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Study of Upworthy headlines claims negativity drives website clicks. We have some thoughts.

Let us give you a peek behind the editorial curtain here.

headlines newspapers
Photo by Egor Vikhrev on Unsplash

Let's talk about what makes people read articles.

The adage, "If it bleeds, it leads," refers to the media's tendency to headline stories involving death or violence, but it can also be used to point to people's negativity bias. Simply put, people tend to pay more attention to negative news stories than positive ones.

A new study seems to reinforce this idea. And much to our surprise, it's centered on headlines used in Upworthy stories.

Using a public archive of Upworthy headlines and traffic data from 2012 to 2015, two separate teams of researchers analyzed whether people's click tendencies changed with negative or positive words in headlines. In those olden days of Upworthy, a handful of headlines for a single story were tested on the website to see which one would receive the most clicks. The research teams analyzed those results and found that negative words in headlines led to more people clicking on a story (2.3% more), and positive words in headlines led to fewer clicks (1.0% fewer). They also found a preference for headlines that express sadness over those that express joy, fear or anger.


The two research teams submitted their findings to the journal Nature at the same time in a bit of kismet shared here: "Two Research Teams Submitted the Same Paper to Nature – You Won’t BELIEVE What Happens Next!!" (For those outside media industry circles, "You won't believe what happens next," is a mocking pseudo-headline that came into use during the past decade and has generally been used to degrade the editorial choices of Upworthy and similarly-minded publishers in the early days of social media news.) The teams ended up combining their results in a joint study whose title sums up its conclusion: "Negativity drives online news consumption."

While we appreciate the researchers' work, we're not convinced that 10-year-old Upworthy headlines and traffic are the most appropriate data to draw such a conclusion from. From our perspective, "negativity drives clicks" isn't a clear takeaway here due to the fact that 1) the fast-changing media landscape quickly makes data obsolete, 2) the increases and decreases in clicks were quite modest, which matters a lot since 3) a negative word being used in a headline does not automatically equate to "negativity."

To illustrate these points, let us offer a peek behind the editorial curtain here.

Upworthy gained unprecedented fame in the early 2010s for mastering the "curiosity gap" headline, and for a hot minute, it was incredibly successful. The "Upworthy-style" headline became all the rage and was emulated to some degree by media outlets of all stripes before losing its novelty and falling out of favor somewhere around 2014.

That was a decade ago.

A lot has changed since then, both in media at large and here at Upworthy. "You won't believe what happens next," is several proverbial lifetimes of change in the way all media outlets, including Upworthy, approach storytelling and how our audiences engage with that content. Headlines that got people clicking in 2013 wouldn't be written or clicked on the same way today at all in our experience. So, it feels like conclusions about people's click habits are being drawn from outdated data (a bit like comparing the respective value of a thrift store TV antenna with optimizing your 4K Netflix stream).

People have pointed out some irony in a seeming preference for negative words and sadness here at Upworthy, a website branded as a "positive news outlet." However, that's a simplistic characterization of our content. Upworthy has always shared positive, uplifting stories, to be sure, but it's an ongoing misconception that Upworthy only covers "positive news."

The original idea behind Upworthy was to "change what the world pays attention to" by sharing meaningful stories that highlight our common humanity, and that core ideal hasn't changed. Often, yes, that means telling feel-good stories. But it also means shedding light on and exploring solutions to challenges facing humanity, which aren't always positive or uplifting. Sometimes it means sharing a viral celebrity story that touches on an important issue or an experience many people can relate to. Sometimes it looks like tapping into people's curiosity to help us all better understand the world we live in. We tell stories that uplift and stories that deserve to be uplifted, and our headlines reflect that range of storytelling.

So what should we take from an Upworthy headline study that found people were a little more likely to click on headlines with negative words and sadness in them?

Honestly? Not a whole lot.

We already know negativity bias exists. None of this is revelatory to us (except perhaps the finding that anger does not appear to drive more clicks—that one was a bit of a surprise, to be honest). We've always known that if we wanted to, we could sell our souls and exploit the crap out of people's baser tendencies with our headlines to drive cheap clicks and make bank from it. But we don't, because that's not who we are.

Upworthy's current editorial team takes a different approach to headlines than the folks who were here a decade ago. We don't test multiple headlines anymore to see what clicks. Our process is more organic and intuitive, partly due to our own experience, partly due to lessons learned from our predecessors' data-driven approach and partly due to appreciating the art of a conscientious-yet-effective headline.

Speaking of which, the term "clickbait" gets thrown around with the Upworthy name a lot, including in the study. We have some thoughts on that, too.

Upworthy pioneered a specific headline style that drove a ton of website traffic and lots of people copied that style because it was effective. But a headline that makes people want to click on a story and read it does not automatically make it "clickbait." As long as the story itself is solid, a "clicky" headline is simply a good headline. There is no point in writers creating articles for a website if no one clicks and reads them, and a good headline will make people want to click and read. That statement shouldn't be the least bit controversial.

Genuine clickbait is when a headline promises something that isn't delivered in the story. It's a bait and switch, purely to rack up pageviews. That is not and has never been Upworthy's MO. Of course, we want people to read our stories—we wouldn't be here if we didn't think what we share was worth reading. But headlines are not articles, and every detail of a story can't be included in a 90-character headline. Being misled by a headline and clicking into a story that doesn't deliver is a clickbait problem. Having to actually click on and read an article to get the full story behind a headline is not.

Okay, back to negative words in headlines. Do we ever use them today? Of course, but not for clicks. The top negative words analyzed in the headline study were wrong, bad, awful, hate, war, worst, sick, fight, scary, and hell, and some stories honestly lend themselves to including such words in the headline. And more importantly, a headline with negative words is not necessarily negative.

The researchers point out that they removed headlines that included both positive and negative words to avoid muddying the waters. But searching our website archives from the time period in question for the negative word "wrong," for example, reveals headlines that are not actually negative (unless you think proving an incorrect assumption wrong is a bad thing).

"The classic image of a farmer is a man. These stunning pics prove that wrong." (Certainly not a negative story.)

"5 times Jimmy Carter proved the haters wrong" (This one has two negative words, "hate" and "wrong," but still isn't actually a negative headline or story.)

"The world tells us there's something wrong with us if we don't want to have sex. One chart proves the world wrong." (The word "wrong" in here twice—still not really a negative headline and definitely not a negative story.)

We could go through countless examples like this, not to prove that negativity bias isn't a thing (because we know it is) but to show that not all negative-word-including headlines are created equal. There are headlines in the archives that we'd never write today, some of which truly were negative, but many included a "negative" word but weren't actually negative at all. In light of that and considering the small increase in clicks for headlines containing negative words, we're not convinced that our archive of decade-old headlines is the best measuring stick to use when determining whether people are more drawn to negativity than positivity in news headlines.

We're also not convinced it's a particularly useful question. What we're most interested in is whether people are drawn to content that highlights our shared humanity, connects people around important causes, brings people together in celebration of joy and helps them learn something fascinating about the world we live in. And sure enough, our audience keeps proving time and again that that's what keeps them clicking, reading and sharing our stories, regardless of how many "positive" or "negative" words we include in our headlines.

Sponsored

3 organic recipes that feed a family of 4 for under $7 a serving

O Organics is the rare brand that provides high-quality food at affordable prices.

A woman cooking up a nice pot of pasta.

Over the past few years, rising supermarket prices have forced many families to make compromises on ingredient quality when shopping for meals. A recent study published by Supermarket News found that 41% of families with children were more likely to switch to lower-quality groceries to deal with inflation.

By comparison, 29% of people without children have switched to lower-quality groceries to cope with rising prices.

Despite the current rising costs of groceries, O Organics has enabled families to consistently enjoy high-quality, organic meals at affordable prices for nearly two decades. With a focus on great taste and health, O Organics offers an extensive range of options for budget-conscious consumers.

O Organics launched in 2005 with 150 USDA Certified Organic products but now offers over 1,500 items, from organic fresh fruits and vegetables to organic dairy and meats, organic cage-free certified eggs, organic snacks, organic baby food and more. This gives families the ability to make a broader range of recipes featuring organic ingredients than ever before.


“We believe every customer should have access to affordable, organic options that support healthy lifestyles and diverse shopping preferences,” shared Jennifer Saenz, EVP and Chief Merchandising Officer at Albertsons, one of many stores where you can find O Organics products. “Over the years, we have made organic foods more accessible by expanding O Organics to every aisle across our stores, making it possible for health and budget-conscious families to incorporate organic food into every meal.”

With some help from our friends at O Organics, Upworthy looked at the vast array of products available at our local store and created some tasty, affordable and healthy meals.

Here are 3 meals for a family of 4 that cost $7 and under, per serving. (Note: prices may vary by location and are calculated before sales tax.)

O Organic’s Tacos and Refried Beans ($6.41 Per Serving)

Few dishes can make a family rush to the dinner table quite like tacos. Here’s a healthy and affordable way to spice up your family’s Taco Tuesdays.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 22 minutes

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 packet O Organics Taco Seasoning ($2.29)

O Organics Mexican-Style Cheese Blend Cheese ($4.79)

O Organics Chunky Salsa ($3.99)

O Organics Taco Shells ($4.29)

1 can of O Organics Refried Beans ($2.29)

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Add 1 packet of taco seasoning to beef along with water [and cook as directed].

3. Add taco meat to the shell, top with cheese and salsa as desired.

4. Heat refried beans in a saucepan until cooked through, serve alongside tacos, top with cheese.

tacos, o organics, family recipesO Organics Mexican-style blend cheese.via O Organics

O Organics Hamburger Stew ($4.53 Per Serving)

Busy parents will love this recipe that allows them to prep in the morning and then serve a delicious, slow-cooked stew after work.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 7 hours

Total time: 7 hours 15 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 ½ lbs O Organics Gold Potatoes ($4.49)

3 O Organics Carrots ($2.89)

1 tsp onion powder

I can O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 cups water

1 yellow onion diced ($1.00)

1 clove garlic ($.50)

1 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

2 tsp Italian seasoning or oregano

Instructions:

1. Cook the ground beef in a skillet over medium heat until thoroughly browned; remove any excess grease.

2. Transfer the cooked beef to a slow cooker with the potatoes, onions, carrots and garlic.

3. Mix the tomato paste, water, salt, pepper, onion powder and Italian seasoning in a separate bowl.

4. Drizzle the mixed sauce over the ingredients in the slow cooker and mix thoroughly.

5. Cover the slow cooker with its lid and set it on low for 7 to 8 hours, or until the potatoes are soft. Dish out into bowls and enjoy!

potatoes, o organics, hamburger stewO Organics baby gold potatoes.via O Organics


O Organics Ground Beef and Pasta Skillet ($4.32 Per Serving)

This one-pan dish is for all Italian lovers who are looking for a saucy, cheesy, and full-flavored comfort dish that takes less than 30 minutes to prepare.

Prep time: 2 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 27 minutes

Servings: 4

Ingredients:

1 lb of O Organics Grass Fed Ground Beef ($7.99)

1 tbsp. olive oil

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp garlic powder

1 can O Organics Diced Tomatoes ($2.00)

1 can O Organics Tomato Sauce ($2.29)

1 tbsp O Organics Tomato Paste ($1.25)

2 1/4 cups water

2 cups O Organics Rotini Pasta ($3.29)

1 cup O Organics Mozzarella cheese ($4.79)

Instructions:

1. Brown ground beef in a skillet, breaking it up as it cooks.

2. Sprinkle with salt, pepper and garlic powder

3. Add tomato paste, sauce and diced tomatoes to the skillet. Stir in water and bring to a light boil.

4. Add pasta to the skillet, ensuring it is well coated. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

5. Remove the lid, sprinkle with cheese and allow it to cool.

o organics, tomato basil pasta sauce, olive oilO Organics tomato basil pasta sauce and extra virgin olive oil.via O Organics

A map of the United States post land-ice melt.




Land ice: We got a lot of it.

Considering the two largest ice sheets on earth — the one on Antarctica and the one on Greenland — extend more than 6 million square miles combined ... yeah, we're talkin' a lot of ice.

But what if it was all just ... gone? Not like gone gone, but melted?


If all of earth's land ice melted, it would be nothing short of disastrous.

And that's putting it lightly.

This video by Business Insider Science (seen below) depicts exactly what our coastlines would look like if all the land ice melted. And spoiler alert: It isn't great.

Lots of European cities like, Brussels and Venice, would be basically underwater.

In Africa and the Middle East? Dakar, Accra, Jeddah — gone.

Millions of people in Asia, in cities like Mumbai, Beijing, and Tokyo, would be uprooted and have to move inland.

South America would say goodbye to cities like Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires.

And in the U.S., we'd watch places like Houston, San Francisco, and New York City — not to mention the entire state of Florida — slowly disappear into the sea.

All GIFs via Business Insider Science/YouTube.

Business Insider based these visuals off National Geographic's estimation that sea levels will rise 216 feet (!) if all of earth's land ice melted into our oceans.

There's even a tool where you can take a detailed look at how your community could be affected by rising seas, for better or worse.

Although ... looking at these maps, it's hard to imagine "for better" is a likely outcome for many of us.

Much of America's most populated regions would be severely affected by rising sea levels, as you'll notice exploring the map, created by Alex Tingle using data provided by NASA.

Take, for instance, the West Coast. (Goodbye, San Fran!)

Or the East Coast. (See ya, Philly!)

And the Gulf Coast. (RIP, Bourbon Street!)

I bring up the topic not just for funsies, of course, but because the maps above are real possibilities.

How? Climate change.

As we continue to burn fossil fuels for energy and emit carbon into our atmosphere, the planet gets warmer and warmer. And that, ladies and gentlemen, means melted ice.

A study published this past September by researchers in the U.S., U.K., and Germany found that if we don't change our ways, there's definitely enough fossil fuel resources available for us to completely melt the Antarctic ice sheet.

Basically, the self-inflicted disaster you see above is certainly within the realm of possibility.

"This would not happen overnight, but the mind-boggling point is that our actions today are changing the face of planet Earth as we know it and will continue to do so for tens of thousands of years to come," said lead author of the study Ricarda Winkelmann, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

If we want to stop this from happening," she says, "we need to keep coal, gas, and oil in the ground."

The good news? Most of our coastlines are still intact! And they can stay that way, too — if we act now.

World leaders are finallystarting to treat climate change like the global crisis that it is — and you can help get the point across to them, too.

Check out Business Insider's video below:

This article originally appeared on 12.08.15

Images provided by P&G

Three winners will be selected to receive $1000 donated to the charity of their choice.

True

Doing good is its own reward, but sometimes recognizing these acts of kindness helps bring even more good into the world. That’s why we’re excited to partner with P&G again on the #ActsOfGood Awards.

The #ActsOfGood Awards recognize individuals who actively support their communities. It could be a rockstar volunteer, an amazing community leader, or someone who shows up for others in special ways.

Do you know someone in your community doing #ActsOfGood? Nominate them between April 24th-June 3rdhere.Three winners will receive $1,000 dedicated to the charity of their choice, plus their story will be highlighted on Upworthy’s social channels. And yes, it’s totally fine to nominate yourself!

We want to see the good work you’re doing and most of all, we want to help you make a difference.

While every good deed is meaningful, winners will be selected based on how well they reflect Upworthy and P&G’s commitment to do #ActsOfGood to help communities grow.

That means be on the lookout for individuals who:

Strengthen their community

Make a tangible and unique impact

Go above and beyond day-to-day work

The #ActsOfGood Awards are just one part of P&G’s larger mission to help communities around the world to grow. For generations, P&G has been a force for growth—making everyday products that people love and trust—while also being a force for good by giving back to the communities where we live, work, and serve consumers. This includes serving over 90,000 people affected by emergencies and disasters through the Tide Loads of Hope mobile laundry program and helping some of the millions of girls who miss school due to a lack of access to period products through the Always #EndPeriodPoverty initiative.

Visit upworthy.com/actsofgood and fill out the nomination form for a chance for you or someone you know to win. It takes less than ten minutes to help someone make an even bigger impact.

Photo from Heidi Johnson Facebook page.

Tough love.

Heidi Johnson's son was 13, deeply in adolescence, and in that stage where he lashes out.

He told her he shouldn't have to deal with her rules and should be independent.


So she wrote a strict but loving "Mom's not a fool" letter.

roommates, motherhood, life lessons

Love, Mom.

Photo from Heidi Johnson Facebook page.

She wrote on Facebook how her son reacted to the letter:

"He came home, saw the note, crumpled it on the floor, and stormed out of the apartment. I have always encouraged him to take a walk when he is upset so that he can collect his thoughts so when we try to talk, we are able to talk, and not just yell at each other. I do the same thing — sometimes, I just need to walk away and collect myself. I am not above admitting that. He was still livid when he got home. He decided to stage a 'sit in' in my room, where he did laugh at me and repeat, 'Really? What are you going to do? You can't take my stuff,' etc. He was asked to leave my room, and when he could be respectful, and I was more calm, we would discuss it further. He went to his room, and after about an hour, he had removed some electronics and items I missed that he felt he should have to earn back for his behavior. He apologized, and asked what could he do to make things better and start earning items back. He earned his comforter and some clothes right back. I did leave him some clothes to begin with, just not the ones he would want to wear every day. He also had some pillows and sheets, just not his favorite ones.”

She decided to post it on Facebook, the way one does to friends for a laugh and connection. She neglected to make it "private," and soon comments and shares proliferated, including admonishments from strangers who thought she was a bad parent.Now she had to deal with a bigger teenager: the internet and its commentariat. But Johnson remained level-headed and wrote another Facebook post, clarifying.

"It's out there; and I am not ashamed of what I wrote... I am not going to put my 13-year-old on the street if he can't pay his half of the rent. I am not wanting him to pay anything. I want him to take pride in his home, his space, and appreciate the gifts and blessings we have.” She explains that he is more grateful because of it, and also that he has slowly earned back things and dealt with sacrificing others. Then she lists her very organized and succinct rules of the house:

1 – Do your best in school! I don't expect a perfect 100%, but I do expect that you do your best and ask for help when you don't understand something.

2 – Homework and jobs need to be done before you can have screen time.

3 – Jobs are emptying the trash, unloading the dishwasher, throwing away trash you make in the kitchen, rinsing dirty dishes, making your bed daily, pick up bedroom nightly, and cleaning your bathroom once a week.

4 – You must complete two chores a day. Each day of the week with the exception of Sunday has a room that we work on cleaning. He has to pick two chores for that room. For example, if it is the living room he can choose two of the following options: dust, vacuum, polish furniture, clean windows, mop the floor.

5 – Be respectful and kind with your words — no back talking, no cussing at me.

6 – Keep good hygiene.

7 – Make eye contact when being spoken to, and be an active listener.

8 – Use proper manners.

"You know what.. this hasn't hurt our relationship. He and I still talk as openly as ever. He has apologized multiple times... And… he is trying harder." Her son is earning things back little by little, and appreciating it more than he did before.

"This came down to a 13-year-old telling his mother she had no right to enforce certain rules, and had no place to 'control' him. I made the point to show what life would look like if I was not his 'parent,' but rather a 'roommate.' It was a lesson about gratitude and respect from the very beginning. Sometimes, you have to lose it all to realize how well you really had it."


This article originally appeared on 8.16.21

via Pixabay

A middle-aged woman holding a baby.

A story that recently went viral on Reddit’s AITA forum asks an important question: What is a parent’s role in taking care of their grandchildren? The story is even further complicated because the woman at the center of the controversy is a stepparent.

The woman, 38, met her husband Sam, 47, ten years ago, when his daughter, Leah, 25, was 15. Five years ago, the couple got married after Leah had moved out to go to college.

Leah’s mom passed away when she was 10.

Last year, Leah became pregnant, and she wanted to keep the baby, but her boyfriend didn’t. After the disagreement, the boyfriend broke up with her. This forced Leah to move back home because she couldn’t afford to be a single parent and live alone on a teacher’s salary.


Leah’s story is experienced by many young mothers who are facing difficulties. The father isn’t involved in the baby’s life as a caretaker or financially. Sadly, 33% of all children in the U.S. are born without their biological fathers living in the home.

babies, young mother, moms

via Alexander Grey/Unsplash

The new mother is a teacher and can’t afford to live on her own with a child. A recent study found that out of the top 50 U.S. cities, Pittsburgh is the only one where a new teacher could afford rent.

The stressors of taking care of the baby made Leah realize she needed help.

“But once she had the baby around 4 months back, Leah seemed to realize having a baby is not the sunshine and rainbows she thought it was,” the woman wrote on Reddit. “She barely got any sleep during the last four months. All the while Sam was helping her with the baby while I did almost all chores myself.”

“Now her leave is ending. She did not want to leave the baby at daycare or with a nanny,” the woman continued. “Sam and I both work as well.”

Leah asked her stepmother if she would stay home with the baby. The stepmother said no because she never wanted to have a baby and she has a job. “I asked why Leah can't stay home with the baby herself,” the woman wrote. “She said how she was young and had to build a career. I said many people take breaks to raise kids, and she broke down crying about how she was so tired all the time being a mom and needed something else in her life too.”

babies, stemoms, reddit

​A middle-aged woman with a baby. 

via Pixabay

After the woman told her stepdaughter no, her husband pressured her to stay home with the baby. But she refused to give up her job to raise her stepdaughter’s child. “Leah said yesterday how she wished her mom was alive since she would have had her back. She said I didn't love her, and my husband is also mad at me,” the woman wrote. The woman asked the Reddit community if she was in the wrong for “refusing to help my stepdaughter with the baby,” and the community responded with rapturous support.

"[The woman] should tell her husband to knock it off and stop trying to pressure her into raising his daughter’s baby. If he wants a family member to look after her baby while she works, then he can do it," Heavy_Sand5228 wrote.

"This is Leah's baby that she alone chose to have. That doesn't obligate you to change YOUR life to suit her desires. The whole business of saying you don't love her because you won't quit your job to watch her baby is manipulative and messed up, and I'm shocked your husband is siding with her," SupremeCourtJust-a** added.

Leah and many women like her are in this situation because, in many places, teachers are underpaid, rent is high, and not all dads pay child support, even those required by law.

Another commenter noted that the baby is much more the father’s responsibility than the stepmother's. "To add, Leah should consider seeking child support from her ex. Her kid should be getting that money," Obiterdicta wrote.

This article originally appeared on 10.3.23

Pic from Twitter.

The texting experience between two different men.

Saving old text messages from exes can sometimes be an asset when you need to remember exactly why you left them. Alternately, sometimes digital relics from old relationships are a good reminder of how much good we have in our lives currently.

At least, they did for the Twitter user May Larsen, who recently posted screenshots of two text threads with two very different men.


The conversation on the left shows how an old conversation went down with an emotionally manipulative ex. While the other screenshot is a prime example of what communication in a healthy partnership looks like.

The emotional dynamics of this exchange are full of red flags.

healthy relationships, texts from an ex, texting, dating

The unhealthy don’t cheat text.

Pic cropped from Twitter post.

This ex (boyfriend, hookup, whatever he was) went from 0-100 in no time. In fact, the ONLY way this kind of freak out would be excusable would be if they had prior plans she ditched on. Alternately, if he was doing a performance art bit where he embodied Drake's 0-100 via text message. Outside of those possibilities, this type of reaction is nothing short of manipulation and emotional abuse.

The second text message showed how Larsen's current partner responds to a simple night out.

relationships, boys, men

The healthy let me know when you’re home safe text.

Pic cropped from Twitter post.

The difference between these responses to a simple night out on the town is night and day. When comparing the two messages, the red flags really pop.

People on Twitter had a LOT of thoughts about the texts.

Some women shared similar experiences with possessive partners.

A lot of people assumed the texts were from two guys she's currently dating.

That quickly got shut down.

Meanwhile, others were caught up with the fact that her current dude wears a cowboy hat.

Regardless of whether the rest of us are pro cowboy hat (I'm pro if you can pull it off), it seems they've got a healthy situation going. Communication is key, in any kind of relationship.


This article originally appeared on 04.10.19

Family

A letter to my mother-in-law who spoiled my sons

"It's pointless to dwell on regrets, but I often think about how I had it all wrong. I was so wrong in how I perceived your generosity."

Tina Platamura


You always stole my thunder. You gave them everything they wanted. You never said no when they asked for anything.

Tina Platamura

A second helping of dessert. Candy before dinner. A few more minutes in the bath. Money for the ice cream truck.

I struggled to show you respect and appreciation while trying to make sure you didn't spoil my children. I thought you would turn them into “selfish brats" by giving them everything they wanted. I thought they might never learn to wait, to take turns, to share, because you granted their wishes as soon as they opened their mouths and pointed.


You held each one of my babies long after they fell asleep. Didn't you understand that I needed them to learn to fall asleep on their own?

You ran to them as soon as they made the tiniest sound. How would they ever learn to self-soothe?

I resented you for buying the best and most expensive gifts on their birthdays and on Christmas. How could I possibly compete with you?

"I thought they might never learn to wait, to take turns, to share, because you granted their wishes as soon as they opened their mouths and pointed."

And how they loved afternoons spent with you. You made their favorite things for dinner — three different meals for three different boys. And you always had a little surprise. A present, candy, or a special treat. I didn't want them to associate you with gifts and sweets. I thought they should love you for you. I tried to tell you this, but you wouldn't listen.

I spent a lot of time wondering why you did all these things and how I could get you to ease up. I know grandmothers are supposed to “spoil the kids" then send them home, but you were ... ridiculous.

Until you were gone.

I had to hold my boys and tell them that their grandma died. It didn't seem possible — you were supposed to be there for all the other special moments: proms, graduations, weddings. But they lost their grandma too soon and too suddenly. They were not ready to say goodbye.

During those years when I wished you'd stop spoiling them, I never thought about how much you loved them. So much that you showed it in every way possible. Your cooking. The gifts. The candy and sweets. Your presence. The way you could recount every detail of a special moment, whether it was a perfect catch in the outfield or a sweet and slightly off-key note sung at a school concert. Your grandmotherly love for them knew no bounds. Your heart poured love from every place possible — your kitchen, your pocketbook, your words, and your tireless arms.

It's pointless to dwell on regrets, but I often think about how I had it all wrong. I was so wrong in how I perceived your generosity.

My kids, now in their teens, miss you dearly. And they don't miss your gifts or your money. They miss you.

They miss running to greet you at the door and hugging you before you could step in. They miss looking up at the bleachers and seeing you, one of their biggest fans, smiling and enthralled to catch their eye. They miss talking to you and hearing your words of wisdom, encouragement and love.

If I could speak to you one more time, I would tell you that every time a precious moment steals my heart, every time I watch them arrive at a new milestone, and every time they amaze me with their perseverance, talents, or triumphs, I think of you. And I wish that they could have you back.

Come back and love them one last time, like no one else in the world but a grandmother could. Bring your sweets and surprises. Reward them with gifts for the smallest accomplishments. Painstakingly prepare their favorite meals. Take them anywhere they want to go. All and only because you love them.

Come back and see how much they've grown. Watch each boy becoming his own version of a young man. Be in awe with me as we admire how family, friendship, time, and love helped them grow so beautifully over the years.

The more I long for you to come back, though, the more I realize that in a way, you never left.

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I understand now. I know you loved them in every way you could. I know that being their grandma gave you joy and purpose. And of course I know that you can't come back, but I do know that your love for them will always remain. Your love built them and sheltered them in ways that cannot be described. Your love is a big part of who they are and what they will become as they grow. For this, and for every treat and gift, and every time you held them too long or consoled them too much or let them stay up too late, I will always thank you.

And I will wish a million times that you could do it all again.


This article was written by Tina Plantamura and originally appeared on 04.14.16