There are now approximately 80 million baby boomers in America, according to the United States Census Bureau, and many of them are grandparents.
And with the ever-rising life expectancy averages, many of us will be grandparents for 30 or 40 years or more. Whereas people used to hope to live long enough to become grandparents, we now plan on living to see our grandkids graduate from college, marry and produce great-grandchildren for us.
With this extra time, many grandparents are adding to their definition of what grandparenting is and thinking about how the role can take a more central place in their lives.
This has certainly been the case with us. We recently welcomed grandchildren Nos. 30 and 31.
Several years ago, as we were trying to formulate just what our goals and plans should be for grandparenting, we noticed that despite the thousands of parenting books available, there were very few grandparenting books. So we began collecting our thoughts and started on a jointly authored manuscript.
We realized that what grandmothers need and want — and the way in which they think of their role — is quite different than what grandfathers want. Both grandparenting roles are important but also different.
However, many of the most important things apply to both grandpas and grandmas. A few of the key things that we believe apply across the board are:
1. Set goals concerning how much time you want to spend with grandkids, then make plans about the ways to organize that time most effectively. Find a balance between too much time and too little time.
2. Strive for an individual, unique relationship with each grandchild that represents the individuality of that child and makes him or her feel special.
3. Understand that the best thing you can be to small grandchildren is their “buddy.” For elementary kids, strive to be their “champion,” and for adolescents and teens, be their “listening, nonjudging consultant.”
4. Meet with the parents (your children) to discuss and brainstorm how each grandchild is doing. Work together in deciding who can do what to meet each challenge and opportunity. We have found that families that take this two-generation teamwork approach deepen relationships as they work out what is best for each child and who is the best parent or grandparent to work on it.
5. Be the connecting link that informs your grandchildren of their great-grandparents. Kids who know about their ancestors, who have a real family narrative, are more resilient and have a stronger sense of identity than those who do not.
6. Be a gatherer. Be the one that gets the extended family together and who facilitates strong bonds between cousins and between kids and their uncles and aunts.
7. As your financial situation allows, be a facilitator who helps out intelligently and in consultation with parents to meet your grandkids' needs. Some kind of matching grant for educational opportunities and other worthwhile things can make a big difference.