Nana, Pop, Mimi, Glam…Whatever they are called, they’re ready to answer.
Welcome to the age of the grandparents! As global life expectancy rates increase, the number of children women are having has fallen, resulting in the highest ratio of living grandparents to grandchildren in history. That’s great news because research from the National Institutes of Health shows caring for a grandchild is associated with enhanced cognitive function.
How is grandparenting different in 2023? We asked a small group of the Growing Bolder community, to find out what they enjoy, what they’re learning, how they’re different from their grandparents or their own parents in this role, and what their hopes and concerns are for their grandchildren.
Most agreed, being a grandparent is even more joyful than they expected, and opened their hearts even more than loving their own children did. “Before becoming a grandparent, I would hear others declare more love for their grandchildren than their own,” Delores Thomas said.
“I would always say, ‘There is no way!’ What a surprise! I now proclaim the same thing from the rooftop!”
Many noted the joy of not having as much responsibility with their grandchildren – the ability to have fun without as many worries. They see themselves as more hands-on with their grandchildren than previous generations and several wished the media would represent that more. “They should show grandparents being more active with their grandkids,” Dondi Sanchez said. “I spend a lot of time playing with them, biking or skateboard riding, going out to lunch or dinner, and playing with them in the pool.”
For most, the relationships they share with their grandchildren are closer than those they had with their own grandparents. “My grandparents did not play a role in my childhood. They lived far away and seemed much more aged than my wife and I are at this stage in our lives,” David Steele said.
“I most enjoy casual, one-on-one conversations with my grandchildren. I love exploring with them, how they see the world, and finding out what their dreams and goals are. Being able to watch them perform in athletics and their other activities is also a great gift of grandparenthood.”
While earlier generations of grandparents taught grandchildren how to cook or clean or even hobbies like fishing, today the teaching is a two-way street, with grandparents as apt to learn from their grandchildren, in tangible and intangible ways.
“They learn new technologies quicker and easier than I do,” said Steele. “If I ever have a question regarding technology, our oldest grandchildren are always the best place to turn to.”
“I have learned from my grandchildren to look around for the small things that bring you pleasure, such as sitting on the porch watching a storm roll in or watching a bug make its way somewhere and see where it goes. Not always looking at the big picture,” said Valerie Milwood.
For Secily Wilson, being a grandparent is also the chance to put into practice some things she wished she’d done differently as a mom.
“As a young mother, I was laser-focused on building my television career. I didn’t always do things right, didn’t always give my undivided attention, and stressed about the messy things in our home,” Wilson said. “I never ever neglected my children and loved them ‘to the moon and back’. I feel being a ‘Gina’, my name for grandmother, gives me a second chance to do better. MY mother would always say, ‘When you know better, you do better’. She was right!”
For some, they have taken the standard their parents set as grandparents and upped the ante. “My mother was the best example of grandparenting,” Laura Sherwood said. “She loved on my kids and was always fun. So, I decided to up my game, and make my house the fun house when they walked in the door. They love coming so much, I can’t get them to leave!”
For others, they are choosing to be different with their children than their parents were. “My parents were very close to my children and loved them well,” Vicky Mixson said. “One aspect I wanted to intentionally change when I became a grandparent is to not offer any ‘words of wisdom’ to my children as they raise their own children, unless asked.”
Most expressed concern that their grandchildren will retain a sense of values or faith as they navigate a world that is ever-changing and worry about the effects of technology on them — although it’s technology that keeps connections alive for grandparents that live far away. Jennifer Blake has weekly online calls with her granddaughter but says it’s not quite the same.
For Art Hanebury, his granddaughter is inspiring him to take better care of himself physically. “My only concern is that I will not be around to give her as much love that I can, but I am working on sticking around. She is my reason for living,” Hanebury said.
As much as the world has changed over the years, Susan Christovich notices how in some ways the nature of grandchildren hasn’t. “It’s still hard to be a 2-year-old, and it’s hard to be a teenager,” said Christovich. “We recently went on a cruise with the three oldest grandkids and their parents. When the 16-year-old was asked what his favorite part of the cruise was (besides the big things like fishing for halibut and salmon) he said it was just hanging out and playing cards with us. As complicated as teens are, just being accepted and spending time with them is most important.”
All agreed that time with their grandchildren is precious and fleeting. Much like we’re learning about all areas of life, it’s important to cherish all the opportunities we have with our grandchildren. To pass on whatever we can in the moments we have now.
For Dave D’Amico that means, “I would love Rosie to understand family love is super important, to be able to lean on me at any time; respect for others, hard work pays off down the road, don’t be afraid to jump in and help others when needed.”
“I want them to know that they are loved beyond measure and that Mimi is one of their biggest cheerleaders,” Mixson added.
“Being a grandparent is the greatest privilege ever,” said Sherwood. “I have another chance of impacting these little minds. Once they are born, I have 18 years until the world has them. I need to make them count. Time is ticking and goes by so fast!
“The window that children want to interact with adults is so short, to understand that and take advantage of it if you are able is key,” Milwood said. “It is one of my favorite gifts in this life — to be able to see my grandchildren often and to be a part of their day-to-day lives.”
This article is featured in the Fall 2023 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.