Grandparenting | Work/Life Balance | Parenting Tools

Kids need grandparents' unconditional love

I've been a grandmother for two and a half years now, and as a bona fide Baby Boomer, I like to think of myself as someone who, along with my contemporaries, is reinventing the art of grandparenting.

Oh sure, my cohorts and I will bake the sugar cookies, read Dr. Seuss and celebrate the birthdays and graduations the way our elders did before us. But we won't simply simmer the chicken soup and go quietly into the retirement community.

How can we? We're the generation that's been "uber-parenting" since our own children were born and we began micromanaging every last facet of their lives. For us, "letting go" was never an option.

The truth is, we've never had to. The generation gap, so lionized in the past, has gone missing. Our kids rather like our music, and they tolerate our fashion sense. We laugh at (some of) the same jokes and gossip about (some of) the same celebrities. We watch the WB together.

As parents, we've always enjoyed our seat at the table, so we feel entitled to stay there.

That means that you won't find us, as grandparents, standing in the wings, waiting for our moment in the spotlight. You will find us biking, skiing and backpacking through cool places with our grandkids. You'll find us schlepping them to libraries, to zoos and to stage plays. You'll find us listening attentively at school parent nights (we like to be in the loop).

We're not your grandparents' grandparents.

We bask -- no; we revel -- in the reflected, rejuvenated grandparent glory of Goldie Hawn, Priscilla Presley and Harrison Ford. This, we know, is what grandparents look like today.

We like to keep on top of the latest trends in education, nutrition and cognitive development. Most of us know The Wiggles by name -- Anthony, Murray, Jeff and Greg -- and could hold court with Dora the Explorer.

It's not unusual for us to transform spare bedrooms into well-stocked playrooms, where we carefully collect back-up supplies of LEGOs, Baby Einstein DVDs and anything by LeapFrog.

Make no mistake. Our lives are multifaceted and full, and take us from boardrooms to courtrooms, from classrooms to research labs, from book groups to fitness clubs. Still crazy after all these years, some of us -- even now -- imagine we can do it all.

What we've learned

We love our roles as grandparents, not (as everyone loves to say) because the kids can go back home to their parents, but because after you've been around the planet awhile, you've learned a thing or two.

There's value in living through -- and gleaning wisdom from -- cultural pendulum swings and social transitions. Children benefit from multi-generational perspectives, from grandpa narratives, from hanging around someone with penchant for golden oldies and an aversion to TiVo. We have stories to tell and lessons to teach.

We've learned that pop icons -- whether Elvis, The Grateful Dead, or Beyonce -- come and go, and so will a teenager's infatuation with them.

We've learned that kids can become literate without toys that talk; that they can love music without iPods; that they can watch baseball without HDTV.

We've learned that children go through all kinds of stages and that most troubling moments pass. And we've learned there are some battles worth fighting.

What do post-millennium grandparents want? We'd like to be involved in our grandkids' lives. And we'd like the opportunity to establish lasting, meaningful relationships with them.

Sometimes, that means navigating rocky terrain: remarriages, stepchildren, in-laws who demand equal time. Other times, that means keeping quiet when we see new-fangled child-rearing methods (tummy-time?) we can't comprehend.

We know that access to our grandchildren may not be over the river and through the woods. It may be across the country and through airport security. And we know that getting there, and becoming models and sources of strength for our grandchildren, is well worth the effort.

There are just a few people who will -- without reserve and without apology -- accept (and adore) a child, even when he's cut from the team, even when he misses curfew, even when it looks doubtful he's a candidate for Prestige U.

And there are fewer still who can help shape that child the way a grandparent can: with insight, with a vision born from experience and with unconditional love.

Linda Morgan is a contributing editor for ParentMap.

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