MetroWest CARES, the Committee Addressing Resources for Seniors, is coordinated by the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, and brings together leaders from Greater MetroWest agencies to promote independence and support vitality among older adults. This column gives a MetroWest CARES agency an opportunity to address a critical eldercare issue. This month’s column is presented by Jewish Family Service of MetroWest. JFS offers a variety of services to assist older adults and their families in coping with the complexities of the aging process, including coordination of care to enhance the ability to age in place.
Twenty years ago my husband and I had an unexpected visit from our daughter and son-in-law. We were very surprised to see them march into our house carrying two balloons, one pink, the other blue. They were having trouble containing their excitement and their grins stretched across their faces. Perhaps it took me a split second to figure out what was going on. It took my husband a few seconds longer. A baby, our first grandchild, was on its way. And we were going to be known as “grandpa” and “grandma” before too long. It was surely a very exciting day that has been followed by so many more wonderful experiences and yes, more grandchildren.
In 2011 the MetLife Mature Market Institute published a report on American grandparents. The key points were that “the number of grandparents is ‘growing at twice the overall population rate’ to 80 million grandparents nationally by 2020.” The study reported that “most grandparents today are between the ages of 45-64.” The report goes on to talk about grandparents’ incomes, spending ability, and the economic impact on the society. It also states that “As any grandparent will attest to, they would do almost anything for their grandchildren. And that means passing on whatever accumulated wisdom and knowledge they have to help the next generation succeed in spite of the most challenging economic conditions in two generations.”
All well and good. But, there is so much more to the essence of a grandparent/grandchild relationship in addition to the details cited in the report: The day-to-day and year-to-year experience of developing, nurturing, and creating a special connection.
For the most part grandmothers and grandfathers find grandparenting to be one of the greatest joys in their lives. Ask grandparents about their grandchildren and you will likely see their faces light up, their eyes twinkle, and the words of their experiences come tumbling out. Most can’t say enough about their joy and amazement and the fun and love that they experience with and have for their grandchildren.
I wondered about the feelings of some of my friends and relatives who are grandparents and recently asked what it means to them to be a grandparent. Their responses focused on the interpersonal and emotional aspects of the relationship. One grandmother wrote, “…I guess I’d characterize it as the difference between happiness and joy. Happiness is subject to circumstances, but joy remains no matter what.” She went on to say that “joy is never-ending and does not change and that the love you feel for grandchildren is so unique there are no words to describe it.” Another response was that “Grandparenthood is the perfect state: you can give unconditional love without all the responsibility and anxiety you had as a parent, and the best thing is you can go home when the going gets tough!” The phrase “unconditional love” was mentioned frequently by several of the grandparents as were the feelings of warmth, caring, fun conversations, fun times, and sensitivity. On the flip side, some grandchildren of these respondents offered it from their perspective. Their comments were also tender and loving such as “they love us a lot and tell us interesting stories” and “they always look out for you…having grandparents is really fun.”
Fast forward 20 years. My granddaughter is now a college student forging ahead in a rigorous program of study. She’s a “people person” who loves helping others, working with children, and has her heart of gold set on a career where she will be able to follow her interests. When asked about what it means to her to have grandparents, she quickly responded that it is “having someone who is always interested in you…you know they will always love you unconditionally…”
What a gift for a grandmother to hear. It can’t get any better than that!