September 01, 2013

The Backbone of Russia

The Backbone of Russia

Mention babushka – the affectionate Russian term for grandmother – to Russians and their eyes may mist up, succumbing to a wave of nostalgia. Some might recall summers spent berry-picking and mushroom-hunting at babushka's dacha, or perhaps just listening to her stories around the kitchen table while eating buckwheat blini with wild strawberry jam. Others might remember going to church, learning folklore, or having their homework reviewed by babushka.

Russians love their grandmothers. After all, Russians were often raised by their grandmothers as well as by their parents. This familial reliance on grandmothers continues today.

Yet beyond love and nostalgia there is an untold story about grandmothers and the bedrock of support they quietly provide. During the transition to capitalism, Russia's "institution" of babushka support is changing in unexpected ways. Although most families need the support of grandmothers more than ever, modern babushkas don't want to be taken for granted. They want to explore new opportunities for working beyond retirement, travelling, or just enjoying some leisure in their older age. Many grandmothers yearn for active lives beyond the traditional expectations that they will care for their grandchildren and adult children.

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