Being a Boomer grandparent today is both easier and more challenging than ever and also more fun!
Before I became a grandparent of twin boys a few months ago, I didn't realize Grandparents' Day has been celebrated each year since 1978 on September 7th. Mandated by law via President Jimmy Carter, this is the National holiday for honoring grandparents to "help children become aware of the strength, information and guidance older people can offer."
Grandparents Day was not celebrated in my house when I was young the way Mother's Day and Father's Day were. Both my grandfathers died before I was born, although I spent time with my grandmothers who both died during my teenage years. One taught me to sew and crochet, which I continue to do now. The other lived in what I remember as an elegant apartment hotel. When I visited her after school, I enjoyed sitting on her velvet sofa and drinking tea of of her china cups as we played Go Fish or other card games.
Through the women in my family, I gained a sense of the generations beyond my parents. I was lucky both grandmothers lived in my city so I saw them regularly before they were gone.
With single parent or divorced and also blended families the norm now, grandparents seem to be getting more involved with their children's children than ever. Grandparents are also younger than previously — Baby Boomers rather than Senior Citizens — so they're more active than my white-haired grandmothers were.
A University of Chicago study of over 13,000 grandparents ages 50 and older noted that they gave their grandkids at least 50 hours of care per year (on average) between 1998 and 2008. A 2012 survey (by Generations United and MetLife Mature Market Institute) revealed that three-fourths of the respondents provided childcare or babysitting for their grandkids on a weekly basis. Childcare is essential for today's working parents so they have time to earn a living, but the emotional and generational bond between grandparent and grandchild is just as vital as it was when I was young.
So as I finally settle into grandparenthood myself, I've discovered it's more interesting than I imagined it could be. Although my grandtwins are still infants, and it will be a year or so before they're rambunctious boys jumping on my (not velvet) sofa, the redcent experience of watching my daughter and her husband settle in as first-time parents gave me a fresh feeling about life, generations, and how much things stay the same even as they change.
Some of the ways I've noticed that make it good — or at least satisfying — to be a grandparent today are:
- Even if you don't live in the same city as your kids and grandkids, you can "visit" and see them grow via Skype! My daughter first announced her pregnancy to us via Skype, and we have Skype visits every few weeks now to see how the boys are growing and how she's doing. (With twins, she's still sleep-deprived!)
- While there's no paid "grandparents' leave" policies to allow working Boomers to take time off of work and help out the new parents who are still our children get into a rhythm of caring for their new children, some of us have the freedom to visit for a week or a month whenever possible. This is especially true for those, like me, who are self-employed or freelance, as well as Boomers who are already retired. Knowing this was a once in a lifetime occasion, I spent 6 weeks in rural Montana taking care of my daughter so she could take care of her new babies. I was more domestic — literally the "chief cook, errand runner and bottle washer" — than I've been since she was young (over 30 years ago) — and also more exhausted at the end of each day. No wonder child-care seems easier when we're young — physical stamina is required. But I was grateful to have the privilege of making sure my daughter and her husband (who went back to work once the babies were home) were well-fed and their house was clean. It was my "sacred" grandparental duty — and a summer vacation I'll never forget. (Neither will they — there are plenty of pictures...)
- Baby holding is a privilege as well as a necessary grandparenting task. Holding twins is more challenging than one baby, obviously, since it requires two arms, two hands and one full lap at all times. I discovered swaddling them in a big blanket (which I nicknamed "Grandma's Magic Blanket") helped as I could adjust one of them by tugging his side of the blanket without disturbing his brother. This helped prevent my arms from going to sleep.
- Reading to kids via book or Kindle is still as much fun as ever — even when they're too young to recognize the words. The rhythm, cadence, tone and pitch of my voice is now very familiar to them — and it was a joy to make eye contact and even get a smile.
- Battery-operated swings, industrial-strength strollers and baby carrier-wraps are more sophisticated than when my daughter was an infant. The flexible swaddling Mobi wrap allowed the babies to be "worn" and taken on hikes, to bluegrass concerts at local brewpubs and even to the July 4th Parade in town. I had one of the first "umbrella strollers" for my daughter, but today's versions are car-crash tested baby carrier seats and strollers. Fortunately, the materials from which these carriers are made of are also lighter than they look.
- It's still just as hard to give "advice" to new parents as it probably was for my mom to give it to me 30+ years ago. But the sense of making a difference for my new-mom/daughter and also my grandtwins by being available — and especially by baking the delicious lacatation enhancing cookies whose recipe she found online — makes it all worthwhile.
Happy Grandparents Day 2014 to us all — and to our Grandparents and theirs before them!