The Bitter Sweetness of Becoming a Grandparent After 70
“Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.” – Margaret Mead
I am 71 years old, and my husband is 72. Our oldest granddaughters are 20 and 16, and we are now about to become grandparents again.
Our youngest son, who married later than his older brothers, is about to have his first baby, a boy, at 40. He will be the first of our grandchildren who we don’t have to get on a plane to visit. We are so excited as we anticipate this new addition to our family.
When our older grandchildren were born, we were in our 50s – so young. Our own mortality never entered into the picture. We would all live happily ever after.
With this birth, however, there is a conscious realization that our time with this new baby is finite. Will we get to see him grow into an adult? Maybe. This makes our time with this new addition to our family all that more precious and urgent.
The Changing Demographics of Becoming a Grandparent
With the change in demographics that is a result of young people committing to marriage and family at much later ages than previous generations, it is not unusual to hear older adults wonder out loud if they will ever become grandparents.
Many years ago I read an article that stated that as we remain healthy for a longer period of time, there are tons of prospective grandparents out there with energy to spare who are “running around in their jogging suits” longing to have a grandchild.
As I researched this phenomenon, I was surprised to find a good amount of rich material. One of the first articles I came across was written by Susanna Schrobsdorff for TIME Magazine.
When taking her young children to visit her 81-year-old dad in an assisted living facility, she realized that they were among the youngest grandchildren visiting a grandparent. She writes that they are “among a growing number of kids who will see their grandparents primarily as people in need of care rather than as caretakers.”
Is Grandparenting Becoming an ‘Endangered Institution’?
In another article, one written by Petra Starke for New Corp Australia Network, the author suggests that grandparenting may be an “endangered institution.” A 40-year-old mother, who has to wait the average 30.6 or 40 years for her child to become a parent, will be 70 or 80 by the time she herself becomes a grandparent.
Find a Grandparent is a web-based service that connects surrogate grandparents with young families. It is a not-for-profit company that operates Australia wide. Today, in the United States, we have a Facebook Group called Surrogate Grandparents USA that connects surrogate grandparents and grandchildren.
I see this as another way of ameliorating the incessant ageism that pervades our society. Children need to be exposed to – and form relationships with – older adults if they are to grow into adults who welcome age diversity in their communities.
This is also an excellent way to enrich the lives of older grandparents who have no grandchildren or are living far or are estranged from their own progeny.
What Older Grandparents Give to Their Grandchildren
My first reaction to the ‘aha’ of coming to grips with this new adventure we are about to embark on is the advantage of our older age. We may not be able to run as fast as we once did, but what we have now that we didn’t have then is an entire lifetime of wisdom and experience to share.
It is the remarkable ability of someone with a long life lived being able to give to a new life just beginning. And, hopefully, this little boy will not perpetuate the incessant age prejudice that is all around us.
Optimistically, his experience of having old grandparents will inform his feelings towards old people throughout his life. This alone is a great gift we get to give him. To add to this, we are about to receive a special gift from our new grandchild.
What Grandchildren Give to Their Aging Grandparents
Your grandchildren do more than make you smile – they can help you stay sharper, be more active and live longer. Spending just the right amount of time with grandchildren could sharpen your cognitive skills.
But, don’t overdo it. Grandparents who are full time caregivers to their grandchildren can suffer stress which eradicates all the benefits of interacting with your grandchildren. Research, however, has shown that the benefits to grandparents who spend one or two days a week with their grandchildren are multifold.
Time with grandchildren can make you sharper, more active, lower your risk of depression and keep you learning. Time together can also give you a renewed sense of purpose and motivate you to take better care of yourself.
The biggest surprise is that hugging or holding hands with your grandchildren can strengthen immunity and help you age better.
Memories You Share with Your Grandchildren Last a Lifetime
When I was 15 years old, my maternal grandfather passed away, and my grandmother came to live with us. Reflecting on that experience recently, both my sister and I expressed what an absolute gift that was for us. My favorite times were joining grandma in her room in the evening.
That’s when she would share her memories of my mom and her sister and brothers growing up. So many stories she had to share with us.
Those stories became part of who I am today; and to this day, I have a great understanding of who I am and where I came from because of those conversations. I often still “talk” to my grandmother when I have a problem to figure out. Imagine, here I am, 71 years old, and I still “talk” to grandma.
What is the age difference between you and your grandchildren? Could you imagine yourself become a grandma at your current age? What would that feel like for you? Please join the conversation below!
Alice Fisher, M.A., M.S.W., is the founder of The Radical Age Movement which is dedicated to confronting and eliminating the ageism in our society. This new movement seeks to change the way older adults are perceived and treated in society, and also the implications for social practices and government policy.