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You can’t know how amazing it feels to be a grandmother until it happens to you, says Lesley Stahl, longtime 60 Minutes correspondent and author of a new book, "Becoming Grandma." With her personal transformation, she began to investigate her own feelings and the vital role of grandparents today. Stahl joins Judy Woodruff to share her experience.
Now the latest addition to the "NewsHour" Bookshelf.
It's a very personal look at the changing role of grandparents and comes from longtime "60 Minutes" correspondent Lesley Stahl, who has full-heartedly embraced the job in her new book, "Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting."
I talked with her recently.
Welcome, Lesley Stahl.
LESLEY STAHL, Author, "Becoming Grandma": Thank you, Judy Woodruff.
So, we have known each other going back to being White House reporters under…
The beginning of time, Judy.
The beginning of time, President Carter, President Reagan.
You are showing a side of yourself that people don't see on "60 Minutes" here.
Well, that's true. I don't go around saying, I'm a grandmother, although I feel it. I feel it. I want to tell everybody.
I will be honest right up front, I have serious grandmother envy. I'm dying to have grandchildren. Is it really as great as you make it out to be?
It's twice as great as I make it out to be.
It's — it's an extraordinary new chapter that opens up suddenly, and no matter how many people tell you it's the best thing that could ever happen to you, it's — you don't — you don't understand what they mean until it happens to you, because it's so full, body-full.
It just takes you over in such an elation way, elated way, that you just can't believe this new kind of emotion that you have never felt before.
And it's something that you decided to write about. I mean, you could write about your career, about journalism, but it's this.
This felt right.
And the reason I decided to do it is because I didn't understand that emotion. What is that? Do all grandmothers have it? Turns out they do. And what is it and how do you explain it? Where does it come from?
And once I started looking at that, then all these different avenues opened up to me. There's a whole chapter on step-grandmothers. And I discovered that there are granny nannies. By that, I mean women taking care of their grandchildren on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Saturdays, helping their kids out. I just — the whole world opened up.
So much of the premise of this, Lesley, is that this is a new era of grandparenting. Our — grandmothers today are not what our grandparents were. And you write about, you know, a lot of us have had careers. You write about our hair color is different.
We don't play canasta.
We go to work.
You know, baby boomers are kind of the separate species of human being. And one of the things about baby boomers is that we want to be young. Let's face it. And we're young grandparents, because we're baby boomers. And, of course, we determine everything as we go through our history. We're such a big bulge.
We're young. We're energetic. We're spending infinitely more money on our grandchildren than grandparents of old. I saw a statistic the other day. It's not even in the book. Grandparents today spend seven times more on their grandchildren than they did just 10 years ago. So…
Part of your title is "The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting."
Is that wishful thinking, or is that real?
What was that feeling I had? Well, I was stunned to discover and delighted that there are biological changes that go along when you're a mother, but grandmothers have something similar. And it's real. What you're feeling is a change in your body. You're being rewired to connect to this baby.
It's not just because they're cute and cuddly?
Well, it's also because they're cute and cuddly, but they're yours. There's a real binding that goes on there.
You were just telling me that the cover picture, it looks like you're sitting there and you're reading to your granddaughters.
Uh-huh. Looks that way, right?
So, they wouldn't cooperate. They wouldn't both sit quietly together at the same time. So, we put an iPhone — we taped it to the middle of the book, and they're watching "Frozen."
It's the only — and I think that's the only picture we got where they were both cooperating.
You do focus so much in the book, Lesley, on the positives of grandparenting. And you have had a very positive experience.
But we all know there are grandparents out there who, for whatever reason, aren't being allowed to see their grandchildren or who are forced to completely raise their grandchildren under difficult circumstances.
It's a mixed picture, isn't it?
Well, I write about that and discovered it, actually.
I have been asked, what's the thing that most surprised me? And that grandparents are denied access to their own grandchildren, which is fairly prevalent, really surprised me and shocked me. just it's — I get — I actually get pained even telling you about this, because the grandmothers who admitted it to me — and a lot of them are ashamed about this — told me with tears streaming down their faces.
It's a horrible thing.
This book, Lesley, is — it's a very personal story. I mean, it is very much about your own family, your grandchildren, your relationship with your mother, what kind of a grandmother she was.
You also write about your husband, Aaron Latham, and you openly say is dealing with Parkinson's. So, there's a lot you lay bare here, isn't there?
Well, one of the things that — one of the reasons I wrote about my own relationship with my mother, which was a little difficult, unlike mine with my daughter, which is wonderful — but my mother and I clashed a lot.
But she was a completely besotted grandmother. I would look at her and say, who is that? And I heard that over and over from women my age. "My mother is so different with my children." And that's part of being a grandmother. You go from being who you are to being a mush ball, like that.
And people say, who is he? We don't know ourselves. We get so mushy. And this is part of the reason I wanted to write it. We — they just soften us completely.
You can be — I guess part of the message is you can be a different kind of grandmother from the kind of mother you were?
Totally different. And it's out of your control, even if you didn't want to be.
I was struck at the end, you urge grandparents to jump in if they're not already involved in the lives of their grandchildren, and urge parents, likewise, to let their own parents be involved.
Well, children today, young parents need our help, because they're not making much money. They're both working. They're suffering economically.
So, they need our help. Those babies need their grandparents. We are very important to their development. And we need them, because they make us healthier. And so it's a win-win-win. Why not?
Well, there are some great stories here, Lesley Stahl, "The Joys and the Science of the New Grandparenting."
Thank you very much.
Thank you, Judy.
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