'I was 45 and about to be married when I was told I would be a grandmother'
As 42-year-old Coronation Street star Kym Marsh reveals her daughter is expecting, Lorna Hughes tells Regina Lavelle about the joy of being a younger nan
The Christmas before Lorna Hughes' second marriage, her daughter Sarah, then 25, asked if she could add another guest to the list.
The question puzzled her mother slightly, before Sarah thrust a picture into her hand and said: "I might bring this person."
"I looked at Sarah and looked at the scan, and asked, 'Is this you?'" recalls Lorna.
"And then I realised my little girl is pregnant. Of course, there's a little bit of, 'I hope she'll be okay'.
"And then you think, Mother of Jesus, I'm walking up the aisle and I'm going to be a grandmother.
"I was thinking about my new husband, Martin, and thinking that he didn't sign up to be a grandfather and the slagging he would probably get.
"So, yes I was considering the repercussions," she says.
And so it was that, at 45 and just six months away from her wedding, Lorna, from Carrigaline, Co Cork, discovered she was going to be a grandmother.
At a time when the average first-time mum's age is now 31, being confronted with a young grandmother still gives us pause.
And so it was last week when the Coronation Street actress Kym Marsh, who is just 42, told OK! Magazine of her imminent grandmotherhood, as her 21-year-old daughter, Emilie, is expecting. She said: "I'm looking forward to being a young grandmother. We've both had time to get our heads around it and now we're over the moon."
For parents, the decision to have a child is a matter of deliberation. For grandparents, however, there is rarely a discussion.
Considering that in the collective consciousness, the word 'granny' can bring to mind blue rinses and twinsets, for younger women this is no small matter to digest.
Psychological Society of Ireland chief executive Terri Morrissey explains.
"There's a couple of things when you become a grandmother. There's your own sense of yourself, your identity and your self-worth. Women are defined by roles - mother, sister, daughter, wife, grandmother - so when your role shifts, your identity shifts with it, as does the expectation of society," says Morrissey.
"Biologically, you are now a grandmother whether you like it or not, so you have to work it out for yourself. This is a fascinating area because a whole cohort of women are going to move into this phase in the next few years and reshape grandmotherhood entirely."
And Lorna is certainly among that number. She became a wife to Martin and a grandmother to Jack, now four and a half, in the same year. As well as Sarah, she is also mother to Jamie, 25, and Ella, 11.
She says she has always had to wear different hats with her own children, and this was no different.
"Sarah was 20 when I had Ella, so I've always had to switch mindsets anyway - I always say that I had one on formula and the other one was on Blue WKD!" she laughs.
"I was having adult conversations with Sarah, who was working as a recruitment consultant, having exams conversations with Jamie and then playing hide and seek with Ella.
"As an insight into my mindset at the time, and probably a bit down to vanity, I researched all the different names you could call a grandmother that didn't have the word 'granny' or 'nanny' in it," she says.
"Because all of the children have gone to a gaelscoil, I went with Mhamó and I love that."
One of the corollaries of being a young grandmother is the mother or father being a young parent. However, this did not concern Lorna unduly.
"When she told me, I did think back on myself having Sarah at 19 and I felt that she was just in a much better position than I was," recalls Lorna.
"We didn't have time for much reflection because after she told me we were straight into my hen and my wedding.
"I was focussed on being a bride and being a mother and a grandmother. I am able to compartmentalise who I'm supposed to be and when I'm supposed to be that person."
It's difficult to establish the average age of first-time grandparents get older, as this data is not recorded officially but to their daughters and daughters-in-law, the benefits of a young granny are obvious - a parenting consultancy and nursery rolled into one.
According to 2015 research from TILDA (The Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing), 60pc of grandparents had looked after the grandkids in the past month, with 15pc putting in more than 60 hours. That was certainly the case with Lorna and Martin.
"Sarah and Jack lived with us until he was a few months old and myself and my husband did the night feeds so that Sarah could recover more quickly and I really loved doing that," she says.
However, Lorna says there are boundaries for young grandparents to observe.
"I supported her as much as I could but I had to challenge myself not to interfere. No matter what you're doing, you always feel like you can do it best," she says.
"I needed to let her be a mother in her own way. In general, I'm there as a support and she uses my experience as a mother to help her.
"There's times when she'd say, 'How would you do this?' in relation to a punishment."
Sarah says she has always been close to her mother, but says that having Jack has brought them much closer together. She does admit that she was nervous telling Lorna about the pregnancy.
"I told Mum first, straight after coming from the doctor's appointment," she recalls.
"I said, 'I need a plus-one for the wedding'.
"And I think she thought, 'Great - a boyfriend!' And I said, 'No - a baby!'
"But she's been really supportive, especially living with them until Jack was three months old. She came to all the appointments with me. And I did rely on her for advice a lot.
"She's definitely not your typical granny - people always comment on how young she looks. Nobody believes she's a grandmother."
Lorna says she now loves being a young grandmother.
"It's a joy. It's a joy for me to have him and I'm still young enough to do the fun things. I've booked to take him to the panto. I love all the stages of childhood. I loved him being a teeny-tiny baby and doing the feeds; now I love him because you can have proper conversations with him.
"We still take him quite regularly, so Sarah can have the normal life of a 30-year-old and so that she can achieve what she wants to achieve.
"I am young. I was 50 in October and even at that, my brain hasn't caught up with my body. I'd love loads more grandchildren.
"When I thought of my grandmothers, they were the old dears with the cardigans and the twinsets and the permed hair, but we have evolved."
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