What is your life’s purpose?
To inspire grandmas to continue growing, learning, and connecting with their children, grandchildren, and other grandmas in ways that build nurturing relationships.
How are you living your purpose?
I’m living my purpose by first being conscious of my words, actions, and thoughts as I interact with my adult children and three granddaughters who are 14, 11, and 3. I strive to be loving, kind, and fully present with them while showing empathy as I listen to them. I am genuinely interested in their lives and contribute my time and financial resources in ways that improve their lives.
On a broader level I’ve been on a mission to connect with other grandmas ever since I became a grandma in 2003. My primary focus has been to understand what it means to be a grandma in the 21st century. Initially, I was motivated to talk to other grandmas because I had so many questions about my own role as a grandma. Now I’m passionate about understanding what’s in the hearts and minds of other grandmas. With my website, GaGa Sisterhood, I want to guide them in finding clarity on issues of conflict and offer resources for building satisfying relationships with their children and grandchildren.
How did you find your purpose?
After witnessing the birth of my first grandchild in 2003, I went completely “gaga.” When I came back down to earth, I realized I was not the first grandma to feel this way. Every grandma I talked to was just as crazy for her grandchild as I was for mine. As I spent more time with my daughter and granddaughter, I had a second epiphany: Nothing had prepared me for the complexity of grandmotherhood as I tried to figure out what sort of grandma to be in the world.
My husband and I were visiting our daughter, son-in-law, and new granddaughter twice a month. As we all adjusted to our new roles, the dynamic began to change. I realized that they now called the shots—the power was in their hands. I weighed my words carefully and paid close attention to my actions for fear I would say the wrong thing and upset my daughter.
I watched my daughter as if I were an anthropologist studying an exotic tribe. She wrapped the infant in a sling against her chest and carried her around all day, then complained she was so exhausted. She explained that she was following the “attachment parenting” model of keeping the baby close to her body to fulfill the baby’s need for trust, empathy, and affection. But what about her needs, I wondered to myself, sensing my daughter did not want to hear my advice.
I felt ecstatic joy when I held my tiny granddaughter yet sometimes I felt angst about how my daughter and I were communicating. I worried I might drop my granddaughter or not hold her properly even though I’d successfully raised my own two children without ever dropping them. I didn’t want to worry my daughter by bringing up my concerns and realized I needed to talk to other grandmas for reassurance.
In December 2003, I invited all the grandmas I knew to come to my house and start a conversation about what it means to be a modern grandma. I wanted inspiration from other grandmas and reassurance that the joys and challenges I was experiencing were “normal.” I also wanted to create a community of like-minded women who were at the same stage of life. “Let’s start the GaGa Sisterhood,” I told them envisioning regular meetings where we shared our wisdom and life experiences. We talked for three hours and at the end of that first meeting, I asked who wanted to continue. Everyone raised their hand and the GaGa Sisterhood was born.
Over the past 15 years, we’ve become a national social network where grandmas bond, brag, and benefit. Our Sisterhood has grown into a group of friends with real camaraderie who can laugh about the joys and challenges of being a grandma. I feel deep gratitude for the support and encouragement of my GaGa Sisters over the years and take great pride in knowing how many friendships have formed through our meetings. I also treasure the emails from grandmas who thank me for the insight they’ve gained from reading my book or blog posts.
I’ve consciously immersed myself in the journey of being a grandma, not only for my three granddaughters but also for the hundreds of grandmas I’ve connected with. I’ve tried to understand the many different ways of being a grandma, whether it’s raising grandchildren or being denied access to them.
In my desire to learn, I’ve read dozens of books on grandparenting and written one myself, When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand: 4 Keys to L.O.V.E. Your Grandchild’s Parents. I’ve hosted 80 bi-monthly meetings of our Silicon Valley chapter of the GaGa Sisterhood, presenting speakers on a wide variety of topics that enrich ourselves and our families. I’ve written 700 blog posts about the grandparent experience, focusing on strengthening the relationship between grandparents and their adult children. I write a monthly online newsletter called the GaGazine featuring summaries of our meetings.
What advice do you have for purpose seekers?
I began by identifying my most important values, which are family and friendships. Then I asked myself what I needed at this stage of my life. I had just retired from my job as a college counselor. I looked at the common threads and skills from my 25 years in the workforce. I loved sharing information that improved the quality of people’s lives. I loved connecting people who shared common interests and values. I loved coaching and mentoring people. I loved writing and sharing lessons I’ve learned. I have an insatiable curiosity and genuine interest in meeting new people and learning about their experiences.
I encourage you to keep a journal. I’ve filled 60 blank artist books with observations about my life. I write in my journal to discover what’s on my mind and in my heart. Through the process of writing I’ve learned what motivates me, what makes me happy and fulfilled, and how I want to be in the world. When I’m struggling with a problem, I can work through it on the page.
Pay attention to what peaks your curiosity. What are you drawn to read, explore, talk about? What are you passionate about? What motivates you to learn and explore? What do you love doing? Listen to the conversations you’re having with family and friends? Test out ideas on them and notice how you feel when you’re talking with them.
Stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new can be a scary process. When I was trying to decide whether to start my GaGa Sisterhood, I told a friend I wasn’t sure I was making the right decision. I feared it would be too much work and I would get overwhelmed by all the tasks I needed to complete. Even scarier, I feared no one would like my idea. I discovered that when you’re passionate about your vision and purpose, your enthusiasm and commitment come across to people. Take just one step toward your goal and see how it feels. Then figure out the next step and the next.
What resources do you recommend?
Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
Lesley Stahl’s Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting
Barbara Graham’s Eye of My Heart: 27 Writers Reveal the Hidden Pleasures and Perils of Being a Grandmother
Paola Gianturco’s Grandmother Power: A Global Phenomenon
GRAND Magazine — The Lifestyle Magazine for Awesome Grandparents
Connect with Donne Davis
GaGa Sisterhood Facebook
Book: When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand: 4 Keys to L.O.V.E. Your Grandchild’s Parents
Donne Davis is the founder of the GaGa Sisterhood, a national social network for grandmas she started in 2003 after witnessing the birth of her first grandchild. She writes and speaks about her experiences and observations of grandparenting on her award-winning blog, monthly newsletter, and to community organizations. She is also a blogger for the Huffington Post. Her book, When Being a Grandma Isn’t So Grand: 4 Keys to L.O.V.E. Your Grandchild’s Parents, is available on Amazon. She and her husband have two grown children and three granddaughters.