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Don’t take Grandparenting for Granted

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In the U.S. the average age of becoming a grandparent is 47, and 70% of Americans have grandchildren. That means that most of us will spend about one third of our lives as grandparents. Ant that’s a good thing, since statistics demonstrate that women who have grandchildren live longer, and that children with involved grandparents have higher IQ’s. At the same time, the U.S. divorce rate remains around 50% and two career parents have become the norm rather than the exception. Child obesity rates are above 15%, cyber-bullying amnd gang violence remain common, and behavioral and emotional problems in early childhood are on the rise. In other words, kids and parents need grandparents more than ever.

We may not be able to control if and when we become grandparents, but we can – and should- take ownership of this important new role. I have been a psychotherapist in private practice for over 15 years, and I have taught a parenting class for ten years.

Among my clients and friends who are grandparents, I often hear things like, “I raised my own kids and they turned out fine, so I know how to be a grandparent,” or “it is easier to be a grandparent than to be a parent so it will come naturally,” or “my job is just to love my grandchildren.” I have witnessed the pain and heartache that these misconceptions cause.

The role of grandparents is critically important today, when our grown children and their convictions have been challenged by all the changes in social values and beliefs that have marked the last thirty years. Young couples are waiting longer to start families and having fewer kids, so there is a shortage of grandchildren and grandparents are living longer so the children are more precious than ever. We, as grandparents, have an inestimable opportunity to make a positive mark as role models for our grandchildren who will spend one half of their lives in the role. We are the source of their roots and thereby fill a need that can be filled by no one else.

I recently became a grandparent and I immediately hit the books. I stay in touch with parenting trends and am in contact with new parents in my work so I am pretty well informed. But, I view this opportunity that I have been given just as I did becoming a parent, as a gift to be treasured and I want to do it right. What does that mean? I have two children, so I know I will only have a few grandchildren. At the same time, I am very healthy and statistics tell me I may be lucky to live many more years than my mother or grandmother, so I have a chance to be an important influence for my grandkids. But what kind of grandparent do I want to be and how do I go about being that person? How can I seize the opportunity to support my daughters as they become parents, bond with my sons-in-laws, and create lasting relationships with my grandchildren?

These are questions I am trying to answer for myself, and for my friends and clients. I have heard many stories of problems that arise when grandchildren enter the extended family. Old wounds are triggered, grandparents create tension by undermining their children’s parenting, children don’t trust their parents with the youngest family members, in-laws interfere with existing parent-child bonds and cause resentment and misunderstandings, and on and on. I know that many of the problems can be avoided and I will draw upon my knowledge of child development and family therapy to develop a holistic approach that makes families stronger.

I will explore these concepts and continue to write about the changing landscape of parenting and grandparenting at my website: www.grannysez.com.

If you want to meet with other grandparents and discuss grandparenting in the 21st century come to the Grandparenting class at Cottage Hospital. It is a lively, interactive two hour class for grandparents of all ages. Call the education department at (805) 569-8229 for details.

[AUTHOR: Janet Lengsfelder, R.N., MFT Marriage family Therapist]

August 1, 2014

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