Why do we have grandmothers?

my grandma Violet wearing the sailor look

my grandma Violet sporting the sailor look

No, this isn’t a sappy post. To be honest, I never got close to either of my grams. One suffered from dementia and never knew me; the other knew me and, I sense, regretted it. Grandma Violet (“Inga”) was in her 80s when I came around and she convinced herself that I had ADHD. I’ll admit I was more active and much cooler in my gentle years, but I’d like to think that wasn’t enough to give her panic attacks. I read and she’d find it disturbing, likely because she’d note how few pages I had left and that I had no other books in my bag. Likely, however, I was just bored by her small town that didn’t even merit a stoplight. I’d like to think she’d be more nervous of me now and she’d get spend many happy hours scowling at my liberal opinions.

But really, why do we have grandmas? There’s a scientific basis to this question. Most mammals stop living after their reproductive capabilities end. Men can basically create a weak sperm sample well into their anecdotage (the age of rambling–I’m there at 22), but human females live on average 20 years after the end of their menstrual cycles. The only other known female mammals to live that long after menopause are certain killer_whaletypes of whales, such as the orca or the pilot whale. (My mother, a grandmother to a heap of little hell’s angels, is not happy with this fact–she takes it as too much of a comparison, though I certainly don’t imply it.) For humans, studies of early 20th century cannibalistic cultures found that the older women were the most frequently consumed members of a tribe.

In any case, I’m glad we have grandmothers. I’m sure that, if either of my grandmas had known who I was or cared to see me without a lecture at the ready, I would have had great promise as a grandma’s boy.

PS – For some reason, Sharon Osbourne came up as a suggested tag for this post. What can that mean?!

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2 thoughts on “Why do we have grandmothers?

  1. kjrenner

    Wait–human females only live 20 years past menopause? Are you sure? The average age of menopause is 51. I think that you also have to take into consideration animals that live in groups (i.e., chimpanzees) and that share caretaking abilities, no? How many families could not exist today without grandma babysitting?

    Reply
    1. bradjordahl Post author

      The 20 years past menopause statistic is derived from the last full group of women to be grandmothers, and their average age was about 70-75. I know though, that does seem young. Women seem to live forever.

      And chimpanzees do share caretaking abilities, but some are just as likely to eat children in the group.

      Dunno about your last point in re grandma babysitting. I was a latchkey kid and took care of myself from the age of 6 unsupervised. Of course I didn’t really take advantage of the adventurous opportunities that kind of freedom afforded. I think I ran away from home about 5 times as a kid, eager for the open road, but my parents never knew. I returned home before they did after walking a mile to the highway.

      Reply

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