Grandparenting in the 21st Century

(Best of Celebrating Your Journey – Sept 7, 2007)

To all my readers: With 2019, the 14th year of my Celebrating Your Journey blog articles, “From the Heart” byline, I will be offering the “Best of the Best” articles you found helpful through the years. Many thanks to everyone who have given input and followed along w/ each month’s lifeskill—Relationships/Core Values, Time Mgt, Career/Money Mgt, Recordkeeping, Possessions, Housekeeping, Wellness, Meals, Childcare, Recreation/ Entertainment, Reflection, and Celebration. For my new readers, may these lifeskill articles offer you encouragement, insight, and commitment to seek, reach, and achieve your life dreams and goals in synergy.

“Grandparents are more necessary today than they have been in the last 100 years. Young people have to have a sense of foundation and grandparents can provide the roots.” Dr. Maya Angelou is among the many who see the essential role grandparents will need to play in the 21st century. Kathryn and Allan Zullo, authors of The Nanas And The Papas: A Boomers’ Guide to Grandparenting chronicles the first wave of the 76-million-strong baby boom generation who are becoming grandparents. Yet, who are these boomer grandpas and grandmas? We all know by now that many of us boomers do not fit the stereotypical grandparent — retired, gray-haired folks sitting in rockers and baking cookies.

Some of us may be grey-haired, but The Zullos’ report that us “baby-boomer grandparents are younger-thinking, healthier, wealthier, and better educated than our grandparents were. We are more active and less formal than our own parents were at our age. We no longer fit the traditional yet unrealistic image of our elderly kin, who lived in a different period.”

According to experts, boomer grandparents will reinvent grandparenting as a second chance at righting whatever wrongs we made as parents—along with taking a proactive role in helping and advising our adult children. That is, if their children want it. For Gen X parents, that may not be the case. But for Millennials just becoming parents in their early twenties, they are showing evidence of seeking sage advice from boomer Mom and Dad. And they just might act on it. Gen X may be willing to listen but usually decides something independent of their elder’s advice.

One of the biggest challenges facing boomer grandparents today is that, unlike previous generations, many are helping to raise their grand kids because of economic pressures and personal problems of their adult children. Other accompanying challenges include living far from the grandparents as well as coping with divorce. This makes it much more difficult for boomers to play a meaningful part in their grandchildren’s lives.

Today blended families are also often times broken, distraught, and strapped. Their adult children may also be “drugged out, wiped out, or stressed out” showing up on their parents’ doorsteps asking, or more like telling, the grandparents “Here they are, take care of my kids.” Zullos also report that “there is another major challenge facing today’s boomer grandparents: for the first time in history, a generation of grandparents will be caring for their parents. We boomers must find ways to handle our lives and careers and relationships while providing help for our elderly parents as well as for our adult children and grandchildren.”

Does this sound familiar to you or are you one of the very lucky ones whose children and grandchildren are doing just fine? I hope the latter for you all. No matter which scenario fits, it is so important to be able to give your grandchildren the love and time they need from you. Experts and other sage grandparents advise us to try to be more of a playmate, a friend, a teacher, and a family historian. Grandparents are not only vital to the well-being of the family but also to the well-being of the country.

We are encouraged whether we are a forties grandparent or a 75-year-old grandpa, “. . .some things never change—like the incredible joy and unconditional love grandparents and grandchildren share. The Zullos and the Grandparent Foundation offer these truths and tips for you expectant and veteran grandparents while traveling through a never to be forgotten adventure:

  • Make sure you’re on the same page as your adult children when it comes to parenting. Child-rearing has changed so much since we raised our kids. There are new rules about what to do and not to do. There’s so much to learn — and unlearn. Don’t put the baby on her tummy for a nap, Nana; put her on her back. Toss out the baby aspirin, Papa; use children’s ibuprofen instead. No, Grammy, don’t give the baby any juice; it’s not good for her at this age. Expectant grandparents need to read what the parents-to-be are reading about child-rearing.
  • Also, the grandparents and parents should discuss with each other their expectations and roles to avoid conflict and promote understanding: Do you expect us to baby-sit every weekend? Do you need financial help? Can I offer suggestions and advice or should I wait until you ask me? It’s vital that everyone communicates before the baby arrives.
  • Be involved with your grandparenting programs. There are a number of national and international programs that need your involvement, such as “Grandparent Network,” hospital programs for “Expectant” Grandparents,” “Grandparent Days in Schools,” and the “Grandparent Connection Program” – involving volunteer grandparents with children in day-care centers, religious institutions, nursing homes, mentor programs, etc. Many of these programs have been nationally and internationally replicated. Even is you don’t have grandchildren, you can still see yourself in a “grandparenting” role as an elder for your community in any number of these programs.
  • Grandchildren learn things from their grandparents they learn nowhere else. Contact with a beloved elder enhances a child’s emotional, physical and spiritual health.
  • The grandparent-grandchild bond is a separate and unique human relationship, second only in emotional importance to the parent-child bond.
  • Grandparents and grandchildren have a complex relationship that comprises the biological, psychological, intellectual, social and spiritual “dimensions” of human experience.
  • The grandparent-grandchild relationship is an “illuminating” relationship that is a repository of the purest form of human love- unconditional love- non-judgmental love, freely given simply because the person exists.
  • The grandparent function is built on basic truths that may be expressed differently in different societies.
  • The role of grandparents is a template for elders to live a meaningful and useful life. Some roles are: living ancestor, family historian, nurturer, mentor, spiritual guide, wizard, crony and role model for the child’s future grandparenthood and perception of aging.
  • The grandparenting role shifts and changes during the life cycle and responds to differing needs of the growing child.
  • Enacting the role of grandparents helps to maintain the mental and physical health, of aging individuals, as well as fostering a positive identity, and a sense of usefulness, empowerment and meaning to later life.
  • Many of the functions of biological grandparents can be carried out by non-biological grandparents.