To describe becoming a grandparent, first think back to becoming a parent for the first time. There’s the joy, the love, the awesomeness of the moment that you’ve created a life. Then there’s panic, fear and wondering if you know what to do. Now take those feelings, add years of experience and there’s a grandparent.
The baby boom generation has now reached the age of grandparenthood — the reward, they say, for being parents. New, exciting and all the fun without the responsibility, it begs the question, are baby boomers approaching this new role in the same way as previous generations?
If we go back to my grandmother’s generation, the answer is an emphatic “no.” Back in the ’50s and ’60s, grandparents of my generation were usually part of the group that came over from foreign lands in search of a better life in America. They were hardworking people, busy with their families and seeking a way to make a living in a new, strange land, and we admired them from afar as they could be somewhat difficult to get close to.
For me it was “Mama,” the matriarch of the family. She made men’s ties to help support her family while taking on every other traditional role. Growing up Italian meant huge Sunday dinners with food that went on forever, and aunts, uncles and cousins partaking in this weekly feast. It helped that Mama was the greatest cook in the world, and I believe that is how she showed her love and affection.
She never baby-sat but nurtured us with food and more food and would discipline us with a pinch to the arm and a string of Italian curse words. I loved it, and I relished her stories about raising her family in Brooklyn with her high-strung husband (my grandpa). My maternal grandma lived in New Jersey, so that meant occasional trips to visit but no chance to really get close or to know her.
The next generation of grandparents, which would be my parents, set the bar quite high. I can’t speak for others, but my parents were there during every phase of my children’s upbringing, helping with every step. They were always willing to baby-sit and attended almost every ballgame, concert and play. They now have the privilege of enjoying their great-grandchildren.
So what about baby boomers as grandparents? From what I’m seeing, boomers are about as hands-on as any generation. With most women having careers and needing to work, there is a multitude of grandparents helping to raise their grandchildren for those parents who cannot or do not want to pay for child care above and beyond what previous generations have done. Also because boomers are the “we refuse to get old” generation, we hope to do more and be interactive with the grandkids as they get older, creating less of a generation gap prevalent in previous generations.
On Halloween, I noticed grandparents trick-or-treating with their grands, myself included. We get to do this fun stuff all over again and experience it through their eyes. And with iPhones and texting we can see frequent updates on what fantastic milestone our grandbabies have achieved recently. Also, let’s not forget the beauty of FaceTime. A touch of a button keeps us well-connected. When they call me by my grandma name, “GiGi,” my heart soars. There is one thing every generation has in common: the love and relationship between grandparents and grandkids which is pure and magical.