They're redefining grandparenting – in record numbers
Published: October 23, 2017
By: Greg Carannante
I never really knew my grandparents.
Coming from the old country long before I was born, they were like foreigners to me. They spoke broken or no English, were very old and lived a long drive away. Let’s just say, there was not a lot of bonding going on.
It’s been a different story for my two sons — each blessed with meaningful grandparent relationships — as well as for me, now grandfather of a 6-year-old with whom I’ve already spent more quality time than all my grandparents combined.
Most of us are probably as different from our own grandparents as, say, Grandma Moses is from Grandpa Mick — Jagger, that is, who has five grandkids and one great-grandchild!
One of those differences — and a major distinguishing feature on the face of today’s grandparents — is how invested they are in the lives of their grandchildren: 72% take care of the grandkids on a regular basis and 81% have them for at least a part of their summer vacation, according to grandparents.com. Additionally, 55% play video games with them and 92% have changed their diaper. How many of your grandparents changed your diaper?
What’s changing the role of grandparenting? Not surprisingly, it’s got a lot to do with the influx and influence of the baby-boom generation — you know, the one that was never supposed to grow old but has now aged into the grandparent-boom generation, swelling the ranks of the demographic by historical proportions. That’s right, there are now more grandparents
than ever in this country — about 70 million, according to the latest census. That’s a 24-percent increase since 2001. As recently as 2014, more than 1 in 3 adults over 30 were grandparents.
The same boomers who in younger days famously detonated cultural shockwaves are now shaking up the grandparent landscape. For one, whether near or far, today’s grandpa and grandma are easier to connect with — because they’re online, or at least 75% of them are, says grandparents.com, and 45% of them use social media. And the percentage keeps increasing.
And just as they did with their own, they are doting on their children’s children — 25% of grandparents have spent more than $1,000 in a year on the grandkids, according to an AARP study. Even more than money, they’re giving their time and energy. They’ve got a lot more of both to give, too, as the health-conscious boomer generation keeps on keeping on with longer
and more active lives. They may be getting a nice return on their investment, as well.
“Grandparenting is healthy for us,” says Lillian Carson, author of The Essential Grandparent. “Being in touch with the younger generation literally beefs up the immune system.”
If that’s so, Sharon Milch, of Pembroke Pines, gets a daily dose of immune-boosting, courtesy of her 2-½-year-old granddaughter, Kaitlynn, who lives nearby.
“I pick her up from school every day when I’m in town,” says Sharon, 66. “I’m with her about two hours every weekday and sometimes on the weekends for babysitting or if there’s something going on that I can take her to.
“The best part is watching her learn. She’s like a parrot — everything you say and do she wants to do. We bake, go swimming; we get to enjoy so many things together.”
Sharon, an avid traveler, will join the 66% of grandparents who travel with their grandkids when she accompanies her daughter and granddaughter on a January trip to Jamaica.
UNDER THE SAME ROOF
Shari Allen is another grandparent who’s involved day-to-day with her grandkids — Sienna, 5, and Logan, 2, (She and Sienna are this issue’s cover girls.)
“Now that Sienna started school, I see them six or seven hours a week. They’ll come over after school and hang out a little bit during the week,” says Shari, 57, who moved to Boca Raton in April.
“They used to live around the corner from me in Coconut Creek, so I used to see them all the time — in fact the first year of Sienna’s life, they lived with me.”
In so doing, she was part of a growing trend: grandparents who live with or raise the grandkids. Last year, there were 2.7 million grandparents raising grandchildren nationwide, reports The Associated Press, and census figures show the number is up 7% from 2009. In Florida, over 157,000 grandparents are householders responsible for their grandchildren, according to grandfamilies.org
David and Jane Olinsky of Cooper City know well the responsibilities of helping to raise a grandchild. Now in their 60s, they’ve had grandson Kris, 12, with them since he was 4. He and his dad, Scott, moved in with the Olinskys after Scott received full custody in a divorce settlement.
“Scott’s occupation makes it difficult to be available for all Kris’s needs for school,” says David, a local podiatrist and foot surgeon. “So he moved in with us so we could help out.
Jane and I love having continuous visitation with our grandson, getting to experience all his life’s ups and downs. And, yes, we do feel like parents, but at the same time we realize our place as grandparents and the importance that plays in Kris’s life. Kris gets to maintain a loving caring family environment and we get to enjoy him!”
‘A DIFFERENT KIND OF LOVE’
Whatever is redefining the roles of grandparents —and whether they’re raising their grandkids or seeing them only occasionally — one thing seems not to have changed: the love factor.
“My mother loved my son,” says grandparents.com columnist Barbara Graham, “but there was nothing like the level of obsession my friends and I have for our grandchildren.”
In last year’s Becoming Grandma, The Joys And Science of the New Grandparenting, veteran TV reporter Lesley Stahl describes the impact of grandparenthood as a life-defining moment.
“Throughout my career,” she writes, “I worked at suppressing both my opinions and my emotions. I was out on the streets of New York on 9/11 and held myself together. … I’ve sat opposite mothers of dying children, teenagers who had been abused, and grown men and women who had suffered the indignities of injustice — without breaking down in tears or exploding in outrage. I thought I had become the epitome of self-control.
“Then, wham! My first grandchild, Jordan, was born on January 30, 2011. I was jolted, blindsided by a wallop of loving more intense than anything I could remember or had ever imagined.”
Shari Allen of Boca expresses it in similarly dramatic terms:
“It’s so true when they say that you really don’t know what it feels like to be a grandparent until you become one. Of course you love your children, but I feel like my granddaughter — I would lay in front of a train for her.
“It’s like a different kind of love. For some reason, it’s so much more intense. Maybe it’s because you don’t have the control like you do over your own children. You can just enjoy them.”