It's kind of ironic that as people live longer they seem to know their grandchildren less. Or at least the traditional baking cookies with grandma and fishing with grandpa seem to be just cultural idealizations. It is still common for families to visit the grandparents on holidays and occasions, but even then this is often a complicated logistical endeavor, with multiple sets (often more than two with divorce so prevalent) requiring multiple stops or holiday trade-offs.
There are still some families geographically close enough for a lot of interaction, as there are still some people that live most of their entire lives near where they were born, but as a mobile society it is pretty common for kids or parents to move farther away. And with how busy people are with the day-to-day of their lives, 20 miles might as well be 2000 miles anyway when it comes to visiting. And I could be wrong about this, but it seems that today's parents are a lot more child-centric, and grandparents less grandchild-centric, as seniors in general are often in better health, more active, and have more options than in the old days.
So grandparents don't tend to spend a lot of time with their grandkids, except when they are surrogate caretakers, which isn't that unusual. I do see some grandparents raising their grandchildren, and even know a great-grandmother raising a child, but more commonly local grandparents are expected to be free babysitters. This is really pretty unfair, but often the grandparents help the single mom, the dual-working parents, and such. You'd think there'd be a lot of grandparents as part of extended families in the household, which would lead to more interaction, but though there seem to be more "sandwich" families, where adults are taking care of both their children and parents, the norm seems to be that the kids are grown up by the time the grandparent(s) move in. Grandpa doesn't retire at 65, die of a heart attack at 67, and then grandma moves in with the family so much anymore. When grandparents move in, it's often later in life for health-related reasons where it is difficult for them to take care of themselves but too soon for more advanced managed care.
But here's the ugly truth. Most kids don't really want to be around their grandparents, and are put out just to make the "mandatory" thank you call for a gift. Except for the presents they get, it's pretty boring for them. For family gatherings, sitting and talking are not high on the fun list for kids, so if they're lucky, there are other kids to play with, and if they aren't lucky, then it's cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, and video games. And there tend to be a lot of "don't dos" for kids: don't touch this, don't make noise, don't, don't don't. The Victorian "children should be seen and not heard" isn't a real selling point for kids. As for the quality time with grandparents, there isn't much one-on-one, and if there is, not a lot of grandparents are great at playing, which is pretty much all kids want to do. Most kids aren't big on quilting. Most grandparents can't fluidly move from, never mind do, activity to activity every 20 minutes, which is about the attention span of most kids. If they're lucky, there may be the occasional "golden moment," where a walk in the woods, a trip to a baseball game, a sharing of a coin collection, a talk about the old days, etc., becomes a cherished memory. Most of the time, though, visiting the grandparents is more of an obligation for kids, except when the grandparents are in a relatively exotic location and become a "hotel" for facilitating travel and recreation activities.
And truth be told, most grandparents can't spend a lot of time around their grandkids, either. Of course grandparents adore the grandkids, but how many times have you heard grandparents say that they love seeing the grandkids, and are happy that they go home. The kids are tiring, demanding, difficult to talk to, and have different interests (the days of the forty-something grandparents seem to be mostly behind us with people now marrying and having kids much later, on average). And grandparents don't know where the boundaries are, meaning how much latitude does the grandparent have in making grandchild decisions involving going places, discipline, foods, etc. How should the child be reprimanded when the parent is there, but it's the grandparents' house, for example? A lot of parents are pretty particular about how the child should be treated, what a child can and can't do, etc., and some are pretty particular about ceding those decisions to others, even grandparents. A lot of parents are raising their kids differently than they were raised by their parents, which is a product of the times, the spouse, economics, etc.
Does anyone really know their grandparents anymore? I really didn't know my grandparents very well, and when I talk to people of my generation and each of the two generations below me (though I had kids fairly late so I kind of straddle two generations in this respect), it is very rare to find someone who was close to a grandparent other than someone whose grandparent was something of a "surrogate parent." That seems a shame, really, but apparently the days of over-the-river-and-through-the-woods are gone, if they ever were.
image from themeshack.com
Labels: grandchildren, grandparents