Much ado has been made that a grandma is running for president. Yes that would be Hillary, and in fact, it’s worth noting that Donald is a grandpop many times over. The face of grandparenting is changing but it does not diminish the important role they play. The challenge in today’s society – where broader geography and longer lives are the norm – is making modern grandparents relevant.
Unlike when I was growing up in south Philadelphia, where my grandmother was just around the corner, modern grandparents are often separated by distance from their children and grandchildren. That is the case for my wife and I. Four of the six grandkids live north some 500 miles and two live 3,000 miles away. Tools like Skype and Facetime keep us in their lives and relevant. When we see them in person we are not strangers, a predicament past generations of grandparents faced if they lived far away.
Living Longer. Having Kids Later
Kids of baby boomers have tended to have their kids later in life making the average age of today’s grandparents older too. Being older when you come into the role presents opportunities and challenges. According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy:
Census data indicate that in the United States there are approximately 2.4 million grandparents raising 4.5 million children.
That impacts 2.3% of the population. Here is where this gets tricky. People living in subsidized housing or assisted and nursing communities are not able to have grandchildren live with them. There are some experiments going on to change that.
That said, a majority of modern-day grandmothers are not over 65. They are working longer partly because they need to financially and for a sense of purpose but they also do it to help support kids who are making far less these days and spoiling grandkids because their parents can’t.
Foster grandparent programs are also cropping up. People who find their own grandchildren far away or who have never had grandchildren are drawn to these programs. These programs provide a chance to tutor, mentor troubled teens, care for children with disabilities, and help abused or neglected children.
One quarter of divorces today are taking place for people over 50, an unprecedented number, and well above our WW2 parents. People are remarrying, even having kids in their 50s. So that changes all kinds of dynamics and makes for blended families. Since I have been married before, it becomes interesting for my wife. The biological and step-children (and their children) I had in my first marriage call her Kathy because their mom (and mom-mom) was my first wife. For my wife’s biological child and two granddaughters she is mom-mom. I get away with being called “pop” by everyone!
The point here is that you can let things get complicated at this stage or choose to just simplify the language and approach. When we talk about our family, we say we have three kids and six grandkids. And we truly love everyone equally. That’s us. It may not work for everyone. It depends on the circumstances on how these relationships evolved. But for the sake of the grandchildren, it is best to show a unified front. And it’s OK to have multiple grandparents on either side. Go with the flow. The more love the better right?
Modern grandmothers are no longer these really old people wearing house dresses and grandfathers are not whittling away in the garage. They are fully immersed in life and want to be fully part of the lives of their kids and grandkids. So celebrate them, welcome them, love them – and stay connected to them in both high and low tech ways. They have so much to contribute and so much to learn from the grandchildren in turn.