Friday 22 March 2019

Irish women who, like Cher, say they long for grandchildren

As Cher reveals she wishes she had grandchildren, Arlene Harris speaks to those who feel sidelined without kids in their lives

Cher (©Universal Pictures)
Cher (©Universal Pictures)

Arlene Harris

Throughout her career, global superstar Cher has been hailed, amongst other things, as a singer, actress, author, philanthropist and comedian.

But at 72 years of age, there is one role the mother of two wishes she had the chance to play.

The American icon - whose most recent part is that of a glamorous granny in the upcoming film Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again - regrets not having grandchildren of her own.

"I don't have any grandchildren. I wish I did, I really do," said Cher at the premiere on Monday. "I think grandparents are more fun than parents. I once poured my gran's perfume down the toilet and all she did was laugh and say, 'Oh isn't she adorable, what a funny thing'."

She is not alone in her desire for grandchildren. Once their own children have flown the nest, many parents look forward to the day when their house is filled once again with childish laughter.

One would-be grandmother is Margaret Duffy from Dublin, who completely understands Cher's longing as she also wishes she had grandkids to lavish attention on.

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her daughter to start a family
Guilt trip: In Will & Grace, Grace’s mother Bobbi frequently plays matchmaker to encourage her daughter to start a family

"My eldest daughter made the decision not to have children of her own when she started to achieve success at work," says the 75-year-old. "I was very surprised when she told me first as I had just assumed that she would want to be a mother. Of course I totally respect her choice and am very proud of her, but I would have loved to have had grandchildren to fuss over. I can't see it happening at all now as my younger daughter doesn't have a partner and is in no rush to find one, despite being 37, so I don't have much hope there either.

"Since my husband died two years ago, life can be lonely at times so having a grandchild would be wonderful. But having said that, I will support my daughters no matter what choice they make."

Like Margaret, most parents will respect their child's decision to not become a parent themselves, but Wexford psychologist Peadar Maxwell says, deep down, it can cause upset or disappointment, particularly if grandparents-in-waiting make their feelings known.

"Adult children could rightfully be upset by being nagged or lectured about major life decisions such as having children," he warns. "Many people chose careers over having a family and their parents may experience disappointment watching family and friends becoming grandparents and enjoying special moments. But relationships may become strained if parents become relentless in their questioning for 'any news' and plans about becoming a parent, or simply ignoring their child's right to plan their own life.

"However, I think adult children might deal better with their parents' disappointment if they try to imagine why they feel the way they do - not by taking on guilt or changing their priorities but by simply not dismissing their parents' feelings."

Dealing with this topic can be difficult and many families just avoid the issue by not discussing it. Susan (not her real name), from Galway, says she is desperate for a grandchild but doesn't want her sons to feel any pressure.

Cher: "I don't have any grandchildren. I wish I did, I really do" Photo: Getty Images

"My eldest son and his wife have been trying for a baby for years but they have not been successful," she explains. "They have tried all sorts of treatment and gone from being devastated to accepting the fact that they won't become parents. So if they can come to terms with this, obviously I can't let them know how upset I feel when I see my own friends with their grandkids - so I pretend that it doesn't bother me at all."

The 73-year-old is also mindful of making her younger son feel as though he is a disappointment as she doesn't think he will become a father either.

"My younger son told my husband and I recently that he is gay so there probably isn't much chance there either," she says. "I know these days many gay couples have children but I just can't see it happening. And I am really careful not to let him or his brother know how much I long for a grandchild - it wouldn't be fair to them - so instead of telling them, I keep it to myself and count my blessings for the other great things I have in my life."

But while parents may want to protect their grown-up children from the reality of their disappointment, family therapist Damien McCaul says nothing happens in isolation within a family system, so communication is important.

"I would tend to move towards openness and a willingness to talk about how people feel rather than to keep it suppressed and to act out unconsciously or otherwise," advises McCaul. "It may have a negative impact on the relationship [between parent and grown-up child] to try to hide their feelings.

"Having said that, adjusting their own response and gaining a greater understanding might help in adopting a different approach and coping with how they might feel."

Maxwell says wanting grandchildren is natural and grown-up children should also take time to consider how not having a family might affect their own parents.

"Since most of us probably know instinctively that becoming a grandparent is generally a beautiful and rewarding experience and is traditionally a rite of passage, we may all expect it eventually," he says.

"Caring for grandchildren has been shown to decrease depression and increase life expectancy in several European and American studies. So I think it is okay for people to feel sad that they have no grandchildren, it's not selfish. They are, after all, not experiencing a positive stage of life they may have expected. In fact, someone who knew they wouldn't have grandchildren told me recently that the desire to be a grandparent never goes away.

"So adults who decide to not have children should think about this as they communicate with their parents - but it's not okay for those parents to make their grown-up children feel guilty either.

"Ultimately there are so many great things about life to focus on, including enjoying your child and their partner or even your own siblings' grandchildren."

Irish Independent

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