a special feature from Kay Ziplow & Leslie Zinberg, founders
Let’s face it, family dynamics are ever changing, and grandparenting is changing with it…so painting a picture of grandparenting today is a complicated task. For example, on one hand, greater mobility has meant that families are spread across the country and many children aren’t able to see their grandparents as frequently. Life is hectic for all generations and even families who live near each other may not spend much time together. Look at what occurred when we all were in quarantine! Covid has forever impacted every facet of our lives. On the other hand, people are having fewer children and living longer. For most of human history, families looked like a pyramid, with few older members at the top and many young members at the bottom. Today, families are shaped more vertically, like a beanpole, with a more equal number of members in each generation. With fewer family members in each generation, intergenerational relationships can take on added significance.
Can you believe that by the year 2030, 1 in every 5 Americans will be over 65 years of age? Elders play a vital role in the many dimensions of the family and our society. We are at a pivotal moment in history. In many ways, grandparenting is at a crossroads – and we can play a role in selecting the path it takes. We can choose to redefine it, recognize it, validate it, support it, and celebrate it in a way that empowers all generations.
Yes, the title “parent” is an honorable one. People are proud when they become “parents.” Many people describe the birth of their first child as one of the most momentous events of their life. The title “grandparent” seems to be a bit more loaded. Perhaps it’s because “grandparent” is often perceived to be synonymous with “old,” which is considered a “bad” or undesirable thing in our youth-obsessed culture.
Grandparenting is certainly about generations, but not necessarily about old age – especially today as active, educated, healthy baby boomers head into their grandparenting years. Perhaps the title “grandparent” is also more complicated because it isn’t something we have direct control over. Someone else chooses when we become a grandparent. With the birth of their first grandchild, many grandparents experience a mixture of emotions – pleasure, tension, anxiety, gratitude, resentment – as well as positive and negative expectations of themselves and their adult children.
Fundamentally though, grandparenting is, well, just that – totally GRAND! The definition of “grand” is magnificent, splendid, noble, wonderful or very pleasing, of great importance and distinction. Why wouldn’t someone want that title? Grandparenthood can be a ‘second chance.’
Often, we hear people feel they couldn’t spend as much time with their own children when they were young as they would have liked; or they made some mistakes they’ve learned from. Grandchildren are a fresh start. Grandparenting can offer many of the joys and benefits of parenting, without many of the hassles, constraints, and day-to-day responsibilities. The grandparent/grandchild relationship is a very important one – second in emotional importance only to the parent/child relationship, creating a bond that can forever resonate in the next generation.
*Portions sourced from: legacyproject.org