Have you heard of the Grandmother Hypothesis? According to the theory, grandmothers have played an essential role in helping increase human longevity. How? Because they were able to take care of their offsprings’ growing kids while the mothers cared for the younger children. This system of productivity or what we call an extended family provided an evolutionary advantage to humans. Basically, you should call and thank your granny for their essential role in evolution and life expectancy. How cool huh? I like this hypothesis because it speaks to the importance of old folk.
How different societies view the elderly
Growing up in Mexico, grandparents abounded. At some point, my paternal grandpa moved into our family house after his wife passed. I never really thought of this because taking in grandparents and caring for them was the norm and a kind of unspoken duty. Everyone in my tiny village lived with extended family members. The family dynamic of caring for one’s aging parents is very common in Latin America.
I find it super interesting the way elderly are perceived and treated in different parts of the world. For example, Native Americans, Koreans, Chinese, French and Latin folk tend to celebrate and respect the aging population. Senior citizens are seen as a valuable source of wisdom and knowledge. Some of these cultures instill the duty to care for aging parents. For some stricter societies, like China, doing this is not so much an option but an obligation.
When I moved to the States, I found it surprising that seeing elderly out and about was rare. I wondered, where the hell are the abuelitos? This is when I discovered the concept of nursing homes and the relationship the US has with elderly folks. Since the US emphasizes youth and individualism, looking after one’s parents isn’t a priority for most people. Hell, it seems that having a relationship with one’s parents isn’t really much of a priority. I found it sad to think of being an elder and spending one’s last days tucked away in a facility, surrounded by unfamiliar faces and without the warmth and comforts of one’s family. More than anything to be made feel like a useless burden towards the end of one’s lifespan.
The future of grandparents
To me, growing into an old person seems like a beautiful thing… I look forward to being an old, eccentric lady that gives no fucks and says it like it is. I hope to be full of interesting stories, knowledge and insights to be passed on to grandkids and relatives. This is the vision I hold because that’s what I’ve been exposed to. I was fortunate enough to spend time with all my four grandparents and each of them influenced me in some way or another. It’s said that the love for grandkids is greater than for one’s own children because there is actually time to form bonds. I think this is definitely the case for my own parents. They have two grandkids now, an 8 yr old and a 12-month, and they spoil the shit out of them. I used to get slightly jealous when Chris (the 8 year old) was younger because it seemed my parents were showing him so much more love than they ever expressed to me!
It’s really cool to see the way my mom helps out my sister with the 12 month baby because I witness the Grandmother Hypothesis right in front of me. I also see it unfold when my only living grandma, Carmelita, helps out my mom around the house with daily chores. She’s been living full time with my parents for over 10 years and my mother has been her main caretaker. There have been plenty of challenging times for my mother, as taking care of senior citizen is no walk in the park. But at the same time, it’s also very rewarding experience. I’ll say this though: it pisses me off that my grandmother has four kids living within the same vicinity and somehow my mother is the one always caring for her. It infuriates me that her own sons and daughters sometimes seem to forget their mother is alive and maybe taking her out once a month would be great. Um, like hello, old people have feelings too. Who the hell wants to feel like a forgotten nuisance? Piece of advice for you: don’t be this type of asshole to the people that brought you into this awesome magical thing we call the world. End rant.
That said, have you thought about the future of your own parents? Will you care for them yourself or put them in nursing care? Or are they taking the initiative of figuring this out themselves? These are loaded questions but I ask because it’s good to start thinking about them now. The baby boomers are aging and currently there aren’t enough resources to accommodate them. These are the kind of issues to take into account when thinking about your aging parents.
How my grandpa Alejandro shaped me
When my paternal gramps was about 90 and had been living with my uncle for a few years, he decided to check himself into a nursing home. WHAAAAAAAAT?! Was the collective reaction of my entire family. We couldn’t fathom the notion of abandoning one of our loved one’s in a nursing home! In retrospect, this was probably a big dramatic overreaction but it seemed unthinkable at the time. The family refused to the idea but my grandpa told us he wasn’t asking, rather telling us what he had decided. And you know what? He was right. He actually needed the medical care provided at such facilities. Once he checked in, he had a stream of constant visitors and was going in and out of the place. Basically, he made the place a hotel rather than a permanent home.
Alejandro Cadena, or Nanito as my siblings affectionately called him, was a huge paternal figure in my life. When my dad was working away in Chi to support the fam, Nanito fulfilled the father figure role. I consider him one of the most important men in my life because he instilled a sense of wonder and curiosity in me. He taught me to be hungry for knowledge and understanding so I could have whatever life I chose. In my eyes, he was part vagabond, part wisdom sage, and part storyteller. I get my free-spirited nature from his influence and because I know he lives vicariously thorough me, I gotta show him the whole world. My first book is about his incredible and adventurous life. Look out for it later this year :)
I urge you to start thinking about the themes discussed in this article and to reach out to your grandparents, if you are lucky enough to have any. I know we live in a busy world and time is precious, but taking the time to maintain a relationship with elderly is awesome. A dope way to make your grandparents feel acknowledged is to listen to their story. Use the sweet app designed by StoryCorps to interview them. Afterwards, you can upload the conversation to the Library of Congress. I plan to interview my momma and grandma.