There’s an old Welsh proverb that says:
“Perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.”
Many of you know exactly what that means, because you’re living it out— boldly.
Grandparenting narratives are unique and filled with richness. However, in many families the grandparenting role is challenging. There are grandparents raising grandchildren, long-distance grandparents, traditional grandparents, grandparents seeking access to their grandchildren after a divorce or family crisis, single grandparents, step-grandparents, surrogate grandparents and even spiritual grandparents. Every grandparenting story has its own opportunities. At the end of the day—or better yet, at the end of our lives—there’s no better way to invest in the future than giving your very best for your grandchildren.
Economic indicators report grandparents have an average net worth in excess of $200,000. 48% of grandparents no longer have a mortgage on their primary residence. As an aggregate, they spend more than $2.3 trillion on consumer goods and services, not counting health care.
Over 30% of all U.S. households are either grandparent households or have a grandparent living in the household. Very soon, over 60 million U.S. households will be grandparent households.
Grandparents make up one of the largest groups of contributors to non-profit organizations. They account for over 40% of all consumer spending on gifts. Over 20% of grandparents volunteer in some capacity at their church, in their community, or through a civic group.
THE BIG PICTURE
Current census data suggests there are more than 75 million grandparents in the U.S. Roughly 1.8 million adults become first-time grandparents each year, and the average age when adults become grandparents is 48.
The above data gives a broad picture of this vital and growing American demographic. However, specific case studies add texture which is striking.
THREE CASE STUDIES
Angela finds herself doubling down. She raised her children, only to watch her daughter’s marriage crumble like hers did twenty years earlier. Now she’s raising her grandchildren, which requires her to express a new dimension of sacrifice. Her grandchildren have moved in; her household is now their household. Angela’s hopes of rest and retirement are a mirage. She’s seeking to keep the best possible attitude while she navigates the challenges, changes and joys that come with the new role she’s been thrust into—a grandmother helping to raise her grandchildren. It isn’t something she chose, but she is helping to fill a huge need.
In contrast, John sits by the fire roasting marshmallows with his grandchildren. They are laughing, telling stories and having a grand time. John and his wife want to influence their grandchildren by convening regular gatherings where they can listen, speak positively about the future, and share life in ways their grandchildren will remember. Often after these gatherings, John’s adult children quiz their children about any stories or insights Granddad and Grandma passed on to them. Additionally, John is eager to share insights he notices about his grandchildren with their parents—about their personalities and quirks, or funny stories—because he knows he’s a key partner in raising these grandchildren. And there’s great satisfaction in the process.
Then there’s Lois. She’s hanging onto life by a thread. Her sickness has rendered her speechless. She longs to talk with her grandchildren, but can’t. Her physical life is winding down quickly. She is content with just holding her grandchildren. As she gazes into their eyes, she beams prayers of courage and hope, because they are carrying her legacy to a world she will never see. Unaware of the gravity of her condition, her grandchildren look back into her eyes and their bond is profound. Even in the random mess of sickness and impending death, the desires of Lois’s heart are being fulfilled. Not in the way she had hoped, but in a sovereign way she must trust.
Each of these is a real situation and is packed with emotion (although the names have been changed). For Angela, there are quiet moments when waves of grief overwhelm her. At times she can be hypercritical and negative toward her grandchildren because she doesn’t want them to make the same mistakes she or her daughter has made. And there are many situations when tensions rise, particularly with her grandson, because he does “dumb stuff.” He’s trying to survive, because his dad is in prison, and as a teenage boy, he often spaces out. So Angela has learned it’s best to listen, not give advice; to be supportive and committed to the long haul. With regular encouragement Angela will survive, but the process is unnerving and testy. Learning to listen and be patient distinguishes her grandparenting style.
John and his wife are filled with gratitude about their relationship with their grandchildren. He’s thankful that they live in the same town, his grandchildren want to visit often, and he’s always welcome at their home. While he’s with them he’s probing, doing all he can to make sure his grandchildren’s relational tanks are full. He is also trying to glean insights about his grandchildren’s future. He wants them to exceed him in some way, but he’s not sure how that will play out, so he observes, inserts blessings, and maintains a high level of interaction.
Only God knows what is going through Lois’s mind and spirit. Her whole family is grieving. The course of her disease has accelerated. Each day brings new challenges, but her unspoken, non-verbal presence is vivid. Something is clearly going on in her spirit as she instills her legacy by just being close and holding her precious angels. The incredible and powerful eye-to-eye bonding is fueling the brief time they will have together. Her legacy is now in the hands of her husband, her children, and those who will miss her. Lois is praying that spiritual grandparents who love her grandchildren will honor her memory and make investments in them where she cannot.
Where Do We Go from Here?
Each grandparenting story is unique. Certainly there are similarities, but your personal investment in the life of your grandchild is the difference maker. (Just ask a grandchild.)
In a recent review of reflections about a grandparent’s influence, here are the top five responses from adults about their grandparents: 1) they expressed unconditional love to me, 2) they were an example to me, 3) they prayed for me, 4) they told me I was special, 5) they were filled with laughter, wisdom and advice.
Grandmothers excelled at being the history keepers of the family, providing traditions, and gathering the family for meals. Grandfathers instilled a work ethic, often emphasized patriotism, and provided laughter and practical jokes. Overwhelmingly, memories of grandparents were highly positive. Yet in a recent survey commissioned by the National Association for Grandparenting, many adults (23%) had no memories of their grandparents, who were either deceased before they were born, lived far away, or made no effort to connect.
All this to say: today is our day as grandparents to make a difference.
We are growing in number, we have unique life experiences which must be shared, and most important: our grandchildren needs us.
The data supporting this article came from: The MetLife Report on American Grandparents, The Grandparent Economy, and Research Brief: National Association for Grandparenting.