My grandmother passed away a month ago today, and I miss her terribly. This will be a bittersweet Mother’s Day for our family. I always loved the many lessons from grandma I learned every year.
Grandma and I were very close, and I would not be the person I am today without her love, support, and gentle guidance. I’ve been thinking constantly about the things she taught me, by word and example. I’d like to share the five most important lessons from grandma that she taught me. These are lessons from grandma that can make anyone’s life better, but especially for us moms.
Lessons from Grandma
1. Be comfortable in your skin.
My grandmother was tall and large-boned in an era when women’s clothes were all designed for an average-to-petite body size. In the 1950s and 1960s, she frequently made her own clothes or had clothes altered to fit well. But unlike many women in her generation (and younger), she didn’t agonize over her size. She was not one of those women who constantly diets or complains about weight. She was comfortable in her own skin, and she dressed well.
When I was a teenager, she counseled me about body image. She told me that when she was a teen, she was embarrassed by her body’s changes and tried to hide her curves. (Especially in her day, if a girl “bloomed” early, people assumed she was sexually active early, too.) She told me that contrary to what she had thought in her youth, a woman’s body is nothing to be ashamed of. She told me, “Stand tall. Have good posture and don’t slouch or wear baggy clothes to hide your shape. You’re beautiful, and you have nothing to be ashamed of.” That’s a lesson I still need to hear from time to time!
|Clockwise from top: my dad, my mom, me,
Both of my great-grandparents were schoolteachers, so my grandmother learned to value education at an early age. Her own mother went back to school for a Master’s in Education in the 1940s — an era when advanced degrees for high school teachers were rare, and even rarer for women. My grandmother was the valedictorian of her high school class, obtained her degree (in education) and prided herself on how much she read and how many “facts” she could remember. Grandma never thought that a woman had to choose between intelligence and femininity. She never “played dumb” in front of men or believed that women should only go to college to meet a future husband (a common assumption when she was a young woman.) In her generation, these ideas were fairly radical.
Many of our best conversations were about books, and we frequently recommended titles to each other. In her later years, she lost much of her vision, and reading became harder and harder for her. She still loved to hear about new ideas and would often ask me about my own reading or teaching or studying. She passed on her thirst for knowledge to her children and grandchildren, and I hope to pass it on to my children, too.
3. Be generous with your creativity.
Grandma loved to cook, sew, play the piano, and china paint. But she almost always did these things for other people. We went to Colorado each Christmas to visit my grandparents, and I could count on many homemade cookies and special meals. When my mother was growing up, everyone, even the kids, came home each day from school or work for lunch. So she prepared three hot meals each day for the whole family — no cold cereal or Lunchables or take-out. And I think I’m doing well to just make supper most evenings!
She also made me new dresses every Christmas and Easter (which I had little appreciation for), from birth to my teens. She made almost all of the clothing my mother wore growing up, too. She was an accomplished pianist and
played for her church, which was a form of service for her. After her children were grown, Grandma learned to china paint. She made beautiful pieces, but she gave away most of it to friends or family.
Like Grandma, I enjoy being creative. I love to cook, I enjoy embroidery, and of course, I write. What I learned from her is that creativity is best when it’s used to make other people happy, too. I also learned to pursue excellence at all times, even in hobbies, and that no craft or project is too large or too complex when you’re
doing it for someone you love.
4. Savor guilty pleasures.
My grandmother was a strict Southern Baptist, so she never drank (or danced). She still had her guilty pleasures, though. She loved sweets, especially chocolate. I often make special desserts for family gatherings, and I always looked forward to her reaction. I could count on her savoring, analyzing, and discussing every cake or pie that I created. And even when something went wrong, she acted as if it was perfect, or blamed something outside of my control (“They just don’t make baking powder like they used to, honey. It’s not your fault the cake was flat.”)
She also loved bubble baths, expensive sheets, and daily naps. She didn’t apologize for taking time off for herself and didn’t think that a woman should be all things to all people, all of the time. In our work-obsessed culture, we need to remember to stop and take care of ourselves.
5. Have faith (but still think for yourself).
Christianity is a major part of my family heritage, but we don’t all agree on the details. I was raised Southern Baptist with a couple of non-denominational detours along the way. In high school and college, I went through a long period of doubt before embracing my faith in the United Methodist Church. Considering that my grandparents met at a Baptist college, and my parents met at a Baptist Student Union, jumping ship to another (and especially more liberal) denomination was a Big Deal.
After the initial shock, my grandparents respected my decision and even attended church with me at Christmas and Easter. Grandma taught Sunday School for many years, and I lead a women’s Bible study at my church. We often talked in-depth about theology and social/ political issues, such as women’s role in the church (Southern Baptists usually won’t ordain women, whereas the majority of UMC clergy are women.) Frequently we agreed to disagree, but it didn’t hurt our relationship.
|My grandparents in 2010, celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.|
My grandma was more interested in me being able to think critically about my faith than in agreeing with her on every point. She wanted me to be educated, analytical, and not be afraid to question authority in the church. I’ll never forget a memorable argument she had (in my hearing) with a former pastor about whether women couldvteach in the church. She said, “So you’re telling me that a woman’s job in the church is to either cook or watch little children? Well, I’m tired of cooking, and I don’t like little children!” He was so shocked by this 70-something, dignified woman calling him out that he couldn’t even answer. Of course, I was incredibly proud.
|(L-R): Mom, Grandma, my mother-in-law,
my dad, and my two boys at my sister in-law’s wedding in 2014.
I miss my grandmother, but I can honor her memory by living my life in such a way that would make her proud and by sharing the lessons from grandma, with my children. On this Mother’s Day, I will grieve her loss but be grateful for her presence in my life.
What are some lessons from grandma you’ve learned?
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