Grandparenting Styles Through the Years

Grandma and Grandpa with grandchild number two of fourteen

Times are changing family dynamics; the influences of technology, the economy, and social norms – like marrying later in life – are all playing a role in changing the way families interact these days compared to previous generations.  In particular, the roles of yesterday’s grandparent may be much different than that of today’s grandparent.  The “traditional” role of baking cookies and bouncing babies on their knee is no longer the extent of the grandparent standard in today’s society.

I recently discussed this with my husband’s parents; who have a total of fourteen grandchildren over the course of almost 20 years!!  With their help, we examined the “grandparenting styles” (first examined in the 1960s) and how they have changed in recent years.

  • Formal.  Formal grandparents are interested, but do not intrude.  I liken this to the image of some of the grandparents who played this “traditional” role in the TV shows of the 60s and 70s. While the characteristics of this style are not disappearing entirely, more than ever families are communicating with grandparents over cell phones, email, and even social networks, and using them as an extension of the parental unit.  Funny how “friending” your Grandma on facebook lessens the formality of the role.
  • Playmate or fun seeking grandparents.  This style of grandparent is becoming increasingly popular today, perhaps in light of more active grandparents – isn’t 70 the new 50? The playmate grandparent interacts with the grandchildren for fun and vice versa.  But beyond taking the grand kids to the park or movies, these grandparents also serve as sources of education, guidance, and personal growth.
  • Surrogate. With more dual incomes families, divorced parents, or single parents, the surrogate grandparent role has become more commonplace.  These grandparents may help raise the children, or at a minimum, are regularly involved in their care while the parents are at work.
  • Sage.  The sage grandparent is there when needed for consultation and advice. Grandparents who may have been more playful or formal when the grandchildren were little often adopt this role by the time their grandchildren are in college.

In talking with my mother-in-law, it seems like her role over 20 years has changed time and again based on circumstance, and could vary by each set of grandchildren.  In fact, with five children of her own, my mother-in-law saw the role her own mother played change over the years as well – even into her late seventies and eighties, when she religiously used an email-only machine to keep in touch with her many grandchildren and great grandchildren.  Something she probably never envisioned when she first became a grandparent in the 1950s.

What kind of grandparent did you have?  And what style of grandparent do you imagine your parents being for your children?