The “Grandmother Hypothesis,” or Grandmother Effect, is the idea that the presence of grandmothers helping in the care of their grand-offspring has been an important factor in human survival and evolution.
In this 4-Part Series of articles we’ll explore how women, and older women in particular, contribute to peace and well-being for families, communities, and the wider web of life in ways that are not measurable and have rarely been recorded.
We’ll explore Wise Woman Ways that can co-exist with science, but are not bound by it or limited to what scientific methods can verify.
The powers of older women extend far beyond babysitting (valuable as that is), and I think we need their contributions and their guidance more now than ever before.
Wise Woman Ways
“Wise Woman thinking” is a way of thinking that embraces and honours our relationship to the Earth, to each other, and to the entire web of life in which we belong.
A wise woman way of looking at life suggests that we let go of trying to fix or reject our imperfect selves or the unwanted “other” (be the other a pathogen, a weed, your contrary spouse, a difficult person at work, a person of a different race or political leaning, or any other kind of “other”).
Instead of fixing and rejecting, this deeply feminine perspective focuses on relating and nourishing, which empowers us to move toward building health and wholeness rather than exploiting and destroying it.
When we look through the wise woman lens we go from feeling as if we are alone in an unfriendly universe, to seeing how we belong, how we are interconnected with each other and with all other lifeforms, and how humans can be a force for good on planet earth.
“Matrix cultures are built on the natural fact that women give and sustain life, through their bodies, their love, attention, work, and their arts.[These] matrilineal cultures share worldwide patterns, [including strong] egalitarian, communitarian values of peace and for life.”
Max Dashu, “Matrix Cultures”
Wise Woman ways of seeing and being in the world have always been available to us; in the words of Corinna Wood, “the Wise Woman path is a process of remembering what we already know.”
I don’t think you have to be a particular gender or age to recognise and live in Wise Woman ways. But I do think that women, and especially older women, are particularly able to remember and re-awaken and apply these wise, often subtle, holistic, nourishing approaches.
On Growing Older
A friend asked me recently how I feel about growing older and approaching menopause. (I turned 50 this year.) I replied, “I’m embracing it. I’ve earned it.”
This is my second growing up, and I’m making the most of it.
In Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Deepak Chopra writes, “The later years should be a time when life becomes whole. The circle closes and life’s purpose is fulfilled.”
That’s the way it feels for me: I’m becoming more whole, and I’m loving that aspect of this time in my life.
Every wrinkle and sag, every grey hair (there actually aren’t many grey hairs yet, which is a shame because I’m sure they’d make me look wiser), every pause for consideration before moving my body in ways that have come easier in the past – I embrace them all.
Not because I like having to move more carefully than I did when I was younger, but because I like having to pause – it facilitates presence.
These wrinkles and sags and pauses are mine, and they’re helping me feel more deeply into myself, helping me feel more grounded, more present, and more whole.
The Healthy Maturation Of Human Beings
For so much of my life I’ve been trying to run away from a self who felt unwanted and unworthy, and that I would gladly have left behind forever if I could. That was, I realize in hindsight, exhausting, demoralizing, and impossible. Wherever I went, there I was.
Now I’m discovering that—surprise!—I’m actually okay.
I’m not a bad, shameful, unworthy person. And neither, in case you were wondering, are you.
We’ve just grown up in a matrix which, although we think of it as normal, is not at all natural for us. It lacks many of the things necessary for the healthy maturation of human beings.
Our culture measures the worth of children in “good behaviour” that reflects well on parents, caregivers, and teachers, and the worth of adults in visible wealth, status, followers, beauty (defined by very narrow criteria), youth, and power.
No wonder we have difficulty seeing and identifying our own intrinsic worth.
Such a culture impoverishes us all, at every life stage, making it much harder than it should be for us to grow into our power as fully functioning, whole adults.
It’s critical that we recognise this and that we consciously seek to keep growing in spite of it, because there is a desperate need for powerful, fully functioning adults in the world today.
Powerfully, fully functional adults are needed to guide the children and mentor the emerging adults. And they’re needed to take care of the web of life, to take responsibility for repairing it, renewing it, participating in it, enriching it, so that the children and grandchildren can thrive.
Growing older does not mean becoming less useful or less needed. Quite the opposite.
Coming up next
In the next article in this Series, we’ll explore what we can learn from whales, trees, and indigenous cultures about the crucial roles older women can play.
Kate writes at ARealGreenLife.com about thinking differently and living a more natural, connected, and sustainable life. Download this complete article Series and check out her other free downloads, here.
 The Wise Woman Tradition is described in Part 1 of Susun Weed’s book Healing Wise