You can’t turn around a cycle till it spends itself. The West is on a very powerful down spiral of self-destruction now, has been since the late 70’s. Ironically, the worst cultural loss now is coming from absent fathers and grandparents. But how much are they absent due to self-choice, or exclusion?

  5. Speaking as someone raised by my grandparents for the first few years of my life, I couldn’t agree more… then later on, when I lived with my grandparents, it was also a nice break from being with my parents – as well as showing me the very different values they had.

    My grandmother witnessed an execution in Eastern Poland by Soviet soldiers in 1939, aged 9. My grandfather, on the other hand, was held in a Gestapo prison and twice was directed to a platform to await a train to Auschwitz – which thankfully never came…

    They are not easily moved by anything, and have an unbelievable work ethic – while people of younger generations prefer to rest or enjoy themselves, to my grandparents work comes naturally…

    Knowing my grandparents and growing up with them has been for me a very important experience, and I think that in general, we can learn a lot from people of that generation.

  6. Speaking as a Mum of two, who really wanted 3….. Rightly or wrongly, the reason baby 3 didn’t happen was financial. I took 9 years off work to look after my children, but realised, I needed to return to work when they were old enough (9 and 7). I debated baby 3 some years earlier, but felt we just couldn’t afford it. Actually I was right, had I not returned to work, my 2 couldn’t have completed their degrees and graduate degrees without hidious financial millstones around their necks, handicapping them for their future life. so…
    Choice 1… two children given burden free education (both are now very successful in their respective spheres, married and a credit to the community).
    Choice 2…three children, but either with debt and an education, or maybe, no debt, but no education either.
    The reproductive strategy of whites, is fewer, but better nurtured offspring. Other races choose many offspring, poorly nurtured. A bit like comparing mammals’ reroductive strategy with insects’. Unfortunately we are reaping the whirlwind of higher (but poorer quality) third world reproduction, compared with lower (but better quality Western reproduction.

    • If not for immigration, would high 3rd-world birth rates even be an issue?!

      Pakistan has had one of the world’s highest population growth rates for a few decades now… and its population is more than 2.5 times that of Britain’s. Then there’s Indonesia with 200 million, and Egypt with 80 million – which was not even enough to seriously threaten Israel (6 million).

      Agreed that going for “quality not quantity” may have its positives – especially with the robot-driven future, and inevitable mass unemployment, ahead of us. But it’s strict immigration controls that will help to ensure that such a society can survive, and not be overwhelmed by the third world’s strength in numbers. Unfortunately, barring a few exceptions in the Far East, that hasn’t really happened…

      • We’ll look back at birth-rate issues with something like nostalgia or puzzled incredulity. I feel it in my bones that we’re headed towards serial waves of dieoff events that will reduce the global population by 85% or so, to 1 billion. A perfect storm of problems is gathering. Depopulation will be the issue of the future.

        • Stephen, I think you are right, since if this civilization disappears, everyone else will follow. All those, who are trying to destroy it (who are part of it or not), and those who don’t care, don’t realize to which extend they are depending on it. There would be no today’s science and technology without Western, Judeo-Christian and Greco-Roman values; there would be no art and literature to speak of, and there would be no food. We are making things worse, by giving up and surrendering this early in the fight.

  7. My sister and I were raised by a combination of our mother and our boarding school. She came to America in 1950 and found work which required her to swing shifts (all 3 of them) every week or two hence the boarding school. For 5 years my father was in a tuberculosis sanatarium in Norway until he was cured and allowed into USA. We did miss out a bit on the extended family but we survived. There were a couple of aunts, uncles, and cousins though. I wonder what it would have been like to know our grandparents. I am now a grandparent and enjoy the role very much.

  8. Thank you so, so much for this wonderful essay. Now I understand why I hate my parents – they just wanted to have fun and I didn’t count – they couldn’t be bothered with helping me to marry (my siblings did, but our parents were not much help there, or with their children.) Now I am nearly old age and have no one I can turn to – my parents are dead (and I don’t care), my siblings are struggling with their own demons and are helping (sort of) their children and grandchildren, and the grandchildren think this is the way things ought to be as they are clueless, have no close family, no knowledge of history, and are on their own. Three boos to the “American way of life” and the DNC who have forced this idiocy upon us.

    • In America though, there should be plenty of candidates for marriage? I myself know Americans who are young, very conservative and certainly not indoctrinated by the DNC – and who’ve been married… and seeing that it’s most often the man who makes the first move, surely for a woman it should be easier?! (at least that’s what I always thought!)

      • Those must be the same young, conservative Americans who are breaking their backs as tax slave – and have no money or time left for children – . . . to pay for the daddy-less babies that inner city welfare moms are dropping on society like confetti.

  9. Nice essay. I hope this adds to the good points made but there seems missing another point. Our own govt got away (& er go lead astray) from MANY core assets in terms of culture & icons of our ‘former’ society. That includes civics (lots of lawlessness in society today and total lack of understanding our history / constitution etc); family values (taxes setup so married types are discriminated against & I dropped tv watching almost 20 years ago bc of the nonsense broadcast on a daily basis, not that I watched much of anything b4 that); religion has been politicized and given the smack down as a result; schools are totally politicized hence the home schooling trend; etc… you can’t expect good results when the core institutions of our society have been kicked to the curb. So leadership does matter. Our gov’t lead astray and allowed / promoted all of the above to fester. you reap what you sew.

    • Pete, you are right, I mentioned it only briefly ( that government shouldn’t decide how you are raising your kids – and it was 100% for the reasons you’re bringing up). I think, that family, grandparents, need to be the counterbalance in the times like those we’re living in ,where government is undermining our efforts to raise decent people. For the time being, we cannot change that ( neither: the government and its behavior ), at least not overnight, (I know it’s not what you suggested) and therefore we need to do what we have influence and power over: close ranks in the family department.

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