Grandparenting in the 21st Century

grandfather

By Janet Kurland, LCSW-C
Jewish Community Services

What’s one of the latest status symbols for today’s grandparents? Think of children’s car seats in the grandparents’ cars. They reflect how involved many seniors are in the lives of their families and how they are contributing to child rearing long after their own children have grown up.

In today’s three and four generation families, each generation has significant and important roles that contribute to the family’s well-being and productivity. In the U.S. today, there are more grandparents and great-grandparents alive and well than ever before in our history.

Both boomers and elders are staying healthy longer and living fully active lives; many are still working. In addition, they have taken on the “jobs” of child raising for their grandchildren, such as baby-sitting and carpooling as well as going to recitals and sports events. They are even “on duty” for vacations: a three generation family group makes it much easier to visit and enjoy Disney World or a week at the beach.

Adult children need and seek grandparents’ involvement. Young couples are beginning to understand this. It’s great to live “away” before children are part of the family, but once children come, the world changes. Young families increasingly are participating in “reverse migration,” moving back home to be closer to their parents. And grandparents are moving and staying closer to where grandchildren live.

The experience of grandparenting can be rejuvenating and fun, and most relish their involvement. However, there are also some challenges that come with the enhanced roles grandparents are playing in their families’ lives. Grandparents often share with me that sometimes it’s hard to juggle their own needs, physical energy, interests, and schedules with their sense of responsibility to family. Some say they feel guilty if they are already busy when their son or daughter asks them to babysit. Others wonder where their free time went. And then there are the tensions that can surface if grandparents and their adult children have different ideas and parenting styles.

Yes, being a grandparent can be exhausting, but at times it is an exhilarating exhaustion! You have many opportunities to transmit your values and family traditions, and even share that extra sweet treat that grandparents are known to have. Those special treats and toys don’t have to be expensive. Recently I spent a couple of hours at Party City where I invited my 4- and 6 -year-old grandsons to select their own special two gifts ($1.89 each). Not only did we have fun, but our outing also provided many teaching moments such as which toy was sturdier and easier to handle.

Grandparents become the role models for every successive generation. Your impact and input will be remembered. If your grandchildren see a grandparent who is active, healthy and involved, they will view aging in a positive manner. On the other hand, when a grandparent is ill or has a disability, the children will learn respect, compassion and courage.

If you live at a distance from grandchildren, modern technology offers excellent help in staying very much in touch and connected. Skype, cell phone, text, email – every age can use and relate to these very convenient and available ways of communicating. Today’s children are already reading at an early age.

The mantra that I frequently play in my head is a reminder “to give yourself the gift of a real relationship with your grandchildren.” We all lead very busy lives. Carving out and prioritizing grandparenting time will bring rewards at every age. As those toddlers grow into teens and young adults, so does that relationship bond grow.

The sense of being part of a multigenerational family and the added security and steadfastness within the extended family that grandparents bring are major assets in today’s troubled world.

Grandparents in today’s world need to become techno-savvy. Read more.

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