Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

First Granny.

I’m seriously coveting Marian Robinson.


Certainly you know who Marian Robinson is, President-Elect Barack Obama’s mother-in-law who he called the “unsung hero” of his campaign, the 71-year-old retired bank secretary who, for years, has picked up Obama’s girls from school and driven them to their extra-curricular activities, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. [1] For the past two years, while Barack and Michelle Obama were campaigning and traveling the country, Marian Robinson was home in Chicago, taking care of 7-year-old Sasha and 10-year-old Malia. “We couldn’t have done it without her,” Barack Obama told 60 Minutes.
Now, word is that Marian Robinson is likely moving to the White House along with the Obama family, after Michelle Obama “begged” [2] her mom to accompany them.


As I listened to Barack and Michelle Obama talk about the First Grandma on 60 Minutes and read the stories about their reportedly comfy family dynamic, I found myself wishing that I had a Marian Robinson too. Then I remembered that column [3] by Lisa Belkin from the New York Times a few years back which suggested that what every working woman really needs is a wife to help her. Since the Big Love kinda life of multiple wives isn’t something most of us will be pursuing any time soon, wouldn’t the next best thing -- aside from finding paid help which costs a small fortune -- be to have a selfless grandparent like Robinson around to give we hyper-busy working parents a hand with our children?


I certainly wouldn’t be nearly as stressed out as I am if I had a retired mother (or mother-in-law) who was ready, willing and able to help cart the kids around to their activities (football, soccer, skating lessons, baseball, after-school programs, birthday parties, playdates), to care for them on school half-days and snow days and to provide an assist with the homework assignments. Just the other day, I was trying tackle various work-related projects of my own, when my 10-year-old daughter had to be picked up from her after-school cooking class, and I had to bring along my 10-year-old and 7-year-old sons. Then all three of my kids had homework assignments which required an adult’s assistance. I also had to make sure that they studied their spelling words. There was a birthday present that needed to be purchased for a last-minute child’s birthday party to which one of my kids had been invited, three pies I promised I’d make for a church fair and my husband was prepping to go away for a few days. I managed to get some of the work done, but dinner was on the table much later than I would’ve liked, homework was still being completed close to 9 p.m., the pies didn’t get made and the present went unpurchased. There are only so many hours in a day.


Imagine how much easier it would’ve been if I could’ve worked all day in my home office -- stopping briefly to pop out into the kitchen and greet the kids when they have their after-school snacks -- and then emerged from my office at dinner time, feeling as though I’d put a solid dent in my workload, confident that my children had been lovingly cared for by a relative (who wasn’t charging me by the hour) who’d taken care of their needs?

While searching the internet for stories about Marian Robinson, I stumbled upon an ABC News article [4] about something the author called “the grandma effect.” “The role of grandmothers, those often underappreciated backup caregivers in so many millions of families, has already been spotlighted by the nation’s incoming first family,” ABC’s Lauren Cox wrote, noting that when Barack Obama’s mother was abandoned by her husband, she had to turn to her own mother, Madelyn Dunham, to help raise her son while she worked.


“In the past few years, researchers have begun to study the ‘grandma effect:’ the unique psychological benefits of having grandparents care for a child when parents can’t,” Cox wrote. “Last week, a study at Johns Hopkins found that children are half as likely to suffer injuries under a grandparent’s care. Other studies have linked grandparents’ care to better grades and fewer behavioral problems . . . In the year 2000, childcare experts discovered an estimated 2.4 million grandparents are taking care of their grandchildren full-time, a 55 percent increase since 1990.”


But the reality is, in a society where many working parents don’t live near their parents’ or grandparents’ homes, there isn’t always a grandmother or grandfather who’s able or available to watch the kids. In my case, my parents both work and live about an hour and a half away. My in-laws, while they’re retired, live 40-plus minutes away and I’m uncomfortable with them driving home after dark. Alas, there’s no Marian Robinson around to help make my dual-career, three-kid household run more smoothly and with less caffeine-driven angst.

Michelle Obama, formerly a high-powered executive at the University of Chicago, could work in the Windy City or campaign across the country, secure in the notion that her girls were thriving in their grandmother’s care. “The sole reason Michelle was willing to campaign at all was because she knows that Mom is there to help take care of the girls,” Craig Robinson, Marian’s son, said at the Democratic National Convention. [5]


Marian Robinson recently told the Associated Press [6] that she wants to keep consistency in her granddaughters’ lives. “I will do whatever Michelle needs simply because I know how important it is for her to see that the children . . . still have discipline and still have things that children do at their disposal,” Robinson said.


Which brings us back to Belkin’s June 2005 column, “What a Working Woman Needs: A Wife.” “Let me take a moment to define my terms,” Belkin wrote. “I use this word to mean the person who keeps the family functioning, who holds the mental lists of who needs new shoes and where the extra laundry detergent is stored, and the timing of the middle school dance (meaning if it hasn’t come up at the dinner table yet, odds are someone is suffering quietly because she wasn’t invited). Wife means the person who raises the scaffolding and secures the ladder rungs, so that everyone in the family can climb.”


So if working moms can’t have a “wife” of their own, as a friend of Michelle Obama’s said, “There’s nothing like Grandma.”

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