Two days after giving birth to my first child, a daughter, five years ago, I found myself tearing up on the couch in my New York apartment. There was a decent bit to cry about: severe lack of sleep, a wild rush of hormones, and, not least of all, the fact that I was wearing mesh, hospital-issued underwear. But mostly, as I feebly told my husband when he asked me what was wrong, I thought my mom should come back. There I was, a 32-year-old new mom myself, but I wanted—needed, really—my own mom more than ever.
My mom, Donna, had wanted to give us, the new family of three, precious alone time after dropping us off from the hospital. But it quickly became clear that "alone time" with a newborn is a scam. My mom's help—and her unwaveringly capable presence—was infinitely more precious. At my quivering request, and with my husband's full support, Donna returned the very next weekend—"I thought you'd never ask," she joked—holding and feeding the baby, helping sanitize bottles, straightening up, even picking up middle-of-the-night feedings. When my husband returned to work (cue more tears) not two weeks later, my mom elected to take a week off from her own job to soften the transition.
And soften she did. Like Mary Poppins blowing in on a gust of wind, Donna is known to roll up with a magical bag of goodies and a can-do attitude. A Queens-bred "city girl," my mom lives to get shit done. Fresh laundry, completed in the correct settings known only to her, brings her great satisfaction. Waste baskets with anything at all inside them—never mind that that's what they're intended for—do not. She is an ardent believer in the power of fresh air for adults and children of all ages. She's a hugger, a crier, and an enthusiastic proponent of dance parties: when my brother and I were kids, she'd turn on the record from Broadway's Starlight Express while we pretended to roller-skate around the den. She is that person who is just indispensable to others—not only me and my brother but many of her six siblings, her best friend, and her boss. She was indispensable to her own mother, too, as my grandma grew sick with dementia before passing away in 2011.
In those early, vulnerable days with my newborn daughter, my mom made the mundane—let's give the baby a bath in the sink!—seem like a grand adventure. Her presence righted the ship, telling me, without explicitly saying so, that I could do this. But, as I quickly began to realize, not without her help. It was a revelation that remains true, five years and another child later: becoming a mother forces you to grow up fast, but it also reminds you of the child within you.
I see it all around me: a new generation of ambitious working moms relying on, and relishing, their mothers's help with their own children. Note the presence of doting new grandma Doria Ragland at Meghan, Duchess of Sussex’s, side this week, bonding with Archie at Windsor Castle. It's said that it takes a village to raise a child. For many parents now, myself included, it takes a grandma. Maybe millennials are just babies (as the meme says, I'm, quite literally, baby) or we're just more willing to pipe up and ask for help. Maybe it's the fact that more of us than ever are raising kids in dual-income households, and the relentlessness of it all creates a perfect storm of crazy just begging for a no-nonsense grandma to enter stage left. Generationally, it seems to sync up: whether retired, working fewer hours or stay-at-home moms all along, Grandma (or in my mom's case, Nana) might have some flexibility to pitch in with childcare.
According to the last Census, 30 percent of preschoolers whose mothers work outside the home were cared for by their grandparents. When I returned to work when my daughter was three months old, my mom's desire to be an involved grandmother was so strong, she scaled back her five-day work week to four, offering to watch my daughter on Fridays instead of sending her to daycare (a privilege, we realize, not all grandmas get). As my daughter grew to school age, the tradition continued with my (now toddler) son. Fridays with Nana is a series to rival Tuesdays with Morrie: there are bubbles, donuts, and rigorous drawer-organizing sessions. My mom also watches the kids while my husband and I go on an annual adults-only vacation, and babysits, often with help from her sisters and my aunts, on weekends. (Don't worry, she's not the only one in the rotation). She helps us maintain our sanity, our marriage, and our sense of ourselves. It's a priceless gift that is not easily repaid with a bouquet of tulips on Mother's Day.
Of course, it's far from perfect. Kids can be royal pains and, at times, they—and I—drive my mother up the wall. But I hope and sincerely believe my husband and kids and I aren't the only ones who benefit from the relationship. There is the statistic that grandparents who babysit tend to live longer. (At this rate, Mom, you will live forever) and data shows close grandparent/grandkid ties can reduce depressive symptoms in both. “The more people who love your child, the better,” Cleveland Clinic researcher Vanessa Jensen said of the finding that children who are close to their grandparents benefit from the relationship. I can vouch for this: My 5-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son count down the days to Friday; they shriek with joy upon my mom's arrival and sometimes call her name when they wake up in the morning. I know how my kids feel, as a lifelong fan of my mom—even if, at times, I have to wonder how I will ever live up to her example.
This is another thing about the cycle of motherhood: it makes you think about the mother you have, the mother you will be and how the two compare. As a stay-at-home mom for most of my life, my mom was present for me and my brother in a way that I, as a mom who cares very much about my career, will not quite be. Even now, my mom gives my kids her undivided attention; while mine is often split between them and my next deadline. This week alone, I was five minutes late for my daughter's trash-to-treasure recycled art show (and somehow was one of the last to arrive); my mom would have been five minutes early. I will neither confirm nor deny that my mom has texted me on a particularly cold winter morning, with a flurry of snowmen emojis, to issue a friendly reminder that my kids need to wear hats that day. (I may or may not have replied passive-aggressively.) Yes, even my super-mom is only human... especially when it comes to the body temperature of my children. And she's quick to remind me that she was once a frazzled mom of young kids, too. Looking back at those days dancing to Starlight Express, I see carefree fun; she remembers rainy, stir-crazy afternoons where she threw on the music, just desperate to entertain us.
A mother this good didn't raise a fool: I'm smart enough to know that I can't and won't be Donna 2.0—really, no one could. I hate laundry and am subpar at seasonal wardrobe swapping, but I dance with the kids daily. In the looser ship I run—blame that pesky working mother's guilt—we dart down the block in our pajamas, in the rain, to get ice cream pops. I won't always be home, but before I left for work on Monday night, my daughter got to play dress-up in my golden Met Gala gown. When we woke up that morning, she greeted me with a chipper, "Happy Ball Day!" My mom loved that.
My kids won't have the same mom that I had, but they'll have both me and my mom in their lives, and I think they'll be better for it. A few days before I had my daughter five years ago, on a sentimental and very pregnant night, I wrote the baby I'd yet to meet a note in my iPhone. "I know what a mom's love can mean to a person's life because of my life with my mom," I wrote. "She makes me laugh, she makes me feel safe and cared about, she understands me and knows me fully, she told me I could do anything and because of her encouragement, I always believed I could. I hope I will be the same sort of mom to you, who makes you feel so very loved and always encourages you to be a kind person who chases after your dreams."