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Not your Grandparents’ Grandparenthood
Today’s grandparents are re-envisioning what grandparenthood might be all about. Grandparents are now healthier and live longer than any prior generation of grandparents, and so have greater opportunity to take on important roles in their grandchildren’s lives. The old model of kindly but distant and uninvolved grandparents is being replaced by new ideas and roles: more engaged, more creative, and often playing a vital part in helping their grandchildren explore their hopes, dreams, and potential.
What are the best things about being a grandparent?
Grandparents have the full pleasure and enjoyment of having a grandchild without all the child-rearing responsibilities that parenthood brings.
Grandparents often have more free time and less stress than parents struggling to balance the responsibilities of raising a child with work and other obligations.
They have deeper life perspectives that enable them to more fully enjoy and cherish the start of new life and the nurturing of a new family generation.
In fact, 72% of grandparents say being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life.1
The average American will be a grandparent for half of their adult life.
What are some of the challenges of grandparenthood?
Families are more geographically dispersed than ever before, and about half of grandparents say they have a grandchild living more than 200 miles away.2 Grandparents who live far away from their grandchildren can find it difficult to create and maintain meaningful relationships with their grandchildren.
Today’s rapid changes in culture and technology can also make it harder for grandparents and grandchildren to relate, understand each other, and find common interests.
In many families divorce and remarriage among children can complicate relationships between generations.
What are some of the most important roles of grandparents?
Above all else, grandparents can be great fun. Without the all the responsibilities of parenthood, grandparents can help grandchildren explore new activities and add immense joy to their grandchildren’s lives. Playtime for many children is now more structured, scheduled, and hyper-organized than ever. For young grandchildren, having the chance to have unstructured playtime with you can be a source of newfound creativity and excitement. And, research shows that creative play is crucial to the development of learning skills and social development skills.3 Grandparents can deepen their relationships with older grandchildren by taking an interest and learning about what their grandkids are engaged in. Consider finding a long-term project activity that you both enjoy in order to create ongoing interaction and fun.
Today’s parents are busier and in greater need of help than ever. Among couples with children, six in ten have both parents working,4 stretching thin many parents who are juggling work and childrearing responsibilities. Nearly one in six grandparents provide daycare services for grandchildren when their parents work, and on average expect to provide care for about six years.5 Caregiving by grandparents can not only create more stable environments for children, but can also help to form early emotional bonds, and research shows the extra help and stability grandparents provide can improve grandchildren’s emotional development.
Grandparents can play a vital role in helping their grandchildren’s interests and talents flourish. If you live close enough to your grandchildren, attending sporting events and other performances can be a source of bonding and encouragement. You can also look for creative ways to show your enthusiasm for your grandchildren’s creations. For example, you can include art or photography your grandchild sends you in holiday cards, photo books, or posting on your social media sites.
With more free time and a lifetime of experiences, grandparents can open up new worlds for their grandchildren. About 40 percent of grandparents travel with their grandchildren at least once a year.6 Visiting your family’s country or region of origin, or visiting distant relatives your grandchildren may not know, can be a stimulating way to teach your grandkids about your family’s history. Or take vacations to connect with your grandkids around their interests (e.g. if your grandchildren love dinosaurs, take a tour of the greatest natural history museums around the country). Traveling without parents (with their permission, of course) can create new opportunities to bond. One in five grandparents say they travel with their grandchildren alone.7
Grandparents can tap into a lifetime of experiences to teach their grandchildren everything from how to read to business skills. Three-quarters (75%) of grandparents say they read to their grandchildren8—a very important role, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, which says that reading to a child from the age of six months is “as important as fastening their seat belts and providing good nutrition.” When grandchildren are older consider starting a book club (with club meetings either in-person or online), and ask your grandchildren to guide the discussions. Teaching can go both ways. Asking your grandchildren to teach you new skills, such as how to use the latest technologies, can help create meaningful new connections with your grandkids, in addition to helping make your life more interesting and stimulating.
For many families, grandparents can be financially generous, provide financial stability and offer opportunities to grandchildren the parents can’t afford. Grandparents report they spend an average of $2,383 each year specifically to benefit their grandkids, including gifts, outings, extra-curricular lessons, and even an allowance.9 Grandparents also often offer to help pay for high cost items. 72% of grandparents think it’s important to help pay for their grandchildren’s college, and more than half (53%) are currently contributing or plan to do so.10
Grandparents can play a crucial role in the development of grandchildren’s character traits and moral and spiritual development. The majority of grandparents have discussed morals and values (78%) and religion or spirituality (66%) with their grandchildren. Six in ten grandparents have helped their grandchildren with life’s problems and struggles. Half of grandparents have talked with their grandchildren about smoking, drug use, and drinking alcohol.11 Grandparents can be a vital reservoir of a family’s history and heritage that might otherwise be forgotten and lost. Grandparents can preserve and bring life to the family heritage by telling family stories, sharing family news, researching ancestry, or developing a “family archive” that contains old family photos, family recipes, family artifacts, family vacation souvenirs, and grandchildren’s artwork and report cards.
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1. Grandparents.com survey, 2013
2. AARP, Insights and Spending Habits of Modern Grandparents, 2012
3. Grandparents.com Survey: The Impact of Multigenerational Households in America, 2009
4. New York Times, "Let the Kids Learn through Play", May 15, 2015
5. US Census Bureau
6. AARP, Insights and Spending Habits of Modern Grandparents, 2012
7. Fox News, "Adult cruising with kids? Grandparents share love of world travel with the next generation", August 14, 2015
8. AARP, Insights and Spending Habits of Modern Grandparents, 2012
9. CNBC, "Ka-ching! Here's what it costs to be a grandparent", January 13, 2017
10. Fidelity 2014 Grandparents and College Savings Study
11. AARP, Insights and Spending Habits of Modern Grandparents, 2012