Rochester author Harriet Hodgson's new book is about grandmas -- and not the traditional, warm and fuzzy figure who knitted booties and babysat the grandchildren.
Yesterday's grandparents probably wouldn't recognize today's version. Today's grandmas are immersed in the nitty-gritty of life, delaying their sunset years to work, to run for political office and to participate in aerobics classes in their off hours.
To a staggering degree, many are also raising their grandchildren. In Hodgson's case, it was the death of her daughter and her son-in-law in separate car crashes in the same year that thrust her and her husband in the role of legal guardians for their two grandchildren.
Hodgson wasn't alone, she soon realized. Divorce, the death of a parent, the stress of the two-income family and the fact that grandparents are living longer have recast and reshaped grandparents' roles.
Hodgson sees grandmothers as uniquely qualified, by experience and the survival skills acquired over a lifetime, to fill the breach in today's fluid family structure. In her new book, "The Grandma Force," she explains why.
Why did you write this book?
I'm the grandmother of twins. Our daughter was the mother of twins and she died from the injuries she received from a car crash in 2007. Then, on the same weekend, my father-in-law died, and then eight weeks later my brother and only sibling died. Then, in the fall, the twins' father died from injuries he received in another crash.
And this made me realize: I wasn't just a grandmother. I was a legal guardian. The court appointed my husband and me as legal guardians. When something like that happens, when multiple losses strike, you can sit around and wait to be rescued or you can learn something from the experience. And that was my choice. And then I got to thinking about all the grandmothers in the world who are doing similar things.
You had me reflecting on my own grandmothers. Both of them were wonderful, but they were more the old-fashioned type. How has the role changed and why?
Their role has broadened immensely. You read the stats and the number of grandparents raising grandchildren in this nation is staggering. And that's due basically from the opioid epidemic.
We are trying to protect and create a good life for the next generation. I belong to a website called "Grandmothers Raising Grandchildren," and some of the posts make me cry about how hard grandmothers are working. Some aren't getting support from their spouses or partners. A lot of them get jobs to do this. It's very common for grandparents to dip into savings, money they saved for retirement and are spending on their grandkids.
Some grandmas might view this new role as a raw deal. Hey, I raised my kids. Why do I have to raise theirs?
Some of them get depressed and no wonder. I read a post about a grandmother who had to choose between heart medicine for herself or food for her grandchild. She chose food. As I say in the Grandma Force, I feel like grandparents in general and grandmothers in particular are needed more today than ever.
Is part of the reason for this enhanced role due to the breakdown of the family?
I agree with that. Actually, the number of family members that eat together now is miniscule. And there is research that suggests that kids who eat as a family do better in school and do better in life. When our kids lived with us, that was the rule. You had to show up for dinner and you couldn't be on your cellphone at dinner.
When the kids first came to live with us, dinner was at first a fuel stop and then they would leave. Then, as time passed, they began to linger and tell stories about school and listen to our conversation. And I remember the day -- it was historic! -- where we actually laughed together. After so much tragedy, we could laugh together.
You talk about grandmas. What about grandpas?
I wrote from my experience as a grandmother. Grandfathers can speak for themselves. If I was a grandfather, I would have called it the grandfather force or grandpa force. But I'm a grandmother and I was not only that. I was a grandparent raising grandchildren.
This is your 37th book. What compels you to write?
I absolutely love to write. I even write and edit in my sleep, and that's not an exaggeration. I might wake up around 4 in the morning, and I will think, "there is an error on page 33" or I will have an idea for a book.