Fourteen days from now. That’s when I expect my first grandchild to be born. I plan to fly cross country at the last minute and be one of the first to welcome her to our planet.
I will not be the only grandparent there. Her much younger maternal grandparents will be front and center, too.
Our family all agree that we will be very different grandparents. Which makes we wonder…
What kind of grandma am I? What kind of grandparent are you?
Truth be told, I don’t envision myself a grandma at all. I see myself more as Auntie Mame. The Travel Grandma, the Worldly Grandma, the Just Dance When Life Gives You a Chance Grandma.
I know what you’re thinking: I can’t be that kind of grandma until my grandchild grows up a bit and I can drag her by the hand along with me, her pigtails trailing behind. Think again. I already found a rattle that looks like the Taj Mahal and a Shakespeare rubber duck baby bath toy.
Still, I really don’t know how I will react when the blessed event takes place.
I am told that becoming a grandparent is life-changing, that hormones react in your own body when the baby is born. Here’s what journalist Lesley Stahl wrote in her book, “Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting”: “Then, wham! My first grandchild, Jordan, was born January 30, 2011. I was jolted, blindsided by a wallop of loving more intense than anything I could remember or had ever imagined.”
Will that happen to me? I’m far from the first to wonder at my role as a grandparent.
Fifty-four years ago, leading gerontologist Bernice Neugarten did a study for the University of Chicago and concluded there were five types of grandparents…
- The Formal or Traditional, an important part of the family; but, taking a background role. (Not me. I don’t bake cookies. I have only supervised visitation with my stove.)
- The Fun Seeker, who plans outings and is a social director for leisure. (Getting warmer…sounds a little like Auntie Mame.)
- The Surrogate Parent, who is stepping into the parental role. (My son would never let that happen.)
- The Reservoir of Family Wisdom (which sounds nice, but I’m too ditzy for anyone to consider me a Yoda).
- The Distant Grandparent, who sees children on special occasions and holidays. (Don’t exactly like the sound of it…but maybe with Facetime it’s ok.)
Do any of these types resonate with you?
You might be a much younger grandparent than Neugarten was studying. By 2015, half of grandparents in the US were boomers, 43% had become grandparents in their fifties, 37% in their forties, with the average age of grandparents being only 48. Only 48!
This is contrary to the image of the white-haired folks that were Neugarten’s Formal or Traditional. I’d say she missed the Athletic Grandparent, the Zumba Grandparent, and the Baseball Grandparent.
As for the Surrogate Parent, their ranks have grown exponentially. In fact by 2016, 2.7 million US grandparents were raising their grandkids, up 7% from 2009.
Grandparent-dependent families take many forms today. Our best friends, a high powered international lawyer and a biochemist who probably reengineered the food you are eating right now, have become full-time baby sitters. They world-travel around their schedule of three-day-a-week babysitting and five-day-a-week drives to preschool.
It sounds like a lot, but it can be healthy. A study published in the journal Evolution & Human Behavior found that people who helped care for their grandchildren lived an average of five years longer than those who did not.
I figure, most of us would like to think of ourselves as the Fun Seeker grandparent.
For the past year, I have been a grief facilitator at Good Grief in Princeton, New Jersey, for kids between the ages of two and four whose parents have died. Let me tell you, fun with little ones is a workout.
I try to learn from Elise, my sister-in-law, the quintessential Fun Seeker grandma. I observed her when her grandson opened the Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots we bought him for Hanukkah. He had a blank look on his face.
Before he could ask Siri what it was, Elise jumped up and started to pummel the air. She pretended to knock herself out and fell on the floor…much to the young man’s delight. That’s the FUN grandma in action.
These days there are not many truly Distant Grandparents. Technology has seen to that.
My co-grief-facilitator at Good Grief is a long-distance grandma. Her son is in the foreign service. She has traveled to Ecuador, Sri Lanka and now the Maldives to visit her grandchildren. But, despite geography, Carol’s not distant. She’s forever on Facetime and Skype along with the millions of grandparents comfortable online.
Even grandparents who are not of the digital generation can easily communicate online through programs like grandPad ($66/month or $588/year) and SeeYouLink, for which I consult. Rich Brown, Founder of SeeYouLink, tells me that the new buzzword among people who run assisted living facilities is “engagement.” In most facilities, that means Skype and Facebook are available for all. (SeeYouLink is available through many non-profits and in the community rooms at select assisted-living residences. If you have a group of folks that might benefit from its features, or you yourself want to give it a try, you can download the program for a free trial.)
Think about it all this, and ask yourself…
What kind of grandparent am I or will I be? A new type? A composite? As for me, I will report to you shortly.
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