The Many Styles of Grandparenting

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Nana and Papa. Baba and Gigi. Mawmaw and Pawpaw. Grams and Gramps. There’s much debate about the BEST name for a grandparent, but one thing is for sure – grandparents and grandparenting styles are as unique as the names we give them! For some, the transition from “Mom and Pop” to “Meme and Pepe” is an easy one, filled with freshly baked cookies and bedtime stories about days gone by. For most families, however, it takes a certain amount of finesse to navigate this ever-changing relationship where everyone gets new roles and names. Mothers and fathers of young children find themselves in the strange position of being both parent and child, trying to rear productive broods while also keeping in tune with the men and women who raised them. In honor of Grandparents Day, observed this year on September 9, we wanted to take a closer look at the wide array of styles and personalities we find among the “Grands.”

The Fun Seeker

In the book How to Babysit A Grandma by Jean Reagan, the opening line reads “When you babysit a grandma, if you’re lucky…it’s a sleepover at her house!” Your grandkids can’t wait to ditch mom and dad and skedaddle over to your place, where the rules are few but the fun’s aplenty. Whether it’s a weekend getaway or just a few hours respite, you know how to bring the party. You have raised a few kids of your own, and you know that sweating the small stuff can really be a drag. That growing pile of laundry over in the corner? It can wait until after a few games of checkers. Kids want donuts for dinner? You are confident that a few cheat meals won’t be the end of them.  Fun seeking grandparents are the first ones in line to ride the roller coasters with the youngsters, leaving other, less-hardy kinsman to hold down the amusement park bench. While exhausted moms and dads nap in the shade on a park blanket, these energetic folks know that kids are “only young once” and they’re determined to soak up every minute of fun to be had. You can sleep later, right?

The Fountain of Wisdom

Actress and comedian Betty White once said, “My mother always used to say, ‘The older you get, the better you get, unless you’re a banana.’” With age comes wisdom, gained from experience only time can bring. If you can just get your littles to slow down long enough, there’s much you could share with them to avoid some of the pitfalls and mistakes from your own past. Wise is the grandchild willing to sit for a bit at the feet of Gramps and Gran, gleaning bits of knowledge from a richly seasoned life. Grandparents of this kind may not be as willing to jump in on a lively living room wrestling match, but they still have much to contribute to their grandkids’ upbringing.  A “fountain of wisdom” grandparent is sufficiently world-wise to help her family along the way, knowing when their expertise is welcome (and especially when it isn’t!).

The FaceTime Master

Your grandkids might not live next door, but that’s not going to stop you from having a great relationship with them! You are often found on the other end of an iPhone or iPad screen, peering in as a silent (or not so silent) observer to weekend soccer games, weddings, bar mitzvahs, or other significant family milestones. The miles between you and your grands are no match for your determination to remain connected in their lives.  Besides, when you DO get to visit your grandchildren for a week or two every now and then, you more than make up for missed time by spending every waking second admiring their adorable-ness.  You are thankful for the technology that keeps you connected to your kinfolk, whether it’s a check-in text with your teenage granddaughter, or a weekly FaceTime date to read a bedtime story with your precious grandson.  A trip to the post office becomes a highly-anticipated treat for your little ones, anxious for that next package or letter from Grandma and Grandpa.  Now if you could just figure out how to fit yourself into a box and mail yourself to their door…

The Sweets and Treats Squad

Modern day parents will tout the benefits of delectable dishes like kale chips, whole grain bread, and chia seed souffle. For sure, proper nutrition is paramount to growing bodies and minds. All bets are off, however, when your organically grown offspring enter Grandma and Grandpa’s kitchen where the menu reads more like a Willy Wonka fairy tale than a recipe from a health food store. The Sweets and Treats grandparent has a love language that’s especially sweet, and they take the “sugar and spice” that little girls (and boys) are made of very seriously! Their intention may not be to sabotage all the challenging work that parents have done at home to plant seeds of healthy eating – but treating is such a, well, treat! Baking cookies with Grandma is food for the tummy and the soul, as precious memories are created of time spent together in the kitchen. Or, perhaps it’s Grandpa and his secret stash of chocolate that’s shared in hushed whispers between two generations of co-conspirators. Whatever the case, healthy boundaries can and should be established to allow both sides of the table to feel sweetly satisfied.

The Safe Space

Now more than ever, grandparents are being called back into the childrearing arena, as both parents find themselves in the workforce with no one to keep an eye on Junior. Sharing the same mission of a happy, healthy child, and operating out of a mutual love for the littles, Safe Space grandparents come alongside stressed-out moms and dads to ease the burden and spend more than a little quality time with their grandchildren. Better than merely a “babysitter,” grandparents can help ease the financial burden of childcare while adding the benefits of love, security, and convenience. Consistent time together gives kiddos an extra link in their support system and another willing ear with which to share stories, hopes, struggles, and dreams. “Safe Spacers” aren’t always worn down by the 24-7 needs and demands of hands-on parenting, so they have more energy and patience to give to little hearts and minds. And after all, at the end of the day, they get to send them home to Mom and Dad!

No matter the parenting style or grandparenting style, there will always be joys along with the challenges. Parents may wish their “Grands” lived closer (or sometimes, further away), or they may get frustrated when expectations for meals, rules, and bedtimes aren’t met when the kids are visiting. It’s important for both parents and grandparents to communicate and establish healthy boundaries that both groups can live with, even if there’s a little give and take.

Rather than becoming upset at a grandparent’s overindulgence, moms and dads would do well to remember that the more seasoned generation somehow managed to raise them and may have more than an inkling about what they’re doing. Grandparents, on the other hand, should recognize that the main brunt of parenting no longer falls on them, and they can relax and enjoy letting the kids be kids while still respecting parental rule. If it truly “takes a village,” moms, dads, grandmas, and grandpas can all come together to provide an excellent start to a supportive and thriving tribe.

about the author…Brooke Wagner is a Southern girl at heart, but a Montana girl by choice. She lives in Billings with her husband, three children, one dog who thinks she is human, and one very therapeutic horse.

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s September 2018 issue.
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