Editor’s note: This is the first in a series of articles on grandparenting which will appear here in this space every Monday for the next 8 weeks. You are invited to tune in each week and to forward these to grandparents you know.
We have a blessing or a gift that no generation of grandparents before us has had. It is the gift of more time! We Baby Boomers (all 80 million of us in the US—and most of us grandparents) will live on average at least a decade longer than any other generation of grandparents in history. The question is, what are we going to do with those extra years?
We have a lot of interests, passions, responsibilities and priorities. We have our extended careers; we have our sports and our friends and our hobbies and our travel and our music and our other personal interests; we have our finances and our investments; we have our causes, we have our bucket lists, we have our cars and our boats and toys, we have our politics and our clubs and our churches and our other responsibilities. We have our siblings and our extended families and some of us still have our own aging parents. And we have our children who, even as adults, are still our children
But none of us, when we really sit down and think about it, have anything quite as delightful and as joyful as our grandchildren. They are our flesh and blood. They are our pride and joy. And ultimately, they are our only real legacy.
How much of our time and our mental energy are we devoting to those precious and perfect little kids who carry our name and our genetics? And how deliberate and thoughtful are we about the time we spend with them, about what we can do for them, about the relationship we want with them now and for the rest of our lives?
How grand is grandparenting? About as grand as we make it!
We don’t get a lot of training about how to be grandparents. There is no owner’s guide or instruction manual. (GRAND magazine may be the closest thing you can get.)
We all have a decision to make, a choice that will have big and lasting consequences: We need to each ask ourselves, What kind of grandparent will you be? And if we’ve been a grandparent for a while now, but not yet made that decision, now might be the time to make it.
There are several alternatives, and each comes with a different attitude:
1. Disengaged Grandparenting.
Attitude: I raised my kids and now it’s their turn to raise their kids; I’m done.
This attitude might lead you to downsize into an adults-only condo in sun city by a golf course where your days would be quiet but boring.
2. Limited Grandparenting.
Attitude: I love to see them but in limited doses and on my terms.
In this model, grandkids are like amusement parks; you go there once in a while to have fun. Or like dinner guests; you have them over now and then when it’s convenient.
3. Supportive Grandparenting.
Attitude: My kids need all the help they can get with their kids and I want to be there for them.
With this approach, you become part helper, part martyr, sacrificing your own life to be at the beck and call of your adult children whenever they “need” you to help with kids.
4. Proactive Grandparenting.
Attitude: My children are the stewards for their children, but I can teach these grandkids things their parents can’t and be an essential part of an organized three generation family. And by thinking about it—hard—and coming up with a strategy and a plan, I can make a real difference in my grandkids lives, even as I add joy to my own life and keep myself young.
Only at this fourth level does Grandparenting become effective, consequential, and truly fun. At this level, we deliberately ponder the needs we can uniquely fulfill and we set goals and plans to enhance our grandchildren’s lives; and we do so in concert and in teamwork with the goals and stewardship of their parents. This approach will stretch and test us but it will also reward us with levels of fulfillment and well-being and love and peace otherwise unobtainable.
Let’s use this Uplift Families column each week to explore the possibilities. And let’s do it not only in terms of everything we might DO for our grandkids, but in the more consequential and controllable terms of what we can BE for and to our grandkids. Because being an effective, influential grandparent is not about changing the grandkids, it’s about changing ourselves!
In each column will explore specific ways that we can become more proactive grandparents, specific how-tos that work, ideas that we can all enjoy and that will help our grandkids to become all they can be. Thanks for joining us on this journey.
Richard and Linda Eyre’s parenting and life-balance books have reached millions and been translated into a dozen languages. As fellow Baby Boomers, their passion and their writing focus has now shifted to the joy of Grandparenting. Linda’s latest book is Grandmothering, and Richard’s is Being a Proactive Grandfather, each of which is now on sale on Amazon.