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Becoming a grandparent is typically embraced by society as a joyous event filled with all the love and much less of the responsibility that comes with parenthood. However, in reality, the identity shifts that occur when parents become grandparents are complicated, with a mix of highs and lows. And with this so rarely discussed, new grandparents (and new parents) can feel blindsided and struggle to know how to navigate the complexities of this transition.

Joining me today to have a full and honest conversation about what it means to become a grandparent, from both a personal and a clinical level, is Licensed Mental Health Counselor and grandmother of 2, Carol Merle- Fishman.

This episode is an ideal listen for both parents and grandparents — tackling generational differences, how to understand each other’s perspectives, and strategies for approaching complicated family dynamics with a deeper sense of compassion and empathy.


Carol (00:00):

There can be this sense of ownership with this baby also, this baby is part of me. And so when that connection can’t be honored, because there may also be very healthy boundaries, like we need to be alone now, we need to bond with this baby. And that can be very challenging.

Dr. Sarah (00:24):

The transition to becoming a grandparent can be wonderful, but the reality is that the identity shift that occurs when a woman goes from a mother to a grandmother is often profound and complicated, filled with both highs and lows, the full scope of which just doesn’t get talked about often enough. Joining me today in an effort to change that is mother and grandmother Carol Merle-Fishman, along with bringing her own personal experience to the table. Carol is also a certified international integrative psychotherapist. She’s licensed in creative arts therapy and mental health counseling. She has a particular interest in women’s issues such as postpartum adjustment and other lifespan concerns unique to women, which she addresses in her private practice in Cortland Manor, New York. From complicated family dynamics to the potential reemergence of unprocessed triggers, much like postpartum in new parenthood, early grandparenthood is a period of great change. This episode is an ideal listen for both parents and grandparents to help you find some common ground and start to build upon your ability to understand things from each other’s perspectives and build this beautiful generational love and connection.


Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.


Hello everyone. Today we have a very special guest. This is a close colleague of mine, Carol Merle-Fishman. She’s a licensed mental health counselor. She is a creative arts therapist. She is also a grandmother and a mother. And here to share some really insightful thoughts on the whole role of grandparenting because I think there’s there a lot that gets overlooked in the role of the grandparent and all of the pressure and transition and identity shifts that occur for the grandparent as well. So Carol, thank you so much for being here.

Carol (02:54):

Oh, thank you so much. It’s a delight and a pleasure.

Dr. Sarah (02:58):

So do you want to share with people a little bit about the work that you do and how you started working with grandparents in this way? Was it by chance? Was it something you sought out? Did it fall into your repertoire?

Carol (03:15):

Yeah, I would say that it has very much fallen into my repertoire as my client population has also gotten older. Of course, I was hearing about in-laws or mothers and parents and in-laws while I was working with postpartum couples and families. And so how the mother or the mother-in-law, the parents interact was always a part of the story. But then as I got older and as my friends got older and were becoming grandparents, the stories were starting to just kind of fall into my lap, as you said, literally presenting themselves in front of me, which was quite fascinating as the next phase, I mean, I’ve always been interested in the different phases for women over the lifespan. And so this really seems to be not much investigated or studied at this point. And when I started to look for literature on grandmothers in particular, from the women’s perspective, a lot of what’s written is very fluffy.


It’s about, oh, it’s so great to be a grandmother, or these are the challenges of being a grandmother, how to be a good grandmother, or did you know that grandparenting is good for your health? So a lot of it was this very positive spin, and I think in many ways was a parallel to what very, very early literature was about becoming a mother, that there was always this very positive spin and oh, it’s a great day, you have your new baby, and that it’s taken a good number of decades for the realities of parenting and postpartum to come into play. So I found really just a few books and they were pretty dissatisfying with what I was able to find in them. One good book that’s come across my desk is Nanaville by Anna Quindlen, which I found to be one of the more honest recounts of what it’s like to become a grandmother.

Dr. Sarah (05:31):

Oh, that’s so interesting. And it makes so much sense because I feel like, yeah, that’s a really interesting point. That parallel between how we sort of rose colored tint maternal life as think as a society, we’re getting much better at holding that nuance, holding that truth of, it’s all kinds of things. It’s not just wonderful happy paint, this rosy picture of parenthood. And I think as someone who came into parenthood within the last five, six years versus someone who did many decades ago who may be experiencing grandparenthood now, they know that that messaging took a long time. And even now, it’s not ubiquitous. It’s not everywhere. There are plenty of people who get that messaging, why aren’t you happy about this? Why isn’t this so easy? It should be wonderful. Look at the bright side and with perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, and even just baby blues and just, there’s so many things that are nuanced about transitioning into parenthood. So it’s a very interesting parallel that the grandparents who may be making that transition into grand par parenthood now might be finding parallels that they experience when they themselves were parents.

Carol (07:04):

Correct. And one other thing that’s occurring to me while we’re talking right now is the different cultural layers also around expectations of being a grandparent. And so I’ve learned this from some of my clients. For example, I have a client who is of Hispanic origin and where she comes from, the grandparents or the grandmother actually is expected to raise the child. And so there has been a lot of conflict in the family because of course now they are in America and they’re raising their children as American children, even though this is her cultural background and the grandmother is on and off the scene. But there’s been a tremendous amount of conflict because the grandmother culturally sees and has known her place to be, it’s my responsibility to raise the children while the parents go off to work. And this has raised a lot of tension. So I think that since we have so many cultures now in the United States blending that there also has to be a sensitivity about what has happened in the family or where the different people are coming from and what their expectations are. 

Dr. Sarah (08:24):

That’s so interesting. Yeah, I think there’s a lot of perhaps mourning a loss of a fantasy when you become a grandparent regardless of what informs that fantasy, whether it’s cultural or personal or your family history. But yeah, I imagine for many grandparents, it’s not exactly what they imagined it was going to be like. Yes, for better or for worse sometimes.

Carol (08:51):

Yeah, correct. And there can be all kinds of fantasies. For example, have you only had boys as a parent, but longed for a girl and now your daughter or your daughter-in-law now has the first girl, and what is that like? Or vice versa if there have only been girls, but actually there was a secret wish for a boy and now there’s a boy. Or if there were problems with infertility or if the child was adopted and the adopted child now has a baby, and what is that like for the grandmother in particular who was unable to bear her own birth children? And so there are so many layers that can come out, and I think if people are not in a situation where they have the opportunity to bring that forth and talk about it, it could be such a hidden layer then in what’s happening in the family dynamics.

Dr. Sarah (09:53):

And I imagine not only could it be something that they perhaps are aware of consciously and feel, oh, I can’t bring this up, but I imagine there’s even certainly cases where they don’t even have that conscious narrative around it. They just have a feeling or it’s a certain anxiety or dis-ease or avoidance or irritation. Who knows how it could manifest. But if yourself as a grandparent maybe have some unconscious fantasy that you have to deal with in reality and you’re not aware of it, to not have support around putting that into language conscious language would be so profoundly helpful.

Carol (10:41):

Absolutely. I couldn’t agree more. And if women, and I’m speaking specifically about women here, but I do believe that it is a transgender issue because as we know, many male married couples have children now. And so it’s a separate story, but there are lots of issues there also. But people are not in a situation where there is an attuned therapist or a friend who might hear this and then be able to help that person bring it forth. Then it does remain undercover. And as we know as clinicians, it could be deeply affecting what’s going on for generations, but nobody will understand that.

Dr. Sarah (11:25):

Yeah. And this is, I think a very beautiful and illustrated of example of intergenerational transmission, of trauma, of parenting styles, of beliefs, of stories around the family history. Like this stuff isn’t probably just grandmother to daughter. It’s probably goes back further for the grandparent we’re discussing. We’re imagining her own mother and her own grandmother. And this goes back, we’ve all carrying generations of stuff.

Carol (12:00):

Yes, yes, yes, exactly. And it’s so interesting because when it comes to birth and postpartum stories, it has seemed like somehow the story ends at grandparents. There isn’t that kind of investigation. We can talk about intergenerational racial issues or the intergenerational impact of being a Holocaust family or all of those things. But again, this intergenerational view of postpartum has really been missing.

Dr. Sarah (12:37):

And I imagine in your treatment, I know you work with a lot of people who experience perinatal mood and anxiety disorders or who have challenges in the postpartum period. And also I imagine there’s a lot of postpartum stuff that can be either a consciously brought to the forefront when people become grandparents, but maybe also might be unaware. Can you have a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder as a grandparent?

Carol (13:09):

I think so. I’m going to go out on a limb a little bit and say I think so because there may be unspoken losses that come forward or those unspoken fantasies that have never been realized. If, for example, there have only been girls in the family and they’re really hoping that there’s going to be a grandson, and then there could be multiple granddaughters and still not a grandson that for whatever reason, that could bring forth some kind of a depression. I don’t know. I mean, it’s interesting to try and frame it as postpartum, but that it is definitely a reaction. Or if there’s multiple pregnancy losses, there can also be a lot of pressure on couples who are trying to conceive and have a baby from grandparents. And then the couple are trying to fulfill the fantasies of the grandparent, their own fantasies, the fantasy of the grandparent.


But then what also happens to the grandparent with those multiple pregnancy losses or inability to conceive, or if their children decide that they’re never going to have children, they don’t want to have children. And so then is there a depression about that, which can also mirror having a pregnancy loss, not being able to have a child. And so for a grandparent, well, not having grandchildren. And so I also see that, I also see in some of my older clients that they have to cope with the decision of their children. They don’t want to have kids. And then this sense of I’ll never have a grandchild that feels like a loss, that feels like a real loss because that seems to be that’s the way life is supposed to be. You have your kids, they find a partner, and then they’re going to give you grandchildren, and then God willing, if you’re around long enough, you’re even going to see your great-grandchildren.


Right. So yeah, I think if we look at it in that way, I don’t know about calling it postpartum because postpartum involves so much about actually giving birth or hormones or hormonal changes, but that there’s definitely loss. There can definitely be loss, and there can also be loss when there isn’t access to grandchildren. And that’s a story that I’ve heard also, which is the grandparents are told to stay away, or the grandparents are told you can’t come visit for the first month because there’s a very conservative pediatrician, or there are other health concerns or whatever, or that there’s one set of grandparents that has more access than the other set. And so all of these layers of potential grief, anxiety, loss, depression, and so on.

Dr. Sarah (16:15):

Yeah, it’s so interesting because when I talk so much with new parents and thinking about how to communicate boundaries and talk about how to identify what feels okay to you and to share that with the people surrounding you in a way that they can hear, and sometimes it does mean saying, we need this space or we need this boundary, or this is how we’re going to do it, and we’re not going to do it this way. And while I’m an advocate for that, I think it’s important to recognize that the person receiving that’s going to have feelings about it and it’s real, it’s not in their head.

Carol (17:00):

Those feelings are very real because we have to remember that if these are all natural births or from, what am I trying to say here? Genetically connected births, that the grandparent holds some of those genes. And so it can be this sense of ownership with this baby also, this baby is part of me and genetically that baby is part of the grandparents and part of the grandmother. And so I think that that gets activated, this sense of connection on a very, very primal level. And I remember looking at this photograph of one of my very, very close friends who became a grandparent before I did, and she sent a photograph of her and her husband holding their granddaughter within hours after she had been born. And the two of them just gazing, gazing at this with such intensity and such adoration. And it was so moving to me to see that they were feeling that genetic connection already.


And so when that connection can’t be honored because there may also be very healthy boundaries, we need to be alone now. We need to bond with this baby, and that can be very challenging. That’s a very, very challenging moment. And then I remember holding my own granddaughter, and now there’s a picture of that I think my husband took of me holding my granddaughter with that same look. And then I remember that evening and I was with my daughter when my granddaughter was born, and she was delivered by the same midwife that delivered her. Wow. So we also had the same midwife. So it was a very powerful experience, but I remember that evening when I had to leave her in the hospital and this kind of wrenching a way of having to leave both of them. Then it wasn’t just leaving my daughter who was kind of teary and a little overwhelmed, but also leaving this little tiny baby that I felt so connected to now, and I had to get in my car and drive back to Westchester. And those are profound physical sensations because this baby is yours, but it’s also not yours. It’s somebody else’s. Right.

Dr. Sarah (19:56):

I imagine it and it kicks up, like you said, obviously your own feelings about your daughter and wanting to take care of her in this time when she’s so vulnerable, which is such a natural biological drive. But there’s also this other drive of being near your grandchild, which is also a natural biological drive. And then this reality that it’s not the same thing as being the parent to your child or to your grand. There is a difference. And I think I could see that being very jarring, very potentially quite surreal, almost like a Yeah, I definitely can understand that. And how do grandparents, I’m curious. I mean, I know you do this work, you work with people who are processing these complicated feelings of both wanting to also, I think there’s this other pressure that is an appropriate pressure of I want to be careful. I want to be the grandparent that my kid wants to have come help. And so how do I do it in a way that gets the gains, the trust, and gets the invite to continue to participate in this relationship? So there’s also, I imagine, and I don’t know that that’s always fair, the pressure that grandparents may be put on themselves to be the perfect grandparent, right? Yeah. That’s got to be hard to live up to and maybe very anxiety provoking, one misstep, and I could be no longer have access to this child. I imagine that’s very anxiety provoking. How do you work with grandparents who are trying to navigate all of these feelings? What does that work look like?

Carol (21:52):

Oh, I think it’s a lot of listening. All of the work that we do, a lot of listening. I think that with grandparents also, I need to hear, or with grandmothers, I need to hear at some point their postpartum story because then I really need to be able to uncover is there loss? Is there grief? Is there an unresolved PMAD in their history? And especially in the time where we are now, many women weren’t diagnosed properly in the past 20 or 30 years ago. There weren’t resources, there wasn’t the same kind of medication, there wasn’t the same kind of support. So as they are trying to navigate right now with their grandchildren, as I’m getting a sense of that, at some point I’m going to ask them, tell me about your own children. Tell me about your own births. What was that like? What was the aftermath like? And what kind of support were you receiving? And then was their conflict at that point with parents with in-laws? And is that somehow being, was that unresolved? Is that somehow being recapitulated in this time? And so that’s always an important layer and sometimes women are really surprised of, I never thought about that, or I never thought that there was a connection, or nobody really has asked me about what it was like for me with my kids.

Dr. Sarah (23:25):

Yeah. And I mean, you shared a case study with me that you presented at a conference, and I think I’m curious if you’d want to talk at all about that, because I think it’s a beautiful illustration of how there are these sort of generational layers to this process of becoming a grandparent.

Carol (23:49):

Yeah, sure. Absolutely. And so what was really fascinating about working with this woman who I’ll call for these purposes, Sonya, what was really fascinating about working with her is that she had had a significant postpartum. Now I would understand it as severe anxiety. I mean, at the time, which was probably like 37, 38 years ago, was more considered postpartum depression because that was the terminology that was used. But she was in such a heightened state of anxiety, and it was so unexpected as we know that it is for so many women, it’s just pulled the rug out from under her. She was very well accomplished, well educated, smart, savvy out in the world, and had this baby that just brought her to her knees, which is a story that we know is very familiar, but there wasn’t the support and as we know it now, and even though she was in therapy and had a wonderful therapist, which she remembers as a wonderful therapist at the time, and even that therapist having children, just didn’t understand what it was that she needed around caring for this infant. And that became somewhat resolved for her, or I would more say in retrospect, really kind of went deep under the covers because about three years later, she had another child and everything was fine. She did not plummet into that same kind of anxiety.


Then when her daughter gave birth again, she was incredibly excited and very excited, very excited, particularly since her daughter had had some infertility issues. And so they were waiting on IVF and having a successful IVF, there had been an unsuccessful IVF. So I mean, there was a lot of anticipation and tension around this pregnancy and so on. And then the baby arrived, and I’m not so sure that the gender really mattered as much, but it was the same gender as her first child when she had had the same anxiety. And her daughter, about 48 hours after delivery began to feel extremely anxious.


And all of a sudden, Sonya was just incredibly triggered. She was triggered as you were saying, not only the layers of the trigger because she was being triggered by her daughter’s anxiety, but she actually was being triggered by the baby and having this crying baby who nobody really knew yet, and having to get to know the baby and having to respond to the baby. So because her daughter was having difficulty, she right away agreed to do overnights with her daughter. And during those overnights, her anxiety got worse and worse and worse and worse to the point that she was physically shaking throughout her entire body and realized that she was in trouble.


And so she actually needed to go back into aspects of what it had been like with her first child and that anxiety to understand how much of it had not been resolved and how much of it she had not really been able to give a voice to and how misunderstood she had felt. And the other significant piece of this, and this is because babies most of the time are born to couples, her husband both times had just been overcome with joy was just he was in the bliss land that we hope that parents are going to be in. He was just in bliss. And then when their grandchild was born, he was the same way. He was just over the hill in bliss over the moon. And so Sonya once again felt completely abandoned and misunderstood, but now also she had a double task, which was to take care of her daughter and the grandbaby actually a triple test. And now to find a way to take care of herself,

Dr. Sarah (28:43):

Which is probably a new layer that wasn’t appropriately attended to in her like when she became a mother.

Carol (28:54):

But we were able to put all of this together with that. Now she understands that she had an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, which actually predated the birth of her first child and then was exacerbated postpartum. And she was able to revisit and understand the ways that she had felt abandoned. And because she was such a well and is such a well grounded person, she was able to do that work and came to the conclusion that she needed to write a letter to her postpartum self from her 65 year old self to her 29 year old self, to write her a letter of compassion, of understanding all that. She didn’t have everything that people didn’t understand and so on and so forth. And the writing of the letter in and of itself was extremely healing. I never saw the letter. She felt that the letter was very private.


It was between herself and herself or her older self and her younger self, and it wasn’t even necessary for anybody else to see it. And then she just released the letter. Actually, I can’t remember whether she burned it or she threw it away or whatever it was. It was gone because that’s what that 29 year old woman needed. She needed just the real pure understanding of, this is so difficult, we are with you, and this will pass. And that’s what became really significant in her being with her daughter of that her daughter’s anxiety of, is this going to be this way forever? Because that’s how it could feel when you have a new baby and you’re having a PMAD of some kind, is that this is the rest of your life. It’s never going to end. And her daughter found a therapist. Her daughter found a postpartum therapist who told her that she would really only see her for three to six months.


And when I heard that, I was kind of shocked because I was like, wait a minute. She may need much more than three to six months. But this postpartum therapist was so confident that we’ll address this and you won’t need to see me. And that in and of itself was so comforting to this woman. And she got on medication and she had support about how to continue to breastfeed with the medication and so on and so forth. And so when Sonya realized within that first month what was happening to her and then was able to really take a deep dive into her therapy work, then she was able to be there for her daughter. And then she was able to say to her daughter, you’re going to get through this. And was even, I was so poignant when she was talking about how she had to leave her daughter crying, tearfully, is this ever going to end?


And that she was able to say, yes, sweetie, this is going to end. You’re going to get through this. And she was able to walk out the door and go home, which was huge because then there is that point at which our daughters and our sons and their wives, they do have to find their own way at some point, and we have to give them room to do that. It’s not easy becoming a new parent even when everything is okay. And I think that that was also so significant about Sonya’s story is that she realized I would have had this anxiety reaction whether or not my daughter had been anxious. She said, because it really wasn’t so much about her, it was about caring for a newborn. Here I was with another newborn.

Dr. Sarah (33:01):

Right. It’s interesting because we were saying, can grandparents have PMADs? And perhaps maybe we wouldn’t necessarily classify it as a postpartum mood anxiety disorder because they’re not exactly postpartum. But what it sounds like you’re describing with Sonya is parts of her sort of stored PMAD reemerged in the face of becoming a grandparent. So this unhealed anxiety, this unhealed part of her that wasn’t really able to process that in the postpartum, those fears and the feelings that she was having and the conflict she was having in that postpartum time, and she had just kind of figured out how to get through it by sort of like you said, kind of pushing it down, that when the grandbaby emerged, so did that same feeling and that fear and all that stuff, it was all still there. And so I think you could argue that that is in fact an unprocessed postpartum anxiety that needed to get processed. She just processed it decades after she originally developed it.

Carol (34:19):

Correct. Maybe we need to call it a G-PMAD. We need to put a G in front of it, a G-PMAD. And I had also a similar reaction to my daughter, more to my daughter, when my granddaughter was born that I was feeding her and I was doing laundry and I wanted to clean the house, and I was making myself present in all of these ways. I wanted to make sure that she was taken care of in ways that I had not felt taken care of when I had her, that I felt like some of my very basic needs, would somebody please bring me food? Would somebody please do my laundry? Would somebody do all of that? And as I was describing all of that too, my very, very wise therapist, she stopped and she looked at me and she said, you have to stop doing all of that.


You need to stop and you need to bond with that baby. And she said, your daughter needs to see you bond with her baby. She needs to see you fall in love with her baby. That’s very important to her. In fact, it’s probably more important to right now than whether her laundry is done. And that really stopped me in my tracks because then I realized, yeah, it’s like when our children have their babies, it’s their it. They have now delivered this prize, this their beloved, I don’t really want to call it a prize, but this beloved possession that they’re, they are now in love with and they need us to fall in love with that baby also.

Dr. Sarah (36:09):

Right. Because it’s so interesting because what I’m so struck by that is like, okay, yes, when your child has a baby, you become a grandparent. And there’s all kinds of new things that emerge with that identity as a grandparent and that role as a grandparent, and it is super complicated, but you’re still the mother to your child. That doesn’t change. And so you also have these parallel drives and also parallel responsibilities to continue to support your child and mother them to be able to say, this is how we do it. And not in a, this is how I do it, so this is how you should do it kind of way. Because like you said, it’s our job to separate and individuate throughout their whole lives. Whether we’re talking about your little child learning how to tie their shoes, if you always tie their shoes for them, they’re not going to learn how to tie it.


We don’t want to over accommodate and care for them and never let them kind of figure it out on their own. But also, when you’re a brand new mother and you’ve never done this before, and your mother can sort of show you, you’ve got this, this is how I did it, this is how it’s done. We can do this, you can do this. And whether it’s explicit helping them do things or it’s just embodying that sense of confidence, you can handle this. This is hard and you can do it, and this is what it feels like. And that in modeling that, bonding with the baby and modeling that, taking care of yourself and taking care of some of the household stuff, that just feels overwhelming to say, there’s too much, let me take some off your plate. But also being able to just continue to, you now have so many rules. It’s not just, oh, now you’re a grandparent. It’s like you’re still a mother and it’s a big job to mother, a mother.

Carol (38:12):

It is a big job to mother, a mother. It is. And in Sonya’s case, it was mothering the mother and then also having to backtrack and find a way to mother herself, but also with the supportive therapy. That’s not that helpful.

Dr. Sarah (38:29):

Cause it’s hard to do it all on your own.

Carol (38:32):

And I think that part of her having talk to her younger self was more powerful than anything a therapist could have done. But to have the support to do that and to be able to put it in context is really important. Yeah. And then as a grandmother also, we have to be able to tolerate criticism. And that is a whole other layer also, when you have these kids or these grandkids that you love, and everybody wants to be a good grandmother. Everybody wants to be a good grandmother. As much as everybody wants to be a good mother, we want to get it right. But now there really is really being open to the possibility of criticism. And I remember this time that I was juggling my granddaughter on my hip doing the thing of the one-handed thing, and actually my daughter, and they were in between houses, so they were staying with us for a while, and I was juggling my granddaughter on my hip.


I was trying to make my morning smoothie. I was dunking the stuff into the blender to make my smoothie, and my granddaughter was on my hip, and she was at that age seven or eight months, she’s grabbing things. And I had my spoon with that, had the yogurt on it. And so I gave her the spoon spoon with some yogurt on it, and she started licking the spoon. And then she had yogurt all over her face. And my son-in-law came downstairs and walked into the kitchen, and he saw her with all of this stuff all over his face. And he said to me, what is all over her face? And I said, yogurt. And he turned around and he stormed out of the room. I don’t know what I had done wrong. Anyway, I had to go to work handed over the baby, took my smoothie with me and proceeded to get this litany of texts from my daughter that we don’t give the baby this, and you know that we don’t give her yogurt, and you should know, da, da, da, da.


And you, of all people working with postpartum mothers should know not to do anything that we don’t want you to do. Yeah. Oh, I’ve sent my mom those texts. I know what we’re talking about. And so I was kind of like, okay, it was a spoon with the remnants of yogurt, but I, I’m just going to take a breath here. And I think I wrote back something like, I’m sorry. I understand it won’t ever happen again. And that was one part of me. And the other part of me was, it was just a spoon with a little bit of yogurt on it. But we have to hold that. We have to be ready and prepared to hold that because this is not our child, even though genetically it is partly our child.

Dr. Sarah (41:50):

And it’s funny because I say that being, I have definitely sent my mom, who for the record, is an amazing grandmother who I feel very lucky that I can just say, you be there for them. I’m going to go do this thing. I trust her so much, but I’ve also hyper criticized the littlest things that she does, in part because she’s my mom. And I just feel so unbounded, I guess, in my ability to give her raw feedback.

Carol (42:23):


Dr. Sarah (42:24):

And it’s hard. I think definitely have had to learn how to say things with more compassion and more like, Hey, you know what? I actually don’t think you were trying to do something that I perceived as obviously not what I would want.

Carol (42:40):


Dr. Sarah (42:41):

And I think my mom has learned ways to hold what I need in a moment as what I might need in that moment versus Yes, not critical of her in the sense of who she is as a grandparent. It’s complicated. It’s really complicated.

Carol (43:01):

Yeah, it is. It’s really complicated. And I really think that those days have passed now because I think we earn our cred as a grandparent, just like with everything else. And there have been those times where I’ll leave with my grandchildren now they’re seven and five, seven and a half, and five. So I think I’ve earned my keep in all of this. But where my daughter would say, be careful. Make sure you have your eye on them all the time. Make sure those car seats. And I’m like, I know. And I’ll say, I know, and I know how important it is for you to say that out loud. It’s almost like even a little superstitious, like the need to say that out loud. Yeah. Be careful. Make sure you hold their hands. Right. But I also know in my heart that they’re probably, other than their father and the other grandparents, that there’s nobody else in the world that would be trusted as much as I am, and my husband is. So, but we earn that. I mean, we definitely, definitely earn that, and we earn that also by being there, this balance of being there and giving space, being there and giving space. It’s a real dance and an interplay.

Dr. Sarah (44:33):

That’s really important, I think, to recognize that. I think. Yeah. And I almost feel like the being there and the giving space is that dance between, I’m moving into my grandparent role and I’m also moving into my parent role, maybe as the grandparent role it is to help and be there and want to be there. And as the parent role understanding, I need to support my child’s autonomy in being a parent and show them this trust that they can do this by giving them space and respecting that they’re going to do it their way. And it doesn’t need to be my way. And I think that when I think about the work that I do with parents of young kids, of when you’re raising a child and you’re working on your attachment relationship with them, and you’re building this really safe relationship, a lot of the mindset is perhaps getting out of a mindset of It’s my job to mold you and teach and craft you into this human being that I want. And imagine you need to be, but recognizing you’re already exactly who you are. And it’s my job to be curious and get to know you and allow you the safety to show me exactly who you already are. And if we go into parenthood with that mentality of, my job is not to create a child and turn them into an adult, my job is to walk next to this person.

Carol (46:11):


Dr. Sarah (46:13):

And in grandparenthood, that job is a part of that still.

Carol (46:19):

Yeah. Yeah, it is. And that walking by them and watching their process unfold, it’s so amazing and it’s so poignant. And I remember after my granddaughter’s baby naming, which is the Jewish Ceremony, sort of equivalent to a bris for a girl in the Jewish tradition. And so after the ceremony, and we were in this big room and people were eating and everything, and I remember sitting back and overhearing my daughter, recounting her labor to her friends, and then this happened, and then I was in the cab and I was screaming my head off in pain. And then we had been there with her through most of her labor, and I remember sitting back and thinking to myself, and so her story begins, and it was such a fun move to tears right now, also because it was such a poignant moment there she was with her friends telling all of them about her experience

Dr. Sarah (47:37):

And to find the beauty in that and hold space for that. And I think that that’s a real big task of Grand Parenthood, and that’s so beautiful. I got chills. Just it’s really moving.

Carol (47:51):

Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (47:53):

Oh, thank you so much for coming on and sharing all this. I hope this feels like something that any, because we have, I know there are so many grandparents who listen to this show, and I know there are so many parents who will probably send this to their parents.

Carol (48:09):

Oh, that was great.

Dr. Sarah (48:10):

As just the gesture of, I see you. I know this is not always easy, like an acknowledgement that this is a real, a real huge transition in life for anyone to go through. And I don’t know, it’s beautiful and it’s complicated, and at times it’s painful and messy, but I also think there’s a lot of incredible beauty in this as well.

Carol (48:42):

Yeah, I do too. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It is really just a beautiful phase to be in

Dr. Sarah (48:52):

And look at us rewriting this dearth of literature and narrative around Grand Parenthood being messy and beautiful.

Carol (49:01):

Yes. Yes. Because

Dr. Sarah (49:03):

I think we’re doing a very good job of holding that narrative out for women who are becoming parents, and it should be equally as true for grandparents.

Carol (49:15):

Yep. Absolutely. Yeah.

Dr. Sarah (49:18):

Well, I’m so glad that you do the work you do. If people want to learn more about working with you or connecting with you, how can they reach out? How can they find you?

Carol (49:28):

The best way for people to contact me is via my website, which is carolmerlefishman.com.

Dr. Sarah (49:36):

Okay. We’ll put that in the show notes. And this is, you’re a really, really great resource for anyone who’s navigating these issues wants to not have to figure it out all by themselves.

Carol (49:51):

Yeah. No one should become a mother alone, nor should anybody become a grandmother alone.

Dr. Sarah (49:58):

Absolutely. Well, I will talk to you soon. Thank you so much for coming on the show.

Carol (50:03):

Okay. Thank you, Sarah. It was a pleasure.

Dr. Sarah (50:12):

If you are a new parent, finding your confidence can take some time. After all, babies don’t come with a manual, and that adjustment period can be messy and chaotic and stressful at times. But there are some things you can do that you can understand ahead of time if you’re pregnant or when you’re in the trenches once the new baby arrives. That can help build your parenting confidence. In my free masterclass, Confident Parenting From the Start, I will teach you my confidence recipe with three key elements to pay attention to, plus three things to just let go of that make or break your trust in yourself. In your child’s first year, you will walk away from this 60 minute virtual presentation with actionable tools that you can put into practice right away to challenge your self-doubt, to stop panic, Googling once and for all, and actually find the ease and enjoyment we all wish for in Early Parenthood.

So just go to drsarahbren.com/confidentparenting to sign up for one of my free parenting masterclass. That’s drsarahbren.com/confidentparenting. I hope to see you there, and until next week, don’t be a stranger.

I want to hear from you! Send me a topic you want me to cover or a question you want answered on the show!

✨ DM me on Instagram at @securelyattachedpodcast or @drsarahbren

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104. Becoming a grandparent: Embracing the complicated identity shifts that come when your baby has a baby with Carol Merle-Fishman