teachers, lifetime learners
What kind of grandparents are the Baby
Boomers? Healthier, wealthier and a lot more active than the gray-haired
grannies we're used to, a TCU sociologist says.
By Rick Waters '95
took the news that she was about to be a grandmother like most women --
a flood of excitement and questions rushed over her: the due date, the
expected baby, the parents, the baby's sex.
came other concerns: the pregnancy, how prepared the parents were, financial
the attention directed elsewhere, it wasn't until later that she focused
inward: How exactly do I feel about becoming a grandmother?
a sociology researcher at TCU for 23 years and expert on family issues
such as divorce, remarriage and aging, did what she always does -- she
checked the research. Except there wasn't much. Even the pop psychology
literature in the bookstore was slanted to "gray-haired grannies,"
not the woman she saw herself to be.
about the Baby Boomers?, she thought. They grew up in a different
world. How are they handling this new life phase? That question -- part
budding research topic, part personal quest -- launched Giles-Sims into
a series of interviews with grandmothers across the country.
a web site for grandmothers to submit stories, trade advice and find support.
The conversations and research will also be worked into a book, Becoming
"Grammy", due out next year.
Giles-Sims interviewed had a message: They've reached their 50s as empowered
women, having juggled work, family and marriage while pioneering social
change in the workplace, culture and the political arena. Remember creeping
hemlines, bra burnings and women's lib? These are the women who started
it, and Giles-Sims reports that most won't be found in rocking chairs
and baking cookies when grandbabies arrive. Boomer grannies will definitely
look at this new stage differently than their own grandmothers did.
show Giles-Sims has a large audience. A record 70 million Americans --
about one-third of all adults -- are grandparents, and the number is expected
to be 80 million by the end of the decade, according to the American Association
of Retired Persons. The average age of a first-time grandparent today
is 47 -- the average life expectancy a century ago. Now, mature adults
can expect to be grandparents for three decades. Maybe more.
In her book,
Giles-Sims focuses on three developmental factors grandparents face --
identity, family connection and meaning questions.
factors ask the practical questions: What are grandmas expected to do
and be? What's their place in the family and how will they fit it all
into everyone's busy lives?
grandmothers are defining their own roles," she said. "These
empowered women often must show support from a distance. They have the
same amount of love as traditional grandmothers, but they show it differently.
They may not bake cookies, but they may help with home work by e-mail."
Their health, wealth, knowledge of technology and access to travel allow
them to stay in touch and offer mentoring in ways past grandmothers did
have very fond memories of my grandmother," Giles-Sims said, "but
a formality was there. Even though there was a lot of love, there was
a distance. We really want to connect with grandchildren now. We really
want to be with them."
is another major issue. Cooperation, conflict, negotiation and finding
a place in the extended family can be potential trouble spots.
women become grandmothers, the parents basically decide what the grandmother
gets to do." Giles-Sims calls it the "family jig," a jigsaw
puzzle and dance at the same time. "There is a choreography that
goes on, figuring out what the grandmother can do without undermining
the parents, and figuring out what the grandmother wants to do -- if she
is willing to do it."
don't consider such scenarios when the big news arrives, Giles-Sims said,
but they quickly learn that the mothers are the ones to decide.
is a process of working out problems that goes on," she said. "Many
times the relationship between mother and daughter needs to be worked
out before there can be a grandmother-mother relationship."
research interviews, Giles-Sims discovered that most grandmothers valued
the meaning of one thing above all others -- making memories with their
are awe-struck at this new child in their lives," she said. "It's
not a decision they made. It happened to them. And now they want to make
memories with them."
surprising because memories are important to kids. "It tells them
they are valuable and loved. It gives them a sense of history and their
place in the world, and it is grandmothers who do that."
relates firsthand how rewarding this can be. This summer, her 9-year-old
granddaughter brought the first book she made -- lined pages included
-- to her author-grandma for approval.
brought it over to me and asked, ÔHow do I get this published, Grammy?'
It was something that I did, so she thought she could do it, too. Isn't
a true grandmother.
Giles-Sims at firstname.lastname@example.org.