It’s great to have extended family for your kids, but my husband and I didn’t luck out in that department. Transatlantic moves, family estrangements, and deaths have left my kids without aunts, uncles, or grandparents. But I don’t romantacize family and I’m not a sentimentalist, so I’m OK with it.

The only thing that could be really helpful–in an ideal world–would be grandparents handing down useful values, lessons and morality. We’re all so busy and preoccupied as parents that it’s hard to find the time and energy to do what grandparents were once expected to do: pass down useful life lessons.

But I found a great hack to check off my “Find Grandma for Kids” box: A short-tempered, Australian-born, Tibetan Buddhist nun online!

I read a lot of Buddhist theory because it helps to keep my head screwed on straight. I came to Buddhism naturally: in Grade 2 I remember explaining my personal theory of reincarnation to my best friend, Debbie, in the girls’ bathroom. But while Buddhism itself attracts me, I’m less enamoured with the people who teach it. Tibetan-by-birth Buddhists speak and write in awkward and ancient-sounding syntax (even good translations are bumpy); and modern American Buddhists have syrupy, dulcet-toned ‘Namaste’ bullshit going on that makes me want to clock them.

The great thing is that Venerable Robina Courtin is neither of these annoyances. Our granny hack is the kind of grandma I would have liked for my kids: feisty, energetic, and full of smart advice! My kids “visit” hacked-Granny-by-choice by viewing the many hours of her on YouTube, where she holds forth on everything you’d like a kid to know about life but never have the time to tell them. The nature and meaning of life, the soul, morality, and so on.

We call her Angry Buddhist Granny because she’s sharp-elbowed and is openly mad all the time (something we’re not used to seeing in Buddhists), while effortlessly communicating the precepts of her chosen faith. She lectures on the dangers of attachment, on our negative emotions, and on purposes of life. And while she doesn’t actually serve chocolate cake, she talks about it repeatedly in her lectures in the service of lessons on thinking that stuff (food, possessions, romantic love…) will make us happy. That’s more than I got from any of my own actual grandparents!

Virtual Venerable Robina Courtin might not be everyone’s cup of Tibetan butter tea as a Buddhist nun or surrogate grandma, but she’s mine. Parenting is a hard job, and one of the beauties of the Web is that it presents incredible parenting gifts we never could have imagined when any of us were toddling around our grandparents’ homes decades ago.

So while I didn’t hit the [grand]motherlode of actual grandparents giving gifts of cash, toys, and trips to my kids, at least I HAVE found the perfect virtual granny who communicates the secrets of a happy life to my kids. “OM” to that!


Liz Sydney is a too-blunt mom raising two boys. Reading Buddhist theory saved her sanity during terrible, undiagnosed post-natal depression. She enjoys writing on topics unrelated to her blog theme Our Violent Child and she loves joining punny hashtag games on Twitter (and even got on the top-ten list of one once!)


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