For many of us, our grandmother is the heart of our family. She can always be found planning gatherings, cooking the main course, comforting you when you’ve had a fight with your mom, and cheering you on no matter what direction life takes you. However, if you’re like me, this constant presence can become a bit commonplace. You take for granted that your grandmother is always there and has always been the way she is, often forgetting that she’s been through a lot of life experiences and learned a great deal along the way.
Grandmothers are a wealth of advice, and in a time of rapid social change and technological growth, there’s a great deal we can learn from asking our grandmothers. After all, they’ve juggled family and work life, found romance (whether it ended happily or not), made lasting friends, and lived to tell the tale about all of it.
Recently, I’ve been talking with my own grandmother and the grandmothers of friends, asking their advice and thoughts on modern life not only for their own granddaughters, but for all young women. While they were widely different in terms of personality and life experience, some common threads emerged through our conversations.
Good friendships are built on honesty.
The grandmothers I spoke with stressed the importance of cultivating quality friendships with other women, placing honesty as the cornerstone of those good friendships. Without honesty, there is no way for anyone to grow. Sometimes, when we’re honest with one another, we hear things from our friends that don’t necessarily make us happy—but their opinions still have great value.
“A good friend is somebody that whether in good or bad times makes you a better person,” said Carol M. “Sometimes it’s hard to take the negative feedback, but if you see that they’re doing, or I’m doing something wrong, maybe not seeing the whole picture, then they help you see that whole picture, whether in work or with your family.”
“I firmly believe that girlfriends are hugely important for the support of a woman,” Kathy F. said. “Girlfriends understand what you’re trying to say, or express how they feel as opposed to suggesting a resolution. They will listen and commiserate, then give their point of view when asked.”
Don’t let technology steal your peace.
We all know there are good and bad aspects to the computer in our pockets, and we recognize the need to use technology well—in theory, anyway. In practice, it’s a little more difficult. Anne E. expressed concern at the fact that her grandchildren are losing the art of conversation, the ability to look someone in the eye. “There has to be a balance [with technology],” she said, “and it takes a bit of strength of character to find that balance, not to be overwhelmed and go to your social media all the time.”
Lisa S. was also concerned about people’s attachment to their phones, and also spoke to the effects of social media on our self-image. Her advice for young women is to look around a bit more rather than at their phones: “Try to notice that the world is beautiful around you, rather than looking at social media. Be grateful for your life. It’s beautiful.”
She noted the tendency we have to compare our lives to those we see online: “Young women are such perfectionists and hard on themselves. They need to be more forgiving and accepting of themselves.”
It doesn’t matter what you do—but do it well.
All of the grandmothers expressed a great deal of pride and admiration for young women in the workforce today. Kathy F. was especially passionate about the progress she has seen through her daughters and granddaughters: “I’m very proud of the young women today, because they are able to pursue jobs of their choice. They’re smart enough to go to school and get the education that they need, then follow it with a job they love.”
Anne E., who has worked for many years in education, had excellent advice on how to do well in the workplace: “When it comes to work, I always want to be an asset wherever I am. Always try to be an asset, then you won’t have to worry about job security or work relationships. Give 100 percent wherever you are, whether cleaning the house or at work. You stick [hard jobs] out and you learn from it.”
Dating and marriage should be built on a foundation of respect.
When asked about dating and marriage, the grandmothers emphasized the importance of respect and a foundation of friendship. Carol M. said of finding the right person: “You need to be looking for someone that respects you. If they don’t respect you, you don’t need them. You need somebody that can be a friend.”
A willingness to sacrifice for one another was also brought up in my interview with Lisa S.: “Whoever you’re dating, make sure they treat you as a pearl of great price. If not, take a look at that. You are beautiful, and if you don’t feel beautiful around that significant other, then you need to take another look. Be willing to sacrifice for the needs of the person you’re dating, and hope that person is willing to sacrifice for you.”
Take life in your own time and make the choices that lead to joy.
Lisa S. and Anne E. both concluded their interviews with a reminder that we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves. Anne E. wanted her granddaughters to know that they have more time than they think: “You don’t need to date everybody. You don’t need to be married by the time you graduate from college or work at a certain job. You have plenty of time to make these decisions and make them carefully.”
“Go easy on yourself rather than being a perfectionist,” said Lisa S. “Everyone is just doing the best they can. Daughters look up to moms that work; it empowers them. Moms should feel good about that. Moms that get to stay home should feel good too, because that’s a privilege. Go easy on yourself and be happy with whatever you’re doing. It’s good to be a woman. Femininity is a strength, not something to be ashamed of. Women have their own dignity that is good and different from men. The main thing I want my granddaughters to know is that they are beautiful, loved, unique, and the world is so lucky to have them. I will continue to impress that on them.”
I learned a great deal from speaking with my own grandmother and my friends’ grandmothers. You, too, can tap into this font of wisdom if you speak with these women in your own lives. Just ask questions, and you’ll be amazed at the responses; there’s a great deal we women have gained in this new, modern world, but there are a few things we’ve lost sight of as well. Our grandmothers can provide powerful insights into those gains and losses.