It’s many years since I first interviewed Councillor Geraldine Rice.
Despite having a young family she was a busy politician in the Castlereagh area going on to be an Alderman in what is now Lisburn and Castlereagh City Council.
At the time I admired her stamina thinking she was an example to other mothers thinking of going back to work.
This week, in an interview in the News Letter, Geraldine, who took up politics in 1989, admits she missed her grandchildren growing up because she was working so hard for her constituents. Like me she found nothing offensive or sexist in DUP MLA Edwin Poots’ comments that our new First Minister Arlene Foster’s most important job has been and will remain that of ``a wife, mother and daughter’’. Geraldine now feels maybe she should have put her family first. Her grandchildren have grown up fast and are now at university. Obviously she would like to see more of them.
Many of us who are now grandparents understand her sentiments. I was a working mother when I first met Geraldine and there was no doubt in my mind then that any woman could achieve a career if they wanted one. Did I put my children second? I’ve no doubt there were times when I had to, forgetting how quickly they would grow up. Did it ever occur to me that one day I might be a grandparent? It did, of course, and just assumed I would have all the time in the world for them. Well, I do have the time but my grandchildren live abroad and it’s just not possible to hop on a plane when I want to see them because visits have to be well planned in advance when the family has holidays or time off.
I can’t be there to help out with babysitting or to take them for days out. I console myself by sending them presents. I worry that birthday and Christmas gifts to them will get lost in the post – it has happened to me twice. So my time as a grandparent is like nothing I imagined. I’ve had to fill my life in other ways and I suppose getting my dog 18 months ago has helped.
It would have been nice to have my children living in this country, within driving distance, next door even. But after university they took off. Isn’t that what I wanted for them? Of course it was but I never imagined it would be this permanent.
I envy my friends who can be grandparents in the proper sense because their children live here. Yet I console myself that I will see them from time to time because two and three generations back when the young decamped out of an impoverished Ireland to find a living in places like America grandparents never saw the little ones except in photographs. There was no Skype then or affordable phone calls.
Clearly, these days, the concept of being grandparents has changed and it does not take into account that maternal longing to see and be part of the offspring of your own offspring.
With more and more young people delaying starting a family until well into their 30s and facing the risks of not being parents at all except through IVF, it means grandparents are getting older facing dashed hopes and dreams of grandparenthood. There is also the possibility a son or daughter will not want to be parents at all preferring a career and lifestyle to match. They weigh up the responsibilities and the costs of being parents and decide it is not for them.
My generation helped create this society but I’m sure we lost the plot somewhere.