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An ode to our grandmothers and the many roles they play in our lives

Updated: Nov 25, 2023

A lesson in unconditional love

She sat and listened intently to what my energetic nine-year-old self-had to say. Then when I finished my story, she whooped with laughter. I made her laugh like this so many times. I still to this day, have no idea what was so bloody funny as I was always deadly serious, but seeing the joy on her face, the warmth, the total acceptance of me, I felt empowered and seen. I was wrapped in the kind of emotional intimacy we can spend years searching the planet for.

This was my Nan: Daisy Beatrice Moore.

Grandmother with her granddaughter in a formal portrait
Sian and her nan, Daisy

My nan was the centre of my world when I was a kid. I loved her so much that my dad had to take her home after I had gone to sleep or I would cry buckets, full of drama, and wailing like an industrial strength banshee.

She slept in my single bed with me in our small council house. I would sniff the pillow where her glorious soft grey/white curls had been and sob for eons.

I remember one very wintery lashing rainy day running down to the red phone box near the round shop (yes, I’m that old) push myself into the stinky smoky door and dialling her number, tears splashing as soon as I heard her loving voice. She would put on her mentor cap, calm me down, and gently say “come on now pull yourself together “, and I did!

Grandmothers can be the most patient of all guides

Grandmothers, nanas, grandmas, nonas, whatever you want to call yours, you can guarantee with lots of kids that word comes with a rich visceral and symbolic meaning of so much connection and blind adoration.

If we could bottle “Nana love” and launch it on the New York stock market the shares would go through the roof, recession, depression, pandemic, whatever. But I think we still sometimes underestimate the power of grandparents in our lives.

Grandparents can provide a soft nurturing and loving presence, offering heaps of emotional support and guidance. Their gentle wisdom and colourful life experience can help us navigate challenges and develop resilience.

My nan would often say things to me like “save a bit spend a bit “and “patience is a virtue “. Whenever I struggled with reading, she would quietly keep telling me to practice. With her gentle encouragement behind me, I felt an energy source like a combustion engine being fed regularly into my body, spurring me on. She taught me things that helped me to grasp the need to create balance in my life, which saw me at the age of 26 having saved enough money for a house deposit despite living on the smell of an oily rag.

Grandmothers are the glue that holds the family together

I was pondering on the role Grandmothers played in the family recently. Nanas have the potential to wear so many hats in the family subsystem, don’t they?

They can be that glue that keeps the wider family together, by creating and facilitating family traditions, get together and celebrations.

They often serve as a central figure in family dynamics, fostering close relationships and strengthening family bonds. By creating a sense of belonging and connection, grandmothers I believe contribute to the overall positive humming along of the family vehicle.

I remember one of my friends telling me that she had four female cousins all around the same age as her, and that each one of them truly believed that Nan thought they were her favourite grandchild. Wow! Now that is some skilled manoeuvring powerhouse Grandma!

Grandmas are a repository of tradition and knowledge

Grandmothers often possess a wealth of knowledge about family traditions, cultural practices, recipes, and life lessons. An no one know's this better than the grandkids!

One of the most wonderful trends of our time I think has been to see the growing collaboration between grandmas and their darling grandkids on tiktok of all things!

"Influencer grandma" content are not only engaging and entertaining but helping preserve traditional skills and know-how for time immemorial. I am sure we will look back with time and glad that Gen Z took the time to immortalise their grandmas, who they clearly adore.

Pity these things didn't exist when my nan was teaching me to sing war songs from the 40s, tap dance and cook Welsh cakes ...

Nannas are often our first counsellors

Spending time with grandparents as children and teenagers can create a bridge between different generations, promoting understanding, empathy, and respect.

Grandmothers can pass on values, stories and life perspectives that contribute to the wellbeing of younger family members. They can offer advice on various aspects of life, such as relationships, career choices, and personal growth.

grandmother reading Willow the Wonderer storybook to her grandkid
The Gift of Wisdom

Grandmothers can also serve as role models for their grandchildren, exemplifying qualities like patience, kindness, resilience, and compassion.

By witnessing these traits in action, grandchildren can develop their own positive character traits, contributing to their overall wellbeing.

I certainly felt that my ability to listen well and become very attuned to others as a counsellor came from my days yarning with Nan.

I would sit in my “Three Bears” rocking chair in my orange flowered dressing gown, eating toast with marmite, cut into squares (with the crusts cut off of course) as we nutted out life the universe and everything in between.

Many granparents are also raising their grandchildren

I often come across children in my work as a counsellor who have been placed with grandmothers due to parents being mentally unwell and suffering substance abuse disorders. Their grandmother can be a safe and nurturing haven for the child to be placed, especially when foster care can be difficult to find and often unsuitable.

Kinship care particularly in our Indigenous families is very much a part of healing for children needing the stability of culture and the creation of self -identity. By sharing this knowledge and being family carers for their grandchildren, grandmothers contribute to their cultural and personal development, fostering a sense of belonging and wellbeing. It can only stand them in good stead for the future.

Traditional caregiving role is becoming challenging in a global world

In many cultures, grandmothers are also actively involved in caregiving responsibilities. They may provide childcare, pick up grandchildren from school, or help with household chores. By easing the burden on parents, grandmothers can really impact the wellbeing of both children and their exhausted parents. This can in-turn mean that parents are better equipped to be “present “with their kids on their leisure time. It’s a win-win really, isn’t it?

This is why I believe we once lived so well in tribes and close communities; the sharing of child rearing was beneficial to everyone's wellbeing.

This is something that I find is beginning to dissolve in Australian culture as we become more of a global community. We tend to have family spread out not just across our vast country but across the world.

I also experienced this when my family migrated to Australia. I was 15 years old at the time and it was a big change. Regular contact to nana was simply not possible, although I did my best to keep the connection alive.

For many years, I'd send regular “aerograms” about my daily struggles and what my life was like as a Welsh girl from Cardiff living now in what I deemed pompously “a cultural desert” (well it was Adelaide in the 80s LOL). I never received any replies but that never seemed to bother me. She had already been such a pivotal part of my childhood wellbeing and had done enough to fuel my engine enough for a million future developmental stages and life obstacles. But the intimacy that we once enjoyed did lessen with the distance and yes, time...

It saddens me today to see once intimate connections that we had in extended family units loosen and on the back of it, a growing number of older people living in nursing homes with few visitors. I love that in traditional families like Japan and China, older people are still seen as incredibly important, and their wisdom and guidance is revered.

I hope that we can find ways to reconnect more regularly with our grandparents and give back to them some of the nourishment they afforded us in our primary years. In my view the more we include them, the richer their twilight years will be and the longer they will be around.

I wish that I had realised all this when my nan was still alive.

My one regret

It wasn’t until years later that I found out why Nan never wrote back to me. One of her friends wrote a letter on her behalf to say thank you for my letters and that she had been unable to write due to her shaky hands and arthritis. Bless her soul. I cried again.

Later in life I started having recurring dreams about my grandmother: Dad would tell me that she has died so there was no point in him taking me to see her. Later I would find out she was still alive but unwell. In another dream I'd be dialing her number on an old green dialler phone, and keep pressing the wrong numbers...

It doesn’t take Freud to work this one out…lots of guilt over feeling I had neglected her and had spent too many years away from her.

I only saw my nan one more time; I was 23 and had returned to Wales for the first time for a holiday. She had deteriorated a lot by then and was now living with my aunt. When I said goodbye to her, she was the one who cried buckets this time; I think she knew it would be the last time we’d see each other.

A final message from nan

Nan had given me a nuanced texture and depth to my childhood days that only a grandparent is capable of providing and she did it effortlessly. I love her dearly still.

A few years after she had passed on, one of my aunt's went to see a clairvoyant who told her that, "Your mother’s spirit is with someone called Sian."

I am not superstitious by any measure but I have always loved this thought and like to believe it, in my way, to this day: We may have been parted for eternity, but the emotional connection we forged, is going to last forever.


About Sian

Sian is a registered therapeutic counsellor with over a decade of experience in the field. She runs a private practice in Nerang, Queensland, catering for young and older people, and also counsels teenagers and their parents at local high schools.

To find out more please visit her website.


Wise As Stories is an independent publisher creating beautiful stories that plant seeds of wisdom and knowledge. Our bestselling picture book series Willow the Wonderer is available online and at select local book and gift stores.

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