From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Paving the Road from Nanna to Mamma

If you find it in your heart to care for somebody else, you will have succeeded.

Maya Angelou

Elizabeth’s call came from her daughter, Mary, who was in hysterics because her baby’s father had been killed in a motorcycle accident. Always blaming others for her bad decisions, Mary had never outgrown her dependence on others for financial and emotional help, and she was not handling this situation very well, so Elizabeth quickly picked up two-and-one-half-year-old Jamie to allow Mary her space.

Within days Elizabeth learned that Jamie needed a safe harbor permanently. Justifying the gut-wrenching decision to take temporary custody, she asked a therapist friend for advice. “You can take custody now and have your daughter hate you forever. Or you can wait until— not if—something happens to Jamie, and then hate yourself forever.”

The tranquil life Elizabeth and her husband, John, had known for ten years changed immediately as they became instant parents to a toddler. John became a quick study in the art of being a daddy for the first time in his life. The once quiet telephone rang constantly. Fear saw them sleep with the sheriff’s home telephone number taped to their phone. Constant toddler noise prevented work, thought, and adult conversation. Late nights were reserved for talking and crying, until they fell into bed exhausted. Nap times were used to research the problems they were seeing with their daughter as they sought to understand how things went so wrong.

They also faced housing challenges. About the same time Jamie was born, Elizabeth and John had downsized to a small, rural cottage to create a memorable place for Jamie’s visits. What was once the guest room became Jamie’s room, toddler furniture replaced antiques, kiddie clothing was crammed into an already overflowing closet, with Barbie clothes underfoot, and hair scrunchies dominated the only bathroom.

Elizabeth became a rubber band stretched thin, and the mileage tripled on her now-too-small car. Schedules were changed without notice—a total loss of control. There were frustrating meetings with attorneys, work with a family counselor for advice from potty training to explaining death, and frequent out-of-town visits to Jamie’s other grandparents. Without the loving support of friends and family to offer a shoulder and an ear, Elizabeth’s seams would have burst during this tumultuous time.

Elizabeth and John won temporary custody in a second court battle after Mary was arrested for grand larceny and put on probation. Her behavior spiraled downward, and her emotionally draining attacks against her family escalated.

A year later, Elizabeth’s stomach churned violently, preparing for the most important trial. There was total shock after Mary lost permanent custody of Jamie and was immediately arrested for probation violations. Instead of relief and celebration for winning permanent custody of little Jamie, Elizabeth stood sobbing at the image of her only child in handcuffs, going to prison.

Handling the overwhelming changes and the extra energy output of caring for a toddler was nothing short of a miracle for someone with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia, but Elizabeth’s determination served her well. She learned to relax more and to enjoy each day’s journey, even declaring Tuesdays as “no shoes, no makeup day” to stay home and just be.

Elizabeth allowed her successful speaking business to slow down, and although she enjoyed speaking to hundreds, she now thrived on her dramatic stories to a captive audience of one little girl. She declined an opportunity to host an HGTV show, choosing instead to teach Jamie how to cook and garden. Turning down a publisher who wanted her to write a book, she took on a mission of writing articles to educate others about the alarming rise in grandparents rearing grandchildren. She began reaching out, and now she’s not only paving the road from Nanna to Mamma in her own life, but also in the lives of others.

Her story is not rare. It happens frequently, because worries don’t vanish when the kids are grown.

In the midst of the chaos that life threw her way, Elizabeth learned to accept that crises and crying fits are a part of life and that there’s no reason to feel guilty or unsuccessful because of them. She also learned that the loving support of partners, family, and friends are worth their weight in gold. After searching many years, she found the definition of success: Believe in your ability to succeed and do the best with what life hands you one day at a time. When you reach out to others and have their best interests in mind, you gain strength, focus, and clarity in what you need to do with your life. When you help enough people succeed, you can’t help but have some of that success rub off on you.

Pat Moore

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