Boomer Grandparents: Are We Really Different?

Columnist Barbara Graham asks whether being a boomer makes you a better grandparent

By Barbara Graham

My mother loved my son and my brother's kids — just as her mother loved us — but neither woman seemed as gaga and blotto about their grandchildren as my friends and I are. My mother and my grandmother didn't seem to obsess and worry the way we do, either.

I can't help wondering if this intense, emotional teenage crush state is generational. After all, didn't we boomers rethink parenthood, along with having it all, stay-at-home dads, raising (if not breaking) the glass ceiling, and other trends that took hold  in the latter part of the 20th century? And now aren't we doing the same with grandparenthood?

[bluebox SANDWICH]Of course, it's possible that my view is just one more sorry example of warped Me Generation self-centeredness — or maybe, just maybe, I'm onto something.

Can we still have it all?

Maybe we boomers were so busy trying to have it all and smash those ceilings while raising our kids that we didn't have the time to really enjoy them. Not that all of us were clawing our way to the top. I, for one, as a struggling single parent, was simply trying not to sink to the bottom after divorcing when my son was two.

So maybe grandparenthood offers us the freedom to truly enjoy being playful and silly and spend quality time with adorable short people who are even more self-centered than we are — then go home when we're too tired to play one more round of Candyland.

That's the fun part. But there are a few things about being a grandparent in 2010 that make it harder to take the role in stride than it was back in 1950.

My own Nana and Pa lived a few blocks away and did not need to rely on Skype or buy expensive plane tickets in order to see my brother and me. Which they did, all the time, since my mother had pretty low tolerance for the antics and upsets of young children.

[poll]I also had four grandparents — rare in today's world, where there is so much divorce and remarriage, so many blended families. When my first granddaughter, Isabelle, was born four years ago, there were six of us vying for a chance to bond with one tiny infant. Even six grandparents is a modest number by 2010 standards.

Our kids are not like us

But the thing that most distinguishes members of my generation from our parents and grandparents is our relationship with our children. Eager to correct the ways of the secretive Silent Generation that raised us, we cultivated open dialogue with our children. We talked about our feelings, and we encouraged them to talk about theirs. Everybody went to therapy — individual, family, group, couples. We shared an intimacy with our kids that we never shared with our own parents.

So some of us — for example, me and many of my friends — just naturally assumed that the intimacy we'd worked so hard to establish would continue uninterrupted once our kids had kids. Not.

It took me time to get it through my head that I was now the grandparent. Our growing family did not morph into one gigantic, democratic lovefest. My son and daughter-in-law made it clear from the start that they had no interest in my views on child rearing. Even the mildest suggestion was met with dirty looks and impatient groans.

Ironic, isn't it, that, we who were rabble-rousers in the 1960s and who have spent our lives learning to speak truth to power — and to speak truth in general — now must walk on eggshells and learn to keep quiet?

But maybe this is the way it's always been — only our parents and grandparents were savvy enough not to expect things to be different.

Read more about what happens when boomers become grandparents:


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