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Grandparenting Matters in All Generations

By Marlene Anne Bumgarner February 04, 2024 Family

My first thought when my oldest daughter told me she was expecting my first grandchild was “at last!” I was 64 years old, with four adult children more focused on their careers than on starting families. Most of my friends were already grandparents. Some of them even had great-grandchildren. I was ready to join the grandparenting club. 

What I wasn’t prepared for was how I would feel when my daughter placed her infant in my arms. I suddenly realized I was holding the future of our family. Before I could process that thought, the tiny creature curled her hand around one of my fingers and I was instantly in love.

My granddaughter was born in February. I retired from teaching and moved over a mountain range to live a few houses away from my daughter and granddaughter. Many new parents would have cringed to have their parents so close, but this new mom had asked for my help, and she was fine with my proximity.

From then on, I took my granddaughter for long walks in her stroller while her mother rested or painted. As she was able to go longer between feedings, I expanded our walks to include the grocery store, the bakery, and the park. We built traditions together – singing, reading, playing outside in my patio, now furnished with a water table, sand box, and child-safe plants. My guest room became her playroom.

When she graduated to overnight visits, she slept in a day bed with me on the trundle beside her. When she started preschool, I helped with afternoon pickups and dancing lessons. Soon it was carpools and summer camps, art lessons, and Taekwondo.

Now I have six grandchildren. Each child has a unique place in my heart, and we make special memories together. We’ve planted seeds, made gingerbread people, furnished doll houses, and enjoyed hot chocolate around campfires.

Grandparenting Today

There are 70 million grandparents in the United States today. The average age to become a grandparent is now 50, although many individuals become grandparents earlier. By 2030, there will be more people of grandparent age than children and youth. We can have a tremendous impact on society by becoming active grandparents and mentoring younger generations.

My first grandchild helped me see life differently. I slowed down, observed on my hands and knees the progression of a line of ants across the pavement, or the fuzziness of a Lamb’s Ear leaf against my cheek, or the way sand felt when poured slowly from one hand to another.

As a single parent, I hadn’t had the leisure to watch my own children play, to observe them discovering the world, to notice their growth. Now that I didn’t have to worry about my job, the dishes, the laundry, the shopping list and all those other daily tasks of parents, I was free to play with her and the other grandchildren to come.

Soon we were engaged in deep conversations about friendship, family, homeless people, and saving the whales. Spending time with my grandchildren took me back to the basics and enriched my life. 

Grandparents Enrich Family Life

But I have also enriched the lives of each of my grandchildren. Young children experience their world as an environment of relationships, and these relationships affect all aspects of their development. I hope my grandchildren have rich memories of the times we spend together. Even if they don’t, I know that I have provided experiences and conversations that have helped in some way to make them the adults they will soon become.

Parenting is difficult. Not all families can have, or wish to have, grandparents just down the street. But most families will be richer for including the grandparent generation in their children’s lives. Teaching a seven-year-old how to knit, or play chess, or plant vegetables will give children a heritage of connection. Participating in family activities and engaging with your grandchildren will add a richness to their lives as well as yours.

Across the Miles

One of my daughters who works from home has encouraged her five-year-old daughter to FaceTime her grandparents on snow days, holidays, and other occasions when Mom is on the computer and the hours stretch out ahead of her.

Her daughter has become adept at including each of us in her arts and crafts projects, detailed recounting of weekend activities, and singing silly songs. It’s not always possible for families to connect like this, of course. We don’t always agree across generations, and sometimes the little hurts build up and make it hard to reconnect. I’ve thought about this a lot and spoken with many families who have done so successfully.

These conversations have prompted me to write a book about grandparenting. Grandparenting Matters will be about the changing nature of grandparenting in the western world, and how families can most effectively meet the challenge.

It won’t be a book about activities to do with your grandchildren or a keepsake album or stories about how grandparenting changed the lives of 20 of my closest friends – there are lots of those already. Rather, this book is a guide to grandparenting in this fast-moving world, both interpersonally and technologically.

Some of my stories will be about cross-generational families and how they mended broken relationships and built new, stronger ones. Other examples will be of single parents, single grandparents, and how illness, unemployment, or incarceration can derail the best of plans. I will give suggestions for building resilience in the children of struggling families.

How You Can Help

During my research for this book, I will talk with grandparents of different cultures, grandparents who live thousands of miles away, grandparents who live with their children and families who move in with Grandma. We’ll explore the changing needs of maturing grandchildren and aging parents, the value of sharing family history with children, and of teaching ethics and kindness and how to say thank you.

Grandparenting does matter. The distinguished developmental psychologist Urie Bronfenbrenner wrote, “The grandparent/grandchild relationship is… second in emotional importance only to the parent/child relationship.” That makes grandparenting worth understanding. I would love to hear your stories about grandparenting.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

What is your relationship with your grandchildren? What was your relationship with your grandparents? In what ways are you a different grandparent to your grandchildren?

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I have two grandchildren, girl > 3 years old and a boy> one year old. I visit them once a year because they live far from me I an Asian from Philippines and they are in Hungary where my daughter is married to a Hungarian national. When I am with them I always make the most of my time with my grandchildren. We go to the playground , at home read books, sing, dance, talk with them and many more. Am so happy to be with and seeing them everyday. I wish I can stay with them for a longer period. Thank you.

Marlene Bumgarner Ed.D.

I understand that you would prefer to see your grandchildren more often and for longer, but I am sure you are making memories for the children. Keep visiting them – they will benefit from their relationship with you.


I’m 60 years old and had a very good relationship with my Nana. She made me feel very secure that she loved me no matter what and I loved her too.
When I became a grandparent at 47 my Nana was already gone, so I took her name and hoped to instill the same kind of security in my granddaughter. I was extremely fortunate to be able to care for my first granddaughter two days a week while my daughter-in-law worked. When baby 2 came two years later my daughter-in-law wasn’t working anymore so I had each granddaughter once a week to give mom time to focus on one at a time. Of course, this was an incredible gift for me! When my third granddaughter arrived one year later I continued to have each girl seperately one day per week until they each started first grade. I was able to spend the most amazing quality time with them weekly. I began teaching each of them to swim at 6 months old and they were all swimmers at very early ages. It was probably the best time of my life. My husband and I received so much love from them and of course, we adored them! Still do. They are now 9,10 and 12 with very, very busy schedules. We share babysitting with my daughter-in-laws parents when my son and his wife travel and are willing to have the girls anytime they need us. Almost 6 years ago we moved about 2 miles away from them to make life easier for us. This never sat well with our son and has created a terrible strain on our relationship. We’ve never bumped into them, we never ever just “stop by” at their home but somehow our presence in his town makes him very angry at us. This recently came to a head and our son stopped speaking to us. We both wish we could move but we’ve invested a lot in our home and love where we live. We are not wealthy enough to be able to start again and have what we have here. Our granddaughters would be devastated if we moved farther away. They’re not big on change. Plus, we really don’t want to have to do something so huge just to accommodate our son.
It’s really sad. What started out as the best time of our lives has soured. We see the girls about once a month now which is wonderful but living with our son’s disconnection has been brutal and heart-breaking for both of us. We’re still trying to figure out how to negociate this without damaging our relationship with our granddaughters but it’s really hard and very sad.

Viktoria Vidali

Marlene, This is the kind of advice grandmothers to be and present grandmothers need to hear. The feeling of belonging is so grounding to children and grandparents play a big role in helping their grandchildren have a sense of connection. Best of luck!

Marlene Bumgarner Ed.D.

Thanks, Beth, for your lovely story. I’m sorry things have soured, but your priority of staying in touch with your grands is key.


Hi Beth, I feel your pain but in a different husband and I are ‘snowbirds’ so starting when our ‘one & only’ grand daughter was 8 we started to spend 4/5 months South, I always called & tried to FaceTime with her, but she was never fond of talking on the phone & her parents seldom asked her to respond. My regret now 5 years later (grand daughter is 12 going on 20) is that we made the decision to spend that much time away, for if I had to do it all over again I would have limited our time away to maybe 2 months. I have voiced this to my son & his wife and they assure me, it has nothing to do with it, its her “age” and her friend are what matters most now. I send messages on both snapchat & iMessage to her but she never responds and is not told to do so, or if she is, she ignores it telling my son, ‘If I respond to grandma, she wants to carry on a conversation so I don’t’ which is SO unfair as I never keep anyone if they have another agenda.I have made 7 scrapbooks every year we’ve been snowbirds, each one I poured my heart and soul into, my son & his wife are aware but it will be a surprise for our grand daughter when she graduates as I plan to put them in a hope chest with a few other things as her gift (oh I also wrote in a journal to go with all 7 scrapbooks) Long story short, I have been depressed over the whole situation made worse by Covid previously, and the lack of respect shown, a simple ‘Hi Grandma how are you doing’ would mean the world to me, I sometimes feel my son also resents me being away but when I’ve asked him he says absolutely not. I cannot change the past, but can only send her messages telling her I love her & look forward to seeing her in the Spring/Summer. It’s so difficult this disconnect, knowing we were ‘joined at the hip’ from her birth till about age 10, now it’s as if she’s a stranger.

Kathy Land

My two oldest granddaughters live in PA and I am in Virginia. Due to family dynamics, I don’t have much of a relationship with the youngest one (soon to be 8) but I did have time with the oldest before they moved away.
Here I have my youngest grandchild, Emmet. He just turned 4 and thinks of me as his second mommy. My single daughter had an unplanned pregnancy (thought endometriosis would not let her bear a child due to the ectopic pregnancy she had already experienced). I was there the moment he was born. The greatest thrill of my life was cutting the cord! I helped her through the first struggling weeks but I had an elderly husband at home and I was also working full time. We both worked during COVID and adjusted our schedules to each care for a newborn and a dementia patient (my husband). I have marveled at his growth and development as I couldn’t with my own children. I have experienced all of his milestones (even helped with potty training) and have been here for advice.
We are now down to two nights a week while she works and occasionally on weekends. We also try to have a vacation or camping weekend when we can. She now lives with a boyfriend and Emmet has a father figure in his life (his dad lives in NJ and visits occasionally and calls). Emmet and I have a closer bond than I did with my own boys (I was a working, single mom during their school years). We talk about everything, we play and read. For the first couple of years I did feel like a second mom because he was with me 4 nights a week. At 65 I am glad to have him only two nights after working all day. He is a very active and curious boy. I still love cuddling with him when I put him to sleep. Winter is a little tougher due to the limited space in my condo; but we get out when we can. I am excited to resume swim lessons this summer and watch him learn to ride a bike!
Emmet has changed my life in more ways than I could have imagined when my daughter told me she was pregnant and I would not have it any other way.

Marlene Bumgarner Ed.D.

Kathy, I am with you there – my time with grandchildren is precious, and yes, they’ve changed my life.

The Author

Marlene A. Bumgarner, Ed.D. taught child development and family studies before retiring to the California coast where she writes, gardens, and walks with her Border Collie, Kismet. Her 70s memoir, Back to the Land in Silicon Valley, was published in 2020. Her newest book, Organic Cooking for not-so-organic Families, will be available in 2022. Visit Marlene at

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