Last Saturday 7 May, The New York Times published a curious and interesting article titled “The Bliss of Grandmother Hormones” by Dominique Browning. It opens as follows: “My whole life, as a woman, has been awash in hormone awareness. Adolescent despair? Hormones. The stunning efficacy of new love affair crash diets? Hormones. The labile nights of new motherhood? Hormones.” Then the author goes on to say: “Women, over the course of a lifetime, are tortured by, and tutored in, the intricate complexities of hormones and their inevitable imbalances. For those of us who didn’t tune in to science classes when we had a chance (too many distracting hormonal rages, and don’t even get me started on those math anxiety hormones), hormonal chemistry remains mysterious. Partly because it is.”
Postpartum depression is considered to be morally responsible for many filicides, also the causes of murders and suicides can be traced back to hormonal storms, but also happiness seems to be generated by a hormone, serotonin, and so sadness and pessimism are associated with elevated cortisol levels. Even faithfulness and unfaithfulness would depend on the amount of oxytocin, the ” love hormone”, and a neurological and genetic condition is accused of “pushing” people to cheat. A study of the University of Queensland, in Australia, seems to show that there are “one-night stand genes”, which are activated by certain biological, that is, hormonal, environmental, psychological, and cultural conditions. Long story short, in the post-modern epoch, which has opted for the human being’s independence from extra-worldly authority, men – not only woman – “freed” from God, seems to be chained in their genetic and hormonal conditions. Hormones are the new divinity.
“I want to believe that love arises from the heart,” writes the journalist and American writer, author of several books, the last one called Slow Love, and founder of the “Moms Clean Air Force”Association. She also says that she has never heard of “Grandma’s hormones”. “Nothing compares to the experience of holding six pounds of newborn boy against an older, wiser, pounding heart, a heart burnished with the patina of age, a heart that bears the traces of fractures, the patchwork or plaster lathed over bad breaks. That heart suddenly, unexpectedly, floods with … hormones”. “Here is another way of hormonal ruling,” she describes with clever irony the happiness of her being a grandmother, and in saying “There he is!” The newcomer on earth. “That is the only way I can explain the mysterious, intricate nature of my chaotic response to this new love” she writes. The joy: He’s here! A grandmother’s loving care for her grandchild, every single detail of his tiny life: every sound, ‘‘grunt and squeak is a fascination, and I could gaze at it forever, whereas anxiety and worrying doubled both for the newborn and for its parents.
Which hormone rule a grandma’s special feeling of helplessness and dependence on the grandson, Browning wonders. And who controls the special ability of the grandmothers to anticipate the future, imagining possible destinies and environmental changes, with a need to protect the infant from the evils of the world in a way that is quite different from a mother’s.
A grandmother’s feeling is like an “emotional tide,” says the writer, which is certainly connected to some hormonal alteration. And “this is what hormones do – she writes -: they create an alternate reality”, acting on our imagination and emotions.
Whereas scientific literature talks of motherhood and pregnancy hormones, it does not look like any expert had studied the “hormones of grandmotherhood” before Browning, namely, the biological and neurological basis of that special bond between grandparents and grandchildren, that calm and soothing love, intense complicity, which has a precious and indispensable function for the healthy growth of mature individuals, with proper self-esteem and a good psychological and physical equilibrium.
A study by the psychologist Gerard Kennedy shows that grandchildren find strength to face the problems of life, security, and stability in their relationship with the grandparents, especially grandmothers, from whom they receive emotional warmth, sense of protection, care, authoritative behavior patterns with no imposition, although there are different ways, depending on the age of the grandparents, the cultural and environmental context, whether the grandchild is unique, the oldest or the favorite.
Eleanor Maccobi and Jane Martin described four main “styles” of being grandparents: democratic, educational and loving at the same time; authoritative, informative, and unsentimental; indulgent, highly affective and with little control; indifferent, little participating both on an educational and relational level. The democratic style is the one that best ensures the existential and evolutionary welfare of grandchildren.
In Italy, there are about 12 million grandparents. An Eurispes study shows that almost 93 percent of Italian grandchildren feel loved by their grandparents, 80 percent say grandparents understand and accepted their personality, 72 percent say their grandparents are life teachers for them. Especially grandmothers play a vital role. The word speaks for itself: “Grand-mother”. Grandmothers, especially from mother’s side, are a key figure in a child’s development. But the writer Browning has highlighted an aspect that has been little studied so far both in scientific literature and narrative: grandchildren’s effect on grandparents, specifically on their grandmothers to live happily their old age, thanks to this new love. A slap in the face of those who consider the old age as the state of the heart’s death and withering joy. ‘”Grandmother’s hormone” is enviable youthful vitality.