The Art and Science of Grandparenting in the 21st Century

The image grandparents has changed considerably over recent decades. Grandparents look younger and are more active than ever before. Most modern grandparents choose not to live with young families, and many live thousands of miles away. However, the cultural influence of grandparents is undeniable. Though cultural changes have brought adjustments to the role and function of grandparents, grandparents can find many way to play a meaningful role in their grandchildren’s lives.

New Grandparents

The arrival of the first grandchild can often be a shock. The event may generate strong feelings that are unfamiliar, although the social rituals are culturally well established. New grandparents may feel pride, the warmth of continuity, and increased social status—but they may also deal with fears about getting older, worries about the dangers in the world or about their own financial security. A number of years may have passed since having parented, and they may feel unsure about handling babies and toddlers. Over time, people generally become accustomed to their new social role as grandparent. They often learn to add new aspects to their personalities or get in touch with less serious sides of themselves. Before long, they often find themselves deeply and comfortably involved in the passing on of family memories and life skills to their grandchildren.

Individual Attention

After getting accustomed to the role of grandparent with the first grandchild, a number of other grandchildren often follow over the years. This embarrassment of riches requires that grandparents get to know each of their grandchildren on an individual basis, rather than simply bundling them up into an undistinguished group. Each child brings his own characteristics, interests and talents to the family, and each should be recognized and appreciated for his individual contributions. It is up to the grandparent to reach out to get to know each grandchild on his or her own terms. This effort brings rich benefits to both the grandparent and the grandchild.

The Blended Family

Blended families, that is, those parents who have remarried and brought the new spouse’s children and grandchildren into the family group present other opportunities. If you do not have grandchildren yourself, you can enjoy learning the skills and enjoying the role with the spouse’s grandchildren. This situation can better prepare you for your own grandchildren later on, or, if you expect not to have grandchildren from your children, you will still enjoy all the benefits and challenges of grandparenting. Once learned, the skills of grandparenting can be transferred to any young child that needs a grandparent but doesn’t have one. The role of “foster grandparent” is not really appreciated for the enriching experience it is for all concerned.

Pace Yourself

As a grandparent, it soon becomes clear why it is younger people that have the children. Grandparenting can be exhausting physically and emotionally. It’s a good idea to prepare for visits with grandchildren by eating well and getting enough sleep. During longer babysitting periods, enforce “quiet times” both for you and for the child to ensure that nerves don’t get frayed. Plan activities both at home and away from home, if possible. Inform children about upcoming events so that they don’t get bored, but don’t let them rush you from activity to activity. Discuss nighttime rituals with the parents and ensure that you keep to the child’s normal daily schedule to avoid overtiring both the child and yourself.

Handling Behavioral Problems

You can avoid many problems with tired children, hungry children or misbehaving children by doing a bit of pre-planning. Keep snacks on hand and avoid delaying lunch or naptimes. Talk with the parents about what discipline methods they prefer. Keep the parents’ cell phone numbers on hand in case the child’s behavior becomes unmanageable. A call will generally calm things down to a reasonable level so that you can enjoy the rest of the visit.

Difficult Subjects

If you spend a significant amount of time with your grandchild, a number of “delicate subjects” may arise in conversation that you may not know how to handle. These subjects can include sex, God, religion, death or serious illness in members of the family. It’s best to steer the child back to his or her parents for a thorough discussion of the issue, as most families have their own ways of dealing with these subjects. You can then alert the parents to the subject arising so that they can then continue the conversation with the child at a later time. If the child is insistent on getting an answer, try diverting his attention to more compelling activities.

Long Distance Grandparenting

Grandparenting over the miles can be a little trickier, but smartphones, email and the Internet provide a wealth of ways to keep in touch, even when you live far away. New technology allows grandparents to stay in touch with grandchildren on a more frequent basis. By the time children reach the age of 7 or 8, they know how to text or send an photograph to keep you informed of what’s going on in their lives, whether it is sports, dance, artwork or other activities. Be open to learning these technologies and use them to share interests, encourage schoolwork and celebrate successes of every kind. Sharing a YouTube video or an interesting article on new fossil discoveries around the world can cement your connection to your grandchildren despite the miles that separate you. Even old technology, like sharing an article from the newspaper can help you to stay connected to grandchildren that live far away. However, be warned that you may not always get a reply. Children are often wrapped up in their own lives and may forget to send a thank-you or a response. However, your making the effort lets them know you love them and have them in your thoughts.


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