A Boomer's Guide to Grandparenting
By Kathryn and Allan Zullo
When we learned we were going to be grandparents for the first time, we experienced a slight moment of panic. What did we really know about being grandparents? It was in the fall of 1995. We were active fortysomethings nothing like the stereotypical gray-haired grandmas and grandpas who sat in rocking chairs, baked cookies, whittled toys and told stories of the "good old days." We weren't like the Ensure-swilling senior citizens or the frumpy, wrinkled elderly neighbors so often portrayed in TV commercials and movies.
We were typical boomer grandparents-to-be younger, healthier, wealthier, and better educated than our grandparents were. We were more active and less formal than our own parents were at our age. We no longer fit the traditional yet unrealistic image of our elderly kin because they lived in a different period.
We were determined to become the best grandparents possible by relying on our heart, our instincts and the confidence that we'll do a good job. But life, families and roles are so different now than when our grandparents and parents were tending to their grandkids. Hoping to get a little guidance, we headed to the bookstores shortly after our grandson Chad was born. We searched for a book on grandparenting aimed at our generation, a guide that would offer tips and suggestions helpful to us.
We found several fine books written by experts. But they dealt with older grandparents who had time on their hands. Almost all the books were warmhearted memoirs, detailed studies or straight how-to's for the retired grandparent. Although many of the experts' tips certainly made sense for nanas and papas of any age and any generation, we still couldn't find a book that spoke directly to us boomer grandparents.
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How does the boomer cope with the changing dynamics of today's family? Deal with new parenting techniques and baby products? Spend quality time with the grandkids while still pursuing work and enjoying pastimes?
That's when we decided to write The Nanas and the Papas a book geared toward expectant boomer grandparents and those with infant or toddler grandkids. For the book, we sought out experts who offered relevant tips, suggestions, experiences and the latest research that has the greatest impact on new grandparents.
We interviewed the guru of grandparents, Arthur Kornhaber, M.D., founder of the Foundation for Grandparenting. He and his wife Carol initiated the Grandparent Study to systematically investigate the grandparent/grandchild relationship research that continues to this day. Dr. Kornhaber, a grandpa who since 1970 has been a tireless champion for grandparent involvement in family life, graciously answered our questions and allowed us to quote from his studies.
We also interviewed grandmother and respected educator Barbara Bowman, president of the Chicago-based Erikson Institute for the Advanced Study of Child Development, which is a private graduate school and research center; T. Berry Brazelton, M.D., the internationally-renowned pediatrician, author of Touchpoints: Your Child's Emotional and Behavioral Development, founder of the Child Development Unit of Children's Hospital in Boston, cofounder of the national advocacy group Parent Action and a grandfather; Perry (Doctor Buff) Buffington, Ph.D., a fellow boomer and noted family psychologist with his own syndicated radio show; Susan Ginsberg, Ed.D., editor and publisher of the national newsletter Work & Family Life and a grandmother; Jody Martin, curriculum specialist for the Children's World Learning Center, a nationwide child care provider; Peter Martin, Ph.D., professor of human development and family studies at Iowa State University and a fellow boomer; Susan Newman, Ph.D., sociologist, author and grandmother; Gregory F. Sanders, Ph.D., associate professor of child development and family relations at North Dakota State University; attorney Richard Victor, executive director of the Grandparents Rights Organization, and Jeffrey Wallem, CFP, of Wallem Associates.
In addition, we gathered informative and wry observations, advice and accounts from other boomer grandparents through personal interviews, e-mail and various grandparent and boomer websites.
The book was originally published in the fall of 1998, four months after the birth of our second grandson Danny. We were gratified by the nationwide attention the book received. We were interviewed countless times on radio and for various publications and appeared on the "Today Show" and National Public Radio. But by the fall of 2003, we realized that the landscape for grandparents had changed just enough such as the Supreme Court's ruling on visitation rights, changes in tax laws for grandchildren's college funds and increases in the number of stepgrandparents and grandparents raising grandchildren that we felt it was time to come out with a new book, A Boomer's Guide to Grandparenting.
So we went back to the experts and asked them more questions. The book reflects their answers and insights as well as the results of the latest grandparent studies that weren't available at the time the first edition was published. We've included comments from new boomer grandparents and their adult children as well as veteran boomer nanas and papas who spoke with us for the first book. In addition, we've updated the section on resources of grandparenting organizations, support groups and newsletters as well as recommended reading.
The same issues that we explored in our first edition are even more prevalent today. Many boomer grandparents work hard and lead vigorous, often stressful, lives where time is a valuable commodity. We must deal with issues far removed from what our grandparents faced. Our adult children's ideas of child-rearing is often very different from the views of Dr. Spock, to whom we once pledged allegiance. Millions of boomers must help raise the grandkids because of economic pressures or personal problems of their adult children. Other factors, such as living in far-flung communities and coping with divorce, make it more of a challenge for boomers to play a meaningful part in our grandchildren's lives.
For way too many kids, the family life typified by the Cleavers, Stones and Andersons can be experienced only on Nick at Nite. An analysis by the Population Reference Bureau in 2003 revealed that just 36 percent of all families in the U.S. are considered traditional, where Mom and Dad preside over the nuclear brood. In fact, if Ward, Jim and Alex and their stay-at-home wives were raising the kids today, families like them, where Dad is the sole breadwinner, would represent only 13 percent of all married-couple households.
When we were kids, new friends asked each other, "What does your father do for a living?" Now the question asked is, "Does your dad live with you?" Children are far more likely to live with a never-married mother than we boomers ever were. Eleven percent of today's kids nearly 8 million live with one parent who has never married and another 15 percent, or about 11 million, are being raised by a divorced, single parent. An even larger share of U.S. children about 40 percent will live with their unmarried mother and her boyfriend some time before their 16th birthday, according to a study supported by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
We have too many families that are blended and broken, strained and strapped. In increasing numbers, adult children who are drugged-out, wiped-out or stressed-out have shown up on their parents' doorstep and said, "Here, take care of my kids." Over six percent of all children today about 4.5 million are living in their grandparents' home, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
And there's another challenge facing today's boomer grandparents. For the first time in history, a generation of grandparents will be caring for their parents. We boomers must find ways to handle our lives while providing help for our elderly parents as well as for our adult children and grandchildren.
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Childrearing has changed so much since we raised our kids. There are new rules about what to do and not to do. That old crib you saved for the day you became a grandparent must be thrown out because the rails are too far apart. The baby quilt you wanted to hand down is a no-no at least until the child is much older. That old windup swing with the chains? Throw it away. The baby's fingers can get caught in the mechanism.
There's so much to learn (and unlearn) now: Don't put the baby on her tummy for a nap, Nana; put her on her back. Toss out the baby aspirin, Papa; use children's ibuprofen instead. No, Grammy, don't give the baby any juice. It's not good for her at this age.
But some things haven't changed like the incredible joy and unconditional love grandparents and grandchildren share. It's like, sunshine, lollipops and rainbows.
Now more than ever, grandparent involvement is vital to the stability and welfare of grandchildren from the moment they take their first breath. Balancing hectic lives of hard work and hard play with the needs of our grandchildren, we boomers could use a little guidance if we are to become the coolest, most understanding and loving grandparents of the twenty-first century. Through the advice of experts and the experiences of fellow boomers, we hope A Boomer's Guide to Grandparenting will help you enjoy to the fullest your new grand job.
Tell Us Your Favorite True Grand Story
Do you have a cute or poignant true story to tell about a grandchild or about grandparenting? Let us know so we can include your story in our next calendar. We are compiling anecdotes for our day-to-day boxed Grandmas and Grandpas calendar.
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