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ALEXANDRA SHULMAN: Why have so many friends fallen into a modern granny trap?


Since I’m not yet a grandmother – still watching from the sidelines – I can only wonder as I see so many contemporaries plummeting, one after the other, into the hugely demanding, modern granny trap.

Their daughters – and it is almost entirely daughters – not only want a bit of help with childcare but insist that their mothers (again, please note, not fathers) are on permanent standby – ready to drop everything to help out.

Of course, grandparents have always been part of the childcare eco-system, but nowadays many are still immersed in busy working lives themselves, or may have partners and friends who need care too. They adore their grandchildren, and their children, but with double-decker demographic demands they find themselves in an even more exhausting stage of life than when they were young mothers.

Universal Aunts is a long-standing agency that provides last-minute assistance, but now it’s ‘universal grannies’ who are roped in for everything from emergency doctor’s appointments to weekend babysitting and unexpected school pick-ups.

And why are they seemingly so willing? Why are they so ready to cave in to their often tyrannical daughters’ demands? Perhaps it’s natural grandparental love for some, but I reckon for many it’s more about guilt.

As a full-time working mother and a child of a working mother, I won’t accept any stuff and nonsense about how being at work rather than at home frying fish fingers at teatime is damaging for the child. But becoming a grandmother appears to expose a new raft of side effects from not being a stay-at-home mum.

The grandmothers I refer to worked furiously hard while their children were young. Add in any travelling overseas for business and frequent work-socialising in evenings. Some also found themselves with broken marriages, which meant that along with a demanding career they were often living alone with no partner to step in to help.

Grandparents have always been part of the childcare eco-system, but nowadays many are still immersed in busy working lives themselves

Grandparents have always been part of the childcare eco-system, but nowadays many are still immersed in busy working lives themselves 

For them, it was just eyes straight ahead – one day at a time and get through it. If you worked, that was what you did and couldn’t stress about being away from home.

But it wasn’t easy.

So now, as today’s ‘universal grannies’ see their daughters trying to balance work and childcare, they not only want to help, but are trying to repay the debt, putting in all those extra hours that they guiltily feel they didn’t as a mother, no matter the cost now in their already full lives.

Looks like I’ll never get to be a Mob Wife

The only fur coat I’ve ever owned was a moth-eaten dark-brown number bought in a Hereford charity shop, where I did a lot of shopping as a teenager.

Anna Wintour wearing faux fur

Anna Wintour wearing faux fur 

Sadly, by the time I might have been able to wear a proper fur coat, when I became editor of Vogue, fur had become unacceptable to many. At least in the UK. While we at British Vogue banned fur from our pages, it was clear the Parisians, Milanese and New Yorkers had no such scruples. But in recent years even Anna Wintour has stopped sashaying around in mink.

Now, though, it’s again fine, even fashionable, to wear fur – just so long as it’s not new.

The second-hand sites are buzzing with young women searching for glamorous old furs to wear for the current Mob Wife look.

Once again, I’ve missed the boat, since wearing an old fur coat can look wonderful if you’re young, but a bit tragic once you’re middle-aged. However, I’ve got a few bits that I was given during my time at the magazine that I stuffed away waiting for this moment to emerge.

I wonder if a 15-year-old chinchilla stole counts as vintage?

So tempted… by a £45 pair of socks

Shoes have many a purpose, but one of their most useful is to hide socks, which generally are not particularly attractive garments.

But now that we’re so frequently asked to remove our shoes in many homes, socks have become the accessory of the day.

Those holey, faded black numbers we used to get away with are no longer acceptable. Socks are a status symbol.

As a result, the market has rallied and had its usual influence on prices, which found me the other day considering whether I should pay £45 for a pair of beautiful Japanese socks.

Mad, I know, but if I’d succumbed they would still have been cheaper than the shoes which I used to be able to show off when I visited people and now have to dump at the door.

Another £6m that’s gone down the Tubes

Rarely have I seen such a pointless exercise as Mayor Sadiq Khan’s rebranding of London’s Overground lines.

We live near an Overground station and it’s a fine thing, enabling us to get all over the capital and its suburbs without being stuck underground. An added delight is that it is just one line – a clear orange on the Tube map taking us between east and west, north and south.

Now the London Mayor has spent £6.3million making six distinct lines, each with a different name and colour. So instead of just following the orange line, I’ll now have to get a blue Mildmay line, apparently named in tribute to a North London hospital known for its work during the Aids crisis.

I have no problem with the names (there’s a Suffragette and Windrush line not far away), just the ludicrous waste of money and unnecessary added complexity on an already dense Tube map.

Canny Charlotte’s life in the fast lane

Clever beauty millionaire Charlotte Tilbury is sponsoring the F1 Academy, to help more women become racing drivers. I hadn’t really considered the lack of female drivers (apparently there have been only five).

Beauty millionaire Charlotte Tilbury is sponsoring the F1 Academy

Beauty millionaire Charlotte Tilbury is sponsoring the F1 Academy

Indeed, I’m so far behind this curve that I am still a little surprised when I see a woman driving a taxi, but in this age it’s time for us to take the wheel.

Particularly exciting is the prospect of the Tilbury-branded, colourful car with the slogan Make Up Your Destiny – although, sadly for her, the helmets are likely to hide much of the make-up that I imagine she would like the drivers to wear.



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