I sent my mother a message on Thursday. I wrote about a discussion on Radio 4 about how being a grandmother is better than being a mother. She did not reply. Being a son is not easy.
Amol Rajan and his wife,Sheila Hancock, were talking about a study that found that grandmothers are more emotionally connected to their grandchildren than their children. The researchers showed 50 women pictures of their children, the child's parents, and random children and adults, and watched how it affected their brains. The part of the grandmothers brain associated with cognitive empathy was on fire when they looked at the grandchild. We don't know which part of the brain was on when they saw their children. Have scientists identified the part associated with contempt and regret?
The brain scanning was unnecessary. There is evidence everywhere. I am not referring to my mother, but the sternest British matriarch, who at the sight of a grandchild turns to puree, is the epitome of sternness. Women who have never been profligate with affection become cooing, cuddling, gaga machines.
I sometimes wonder if the woman who welcomes my daughter with popcorn, TV and repeated use of the words "poppet" and "darling" is actually her own child because she is so unrecognisable. I am not referring to my mother. One theory is that the love of grandparents improves the grandchild's chance of survival. It improves their chances of getting treats.
The time grandparents spend with their grandchild is usually voluntary, and filled with high-status activities such as games and trips to the zoo, rather than parent drudgery. The management consultants stripped out the worst parts of parenting. Nappies and homework? No. Is that ice-cream? Yes. When you think things can't get better for the boomers, something like this comes along.
The parents are tories. There are a few of those around, but not capital T. Their ambitions for their children tend to be conservative. Get a good job. Wear warm clothes. Be happy. By comparison, grandparents are anarchic. Don't eat junk food, stay up late, and go to the park without being swaddled. It will be fine.
It would be great to think that grandparents are more chilled out because they have already gone round the course. One aspect that is overlooked is that having children first is how you will have grandchildren. Maybe you come to grandparenting with a clearer sense of priorities after the frenzy of parenting, where you take on a project at the same time as trying not to get sacked and redo the kitchen. You put your children down after a while.
As a grandparent, you can appreciate these everyday joys without worrying about exams or recorder practice. More rational decisions can be made with a bit of detachment. When they become grandparents, your parents can complain about your parental neuroses, while forgetting that they gave you those in the first place. Win-win.
I am not sure if it is true. My mother replies. As a parent, you have the power to determine if your child supports a team or not. She says that as a grandparent, you don't have this power. It is a junior role. The jobs are not compared. If you don't look after it, it will be eaten by wolves. You just have to return them in one piece. Being a slightly more involved babysitter is like that.
The grandparents don't have to worry about the outcome. By the time your grandsons are old enough to be truly disappointing, you will be leaving. Before that, you had your children look after you. We are still good for something.