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Study: Grandmothers Leave a Legacy


Anne Quéniart and Michèle Charpentier from the Université du Québec à Montréal (Montreal, Canada) talked to 25 female francophone Quebecers about the legacy they wanted to leave to their grandchildren.

Participants came from different social and educational backgrounds, and they ranged from 65 to 98 years of age.

Researchers found the women wanted to transmit a mixture of skills and values to the next generation including:

  • practical skills;
  • life values; and
  • family stories.

The findings appeared online in the Journal of Women & Aging on November 30, 2012.

Legacy of practical skills

Most women spoke about teaching their grandchildren cooking skills, such as baking colourful cookies. They also mentioned helping them to make every-day meals to cook for themselves.

"For me, it’s about food," said one 65-year-old woman. "My grandson climbs up on a chair and beats the cake batter. It flies everywhere, but I don’t say anything."

Others talked about sharing family recipes or transmitting culinary traditions linked to the holidays. How to make Christmas doughnuts, for example.

One participant recalled happy memories of cooking and laughing with her mother and of days with the family at the sugar shack.

The study found some granddaughters wanted to learn how to sew, knit or embroider. Although this was mentioned less often than cooking.

"’V', was the only one who asked me [to teach] her to knit and sew," one 76- year-old woman remarked.

Legacy of life values

In addition to practical skills, women talked about the values that had shaped their lives, such as respect, honesty and integrity. They, in turn, wanted to transmit these values to their grandchildren.

For example, one participant educated her children to "be respectful" in their dealings with others. She urged her daughters to do the same with their children. This notion of respect, which was crucial for many of the women, extended to respect for oneself and one’s physical and psychological integrity.

The women also stressed the importance of perseverance and hard work.

"Honesty, frankness and work: you earn your living by the sweat of your brow. You don’t expect others to do things for you. We’re all workers," one woman said. "We get up and work."

Other women were more focused on transmitting a sense of openness to others so that their grandchildren would become critically engaged as citizens.

"Having an open mind means being interested in what is happening in society, being committed in at least a small way and having at least some critical sense," one 71-year-old woman said. "I tried to develop it in him [grandson] and I think I was pretty successful."

Meanwhile, "Pierrette", 73, urged her granddaughters to get a good education. "I tell them that girls have to be independent. They must not wait for a man or depend on a man like we did."

"Get an education so you can earn a good living," she tells them. "After that you can have children."

Finally, some women said they wanted to transmit their "love of life" to their grandchildren, whether in simple things like laughter or in the form of cherished pastimes like dance, music or a love of reading.

"If you dance, you can’t be angry," observed "Rita" 81. "The music carries you away and you just love life. I still dance."

Legacy of memories

Stories connect us to our roots. So, not surprisingly, several participants recalled happy times spent telling their grandchildren family stories.

As "Denise," 85, explained:

I like to tell stories and they like to listen [my grandchildren]. I remember that my father always liked to tell stories. My father was born at the turn of the century in 1900, so that’s going back a long way, and he would talk to us about his grandfather.

One participant was typing family stories on a computer to leave to her descendents.

Finally, some women tried to keep family memories alive by bequeathing their treasured objects. For instance, one participant had recently given her granddaughter a much-loved watch.

The fate of legacies

Transmission is a two-way street, however. Grandparents may wish to transmit not just cherished items, but also certain tastes and attitudes. Yet, grandchildren accept only parts of the legacy they wish to carry forward.

In the study, this was particularly evident when it came to transmitting faith and values. Some older women who placed great importance on faith and religious values, especially Catholic ones, noted their grandchildren’s lack of interest in religion.

"It’s difficult to interfere when it comes to religion," one 80-year-old woman said. "I was told never to discuss religion with the children."

The last gift

According to researchers, these grandparents viewed the transmission of a legacy as an important task.

Women wanted to:

  • help their grandchildren develop practical skills;
  • foster an appreciation of their family roots; and
  • enable them to define their own futures.

Above all, they wanted to offer subsequent generations personal guidelines and values: "We transmit who we are and what we know," they said.