Grandparents, that is. How ironic — just as I decided to write a post about the plight of today’s Grandma and Grandpa, researchers from Johns Hopkins published a study in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics that shows children are less likely to be injured when they are in the care of grandparents than with their stay-at-home moms. Turns out that while the aging Baby Boomers are feeling a generational gap — maybe even a rift in some cases — in child-raising attitudes between their own children and themselves, their skills have withstood the advancing years.
Before I go any further, there is a caveat. I am not a grandmother yet, but I have endless stories to retell from those I know who are. The tales are all different, but the ending is always the same: “…and I just bite my tongue.”
At least we know now that there is a significant advantage for the 30 percent of children under age 5 (U.S. Census Bureau) who are receiving child care from a grandparent! But it doesn’t change the reality that, with all their competence and watchful eyes, there is a totally dissimilar approach to parenting between the Boomers and their own offspring, the Gen Xers.
This is not a judgment, but rather an observation. When my children were going to school, we packed their lunch, kissed them goodbye, and most often didn’t know until 3:30 if they had a bellyache and had gone to the nurse. No, we weren’t shirking our responsibilities as parents; we just usually weren’t home when the school nurse called – and there were no such things as cell phones!
Contrast that scenario with today’s: not only do parents have mobile phones, but so do many kids! While the technology tether has been dubbed the longest umbilical cord in the world, the fact is that everyone has gotten used to the expectation of parents being highly involved in their kids’ lives; some will say overinvolved, which has led to the term, “overparenting.”
But I digress. How do we reconcile these differences in approach when both age groups are focused on “parenting” or “grandparenting” the same child? Okay, so now we know that the young mother who insisted that her parents attend a certification class for grandparenting (even though the grandmother was an EMT) might not have had to worry so much. What we can’t resolve, however, is that grandparents, in the role of guiding forces, sometimes see things through a diametrically opposed lens.
One of the most poignant – and jarring – narratives I have heard recently is the friend (who is an educator) who told me, “I cringe when my daughter tells me why she called the school.” I am not taking sides here (okay, I am trying not to).
What I propose is a cease-fire; an understanding by both generations of the disparate motivations that underlie two vastly different methods.
Followed immediately by the mantra: “Encourage, support, bite your tongue.” We had our turn, and it was in another era – my generation was giddy with confidence and optimism, we were rebellious, and we had several channels on TV! We can encourage and support; we can be [exhausted] cheerleaders; we can foster strong bonds with our grands. My smartest friends all live by this thinking.
(And AARP suggests that we create a Family Childcare Agreement that deals with questions from adult children like, “Will you do it our way? Will our children be safe? Can you learn new tricks?”)
[I hope that my daughter-in-law will gently remind me of this post when I have a grandchild!]
In the meantime, we grandparents (or grandparents-to-be) can shore up our legacies – whether it is by being a work-day nanny or a sage and trusted mentor, by providing the “value-added” component of raising children in the 21st century. Among the myriad conversations, trips, and activities, there is always a place on the window-seat to curl up and read aloud. I love Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows” — it is a heartwarming story of friendship.
The message of the yarn is one worth underscoring when evaluating the role of grandparent: “I love these little people.”