Sally Persing, 70, moved down to Chapel Hill from the Boston area, where she lived for nearly 20 years, to be closer to her grandchildren. On this Tuesday morning, Oct. 22, she and her youngest grandson, Micah, 3, take a trip to the grocery store together.
Sally fastens the seatbelt for her 3-year-old grandson, Micah as they continue their morning routine. When she and her husband Bruce first married, they lived with Bruce's brother and wife in Israel. Sally and her sister-in-law had eight kids between them, but when her sister-in-law abandoned her marriage and children, Sally was left to raise the eight kids with her husband and his brother.
Sally says that Micah reminds her so much of her son Oren as a child. "The stuff I see his kids going through is very similar," she said. "Anxious, and just really not into trying new things and meeting new people. Shy beyond shy, which is so hard to believe now [that Oren is older]."
With a nurse for a sister and engineer for a brother, Sally admits that she lost sight of what it is she wanted out of a college degree years ago. She didn't finish college, but found her passion elsewhere. "I never planned to do anything other than have kids," she said. "I couldn’t figure out how to learn. I learn best by doing things and by talking to people."
Sally's personal philosophy in parenting and grand-parenting alike stems from a desire to counter her own parents' approach to child-rearing. "For me, it was all about what not to do," she said. Her view is affirmed by a podcast she listens to on creativity: "Instead of telling kids what to do or how to do it, you simply explain to them what the value is. For example, the rule is that you don’t get up from the table until everyone’s finished. But the value is that we want to sit together as a family and have time to talk."
"Kids need grandparents," Sally said. "It gives them a sense of continuity, belonging, family. I believe that it 'takes a village' and that kids need more than two adults who adore them in their lives," she said.
When Sally was a child, she said, her parents were authoritarian and less focused on their relationship with their children, or understanding their personalities. Her father was an alcoholic, and this eventually pushed her to leave home as a teen. "My father had very strong ideas of what he expected of us," she said. "It was so heavy-handed that all I could do was rebel."
"I love watching child development," Sally said, "I love seeing how like their parents the grandkids are." When she raised her own children, she wanted to place emphasis on discovery and independent problem-solving. "I was not about doing things for the kids," she said, "I gave them resources and watched them do it themselves."
Sally describes her parents' home from her childhood as 'unfriendly.' Growing up in an unwelcoming environment was influential as she raised her own kids and realized how she wanted her home to feel to guests. "I’m an extravert. I do my best thinking when I’m talking to somebody," Sally said: "I’ve always enjoyed having more people around. I guess that’s the bottom line: I get my energy from spending time with people."
"I don’t feel like I need to take care of the kids, though that’s okay with me," Sally said: "It’s more just, I put all of this into creating and raising these human beings, and now they all went away. That wasn’t what I was envisioning at all. I just wanted to have a relationship— wanted to spend time with them. I miss them."