We probably all know the two types of grandmas. The grandma who told you stories, did crafts with you, sang songs to you and held you, and the grandma who whirled in once a year, gave you an expensive (often useless) present, told you that you were getting tall and then dashed off, back to her flashy lifestyle. But do grandmas actually have the choice of whether to be full-time grandmas or seventy-year-old career women?
In Russia, they definitely do. By Russian law, maternity leave can actually be taken by any of the family members. Whether father, mother, grandmother, or grandfather, one member of the family can take a three-year leave from work. For a year and a half, the person on childcare leave receives 40% of their average salary. In the duration of the three-year-leave, the employer is obligated to retain the workplace of the person on child-care leave.
In Russia, it’s often grandmas that opt for the job. Not only does this make more financial sense (since the grandmother usually earns less than the mother), but also in traditional Russian culture, the grandmother plays a crucial role in the lives of their grandchildren. Traditionally, parents went back to work in the fields, and the grandma sat home with the child, teaching him both her nonsense and wisdom.
I have heard many burly Russian men tear up when they speak of their Babushka (the Russian word for grandmother, not to be confused with a headscarf style). And it’s absolutely normal for a pop star to dedicate a blockbuster song to his grandmother; mind you, the refrain just repeats “Babushka, I love you” a dozen times.
But grandmas taking maternity leave presupposes an alternate family model. It presupposes that grandparents and parents share financial burdens and that they share the responsibility of raising a child. In this family model, elderly age is not necessarily the time to finally “live for yourself.”
It also presupposes that the grandparents are not left alone to die in nursing homes.
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