The New Face of Grandparenting

Grandparents are in the news more than ever today. Some are caregivers, raising their grandkids, while others are separated or estranged from them. What’s going on? Has the role of grandparents diminished, or is it needed now more than ever?

Separated or Estranged

In a recent survey by the National Association for Grandparenting, many adults — 23 percent — had no memories of their grandparents. They were either deceased before they were born, lived far away or made no effort to connect.

We can’t do much about the first, and distance is no excuse for not connecting, not when you can use tools like Skype, Zoom and FaceTime. Even grandparents in the same geographic vicinity may not have a close relationship.

Psychologists have noticed two life-stage barriers that are holding back people. Some people have a limited view of the years they have left. They may think their best years are in the past. They may think taking it easy, keeping to themselves and not being engaged is something they earned the right to do. They don’t ask a fundamental question: What’s next? Part of the “what’s next” could be a purposeful relationship with their grandchildren.

The second barrier is easier to understand: relationships with children. They are the gatekeepers to the grandchildren. Tension or unresolved pain in that relationship can cause hindrances, and healing those wounds is an important part of being a grandparent. Be open to a child’s perspective, and seek or give forgiveness as needed. Pride often stands in the way.

[Read: Should You Let Your Older Parents Babysit Your Kids?]

Grandparents Raising Grandchildren

The opioid crisis, among other things, is a contributing factor for why nearly 3 million grandparents in the U.S. are taking care of more than 8 million children. There is a burden that comes with this responsibility, as many of these grandparents live at or below poverty and are working hard just to keep their household running. They may suffer poorer health, too. Yet, raising grandchildren in most cases is better than putting them into foster care or temporary placements.

Help for Grandparents

Many communities have created grandparent support groups and navigator programs that help identify and access much-needed public and private resources. Project Healthy Grandparents at Georgia State University offers support. Grandhousing, which provides apartments specifically for grandparent-headed families, is rising. Presbyterian Senior Services has one such initiative running in New York City.

The Supporting Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Act was recently signed into law. It establishes a Federal Advisory Council to support grandparents and other relatives raising children. Its charge is to “identify, promote, coordinate and disseminate information about resources and best practices to help relative caregivers meet the health, educational, nutritional and other needs of the children in their care as well as maintain their own physical and mental health and emotional well-being.”

[See: The 5 Latest Poison Control Threats Kids Face.]

What’s the Balance?

There is no playbook for being a grandparent. There are some 70 million grandparents in the U.S., most of whom do not live on these fringes. So, it’s important to reconsider and reflect on the great joy and opportunity grandparenting brings:

— As parents, you probably didn’t get to spend hours and maybe days of uninterrupted time with your children. When my wife and I visit our young granddaughters, it’s an immersion.

— Grandparents tend to become much more patient and attentive then they’ve ever been.

— Your stress and anxiety lessen while your quirky sides emerge. People actually uncover what it’s like to be silly.

Senior isolation is a real phenomenon. Yet, grandparents who are involved live longer. It’s all about the human contact.

— You get to share stories, family history and legacy. Research shows that children who have a strong “family narrative” enjoy better emotional health. The more children know, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

— Oh yeah, you get to give them back!

[See: 10 Things Pediatricians Advise That Parents Ignore — and Really Shouldn’t.]

We need to support grandparents raising grandchildren and encourage those who do not have relationships with their grandchildren to break the barriers stopping them. For the rest of us, we truly need to smell the roses and appreciate the joys and blessings we have because our grandchildren are in our lives.

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The New Face of Grandparenting originally appeared on usnews.com