grandparent01 webWhen I was growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, my mother’s parents lived ten minutes away. We often visited them on Sunday afternoons, or they drove to our house to sit in the living room or on the porch and catch up on news of family and friends. On Christmas Eve, my grandmother hosted a big dinner for all the family who lived in town. This was the extent of the time I spent with my grandparents, except on the rare occasion my parents were both away and my grandparents stayed with me in our home.


During those years, many families lived within driving distance from each other and visited on a regular basis,
while some lived far away and the children only saw the grandparents once or twice a year. Since then the family unit has undergone significant changes, and many grandparents play a much different role than they did 30 to 50 years ago. More women work outside the home, and there are more single-parent families.

According to Pew Research, “While in the early 1960s babies typically arrived within a marriage, today fully four-in-ten births occur to women who are single or living with a non-marital partner. While family structures have transformed, so has the role of mothers in the workplace – and in the home. As more moms have entered the labor force, more have become breadwinners – in many cases, primary breadwinners – in their families.”

Today, the relationship between generations is taking on greater significance. People are having fewer children and living longer. There is now a more equal number of family members of each generation than in the past, when there were more young people in the family than older. In many families, grandparents take on the role of caretaker, whether part-time while one or both parents work, or full-time. In single-parent families, grandparents take on an even greater
amount of responsibility.

On the other hand, many children are not able to visit grandparents regularly. Ease of travel has led to families being more spread out geographically. Older people are retiring later or going back to work after retirement. Life is very busy for everyone, and even family members who live close to each other sometimes rarely spend time together.

Grandparents play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren, often through the support they give to their parents. Grandparents can act as “stress buffers, family watchdogs, roots, arbitrators, and supporters. Grandparents can be a major support during family disruptions, such as divorce, illness or death. They are also historians -- teaching values, instilling ethnic heritage and passing on family
traditions. They’re very often role models and mentors for younger generations,” according to The Legacy Project. (

Research by Brigham Young University suggests that children find unique acceptance in their relationships with grandparents, which benefits them emotionally and mentally. Increasing numbers of grandparents care for their grandchildren during the day or have full legal custody of their grandchildren. These grandparents have a particularly strong influence, according to Forever Families ( They are often their grandchildren’s biggest fans. Here are a few scenarios exemplifying the widely varied roles of grandparents and their relationships with their grandchildren today:

• A 92-year-old woman looks forward all week to weekend visits from her child, grandchildren, and great-grandchild.
• A woman and her husband were ready to retire but must now continue working while they raise their granddaughter because her mother is addicted to drugs.
• An immigrant grandmother, living with her daughter and son-in-law, participates in child rearing and passes down traditions from the “old country.”
• A woman who holds a full-time managerial position in a global company makes it a priority to spend at least a couple of hours visiting with her four-year-old granddaughter every week.
• A set of grandparents living on one coast envy the closer relationship the other set of grandparents, who live on the other coast near their grandchildren, has with the grandchildren. 
• A recently retired couple plans an extended trip to visit grandchildren who are attending different colleges across the country.
• A couple goes to court to try to get visitation rights to see their three young grandchildren because the parents are denying them access. (The Legacy Project)

Increasing numbers of grandparents care for their grandchildren during the day or have legal full custody of their grandchildren, making them surrogate parents. These grandparents have a particularly strong influence, according to Forever Families (

My children have only known one grandparent, my mother, who was near 80 when the first one was born. Nonetheless, 600 miles from her home, she stayed with us for weeks, getting up in the middle of the night to feed them when they were babies, playing with them as toddlers, and attending birthday parties, soccer games and dance recitals in their elementary and pre-teen years. They now quote her and see her as a role model.

Whether they live near or far, are old or young, are playful or grumpy, grandparents leave a lasting impression and a legacy for their grandchildren.

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