Some of these are questions I can’t answer…

06 Jun Some of these are questions I can’t answer…

First published in the NZ Womans Weekly 14.6.21


A handful of years ago, I was sitting in a hairdresser’s chair when she asked me a question I felt wasn’t mine to answer. We were new to each other but – as is the way of things, I’ve noticed when someone is touching your head – you start telling each other intimate stories quite early in the relationship.

She was pregnant with her first child, and I was delighted for her. She asked if I had children and I said (excited to have an excuse to reach for the photos on my phone), “Not only a daughter, but a granddaughter!”

After the correct amount of “ooh” and “ahh” she asked, “Would you like more grandchildren?” I was stumped by the question, and internally did one of those cartoon-dog bewildered head shakes with a “Whaaat?” sound effect. This seemed like a thing I should not have an opinion on.

I am all for parents planning their families, and I appreciate mums and dads might have a specific dream for one or two or more little darlings, but envisioning myself with a certain number of grandkids was not something that had ever occurred to me. It wasn’t like it was a goal I could work on with planning and effort – this was entirely out of my hands.

“I’ll take whatever I’m given,” I told her – and now, a few years later, I am delighted to have been given two.

We live in a time when we are all supposed to have opinions on everything. Be ready at all times to express our stance on anything from vaccination to the use of te reo, and some general thoughts on cycle ways or veganism, and how to solve the housing crisis.

Partly, it’s the format of social media which doesn’t just deliver news and information, but constantly asks us to respond emotionally to it by clicking a button, or reply in the comments with our personal thoughts. Not entirely new – we’ve long had letters-to-the editor and political polls, and town hall meetings or gatherings around the village pump.

But the more we’ve become able to control things about our lives, the more we’ve been encouraged to have an opinion on how other people plan theirs. Which seems – particularly in relation to the creation of new human beings – possibly not the best approach.

I was thinking about this recently when a friend who is around my daughter’s age told me she is not sure if she wants children at all, and what did I think about that? She knows her parents would love to become grandparents, but she is not convinced that’s the right motivation for having a baby. And like a lot of socially aware young people, she is not certain she wants to bring a new human into a world that is suffering from the effects of climate change and is generally (you know, take a look around) a planet with a lot of problems.

I told her the things I know. That some of the happiest people I know don’t have children, and some of them do – it is possible to live a wonderful life either way. That grandparenting is an extraordinary joy – if you ask me describe my feelings for my mokopuna, I will tell you it is like someone took my heart and gave it arms and legs and let it run around the world marvelling at things. But also, being given that experience is not my call. It is an incredible gift, and I am grateful, but it is not something anyone should explicitly ask for.

Whichever way anyone goes, families are complex and life is messy, and the best thing we can do is embrace it and grab every moment of joy.

A couple of days after that conversation (which ended without any advice being offered except maybe we should both have another glass of wine) I was at our local mall and unexpectedly – “Whaaat?!” – bumped into my granddaughter. She lives in another city, but was there with her father and his new partner who are visiting from Australia.

I had occasionally wondered how I would feel if this happened – to see my grandchild (who I think of so often as belonging to me in a cartoon seagull “Mine, mine, mine!” way) out with another part of her family which I am not so connected to. Would it be weird to see someone who is so much a part of my life busy being part of someone else’s?

It was, in fact, the most wonderful thing that happened to me all week. Huge hugs and squeals from her, and then seeing how happy she was, and so comfortable about belonging to many families. Just like those other moments when our whānau gathers with parents, step-parents, step- and half-siblings (though we don’t bother acknowledging the fractions) and everyone feels they are meant to be there.

Sometimes it is best not to ask for things, and then enjoy whatever happens next.