The Changing Roles of the Grandparents

Throughout history, the presence of grandparents in their grand-children’s lives has swung from constant fixture to sometime visitor and back again. As the first decade of the 21st century draws to an end, the role of grandparents has changed once again. The irresponsibility of this generation towards the next is forcing more and more grandparents into the role of surrogate to prevent their grandchildren entering the foster care system.

After years of being forced into the background, grandparents are useful again; but the price of their sacrifice is climbing. Many couples today are faced with the prospect of starting over just as they enter their empty nest era. Grandparents across the country are finding themselves stepping up to raise their children’s children, and the trend shows no signs of slowing.

The concept of grandparents having a prominent place in their grand-children’s lives is not a new one. Once age was considered a blessing, and the elderly revered as founts of accumulated wisdom. Aged parents lived with their children, and in return provided valuable services into their golden years. In the past, childcare meant Granny in her rocker with the tots ranged at her feet; in more recent years, grandparents have bemoaned the fact that their extended family members are so inaccessible.

All that has changed with the onset of Parenting 202 – Return of the Grands.

Whether the parents’ woes are financial, criminal or just plain unfortunate, more and more children are being shuffled off to Grandma and Grandpa’s – just until Mom and/or Dad gets “a new place”, “out of jail”, “things figured out”. Don’t get me wrong, Grandma and Grandpa are happy to help – but don’t pretend it’s not a hardship.

Once grandparents had security in their children and grandchildren. The care they gave them was understood to be returned in full someday when second childhood rolled around. Today, many seniors depend on the paltry amount afforded by social security (hopefully coupled with a nest egg of savings) to see them safely through their declining years. Supporting a second round of progeny can wipe that out in short order.

Health concerns also loom large. Will mobility last endure long enough to finish the task? What happens if disease strikes, or dementia? Grands have to worry about things like that.

How can we support this rapidly growing group of good men and women? Offer to carpool, or take the kids to the park. Help out with school projects. Mentor a child. Lobby for funding for grandparents raising the skipped generation. Show some respect to that old lady holding two kids by the hand.

They’re raising the future. Again.