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Five pieces of evidence that show today’s grandparents have come a long way, baby

By Pieta Woolley

For the upcoming edition of The Observer, I wrote a buttons-pushing article about what — if anything — today’s grandparents owe their children and grandchildren.

It was inspired by a chat with a cashier at a local grocery story. She revealed that she wasn’t too thrilled that her adult son and his two kids have moved into a house on her property, post-divorce, and that her son expected her to help with the boys, aged 11 and 13.

“I’ve been there, done that,” she said. “I’ve raised my kids.”

So what exactly are these Boomer grandmas and grandpas up to that has them fleeing the rocking-chair-on-the-front-porch, milk-and-cookies scene with such vehemence?

1. They’re reading Zoomer magazine

The publication of The Canadian Association for Retired Persons (CARP) claims that it’s “for men and women ages 45 and up, who embrace life with experience, confidence and passion, and who want the absolute best from everything that life has to offer.” Jane Fonda, pipeline heroine, is on the cover this month. Zoomer features regular sections about money, travel, lifestyle, sex and arts. But grandparenting? Not so much.

2. They’re running for office

NDP leader Tom Mulcair is a grandpa. Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne is a grandma. Top political office, with a few exceptions, becomes an achievable goal after life’s pressing responsibilities have lessened: career, money, raising a young family and making young people's mistakes. As noted grandma Martha Stewart says, “It’s a good thing.”  

3. They’re working

The median age of a first-time grandparent is about 50. That first grandchild would be 17 years old before his or her grandparents retired. For many, these final years are peak career power years. And for many others, they’re grueling, financially necessary, exhausting work years. Either way, not much time for grandparenting.

4. They’re holding up the church

Cast an eye around your average congregation. Overwhelmingly, it’s grandparents who are in the pews and pulpits, contributing to the offering plate, staffing the offices, sitting on committees, running the Sunday schools and keeping the life of the denomination going. From those of us who are overwhelmed by our lives as parents and worker bees, and breeze through church on Sunday mornings only, a hearty thank you!

5. They’re raising their grandchildren as their own

About 10 percent of children spend at least some of their growing up being parented by their grandparents. It lessens the load of child welfare agencies by half, and the outcomes for the kids are far better than they are in government care, overall. But it is a heavy load on these grandparents, many of whom live in poverty and are single. And, many of them say that they miss the experience of being that cookies-and-milk grandparent. These ones didn’t choose to flee the grandparent lifestyle; they were pushed out.

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