The famous saying among grandparents is- “The best part of being a grandparent is the ability to spoil the grandchildren, always be the good guy and then have the capability to hand them back to their parents.” Although this is true for many grandparents, this is not the reality for all grandparents.
The “New Modern Family” comes in many shapes and sizes. One of which, are grandparents who are raising or helping to raise their grandchildren; whether this is due to financial duress, addiction, mental illness, divorce, or spousal abandonment, etc. This is now more commonplace in our society than one might think.
According the US Census Bureau, grandparents raising grandchildren has increased by 64% in the last two decades. Many live in intergenerational homes where both the grandparents and the adult children share in the responsibilities of parenting.
Many “older” adults have been anxiously anticipating the retirement and empty nester years, however, for some, it is no longer in arms’ reach. They are finding themselves waving goodbye (at least for the time being), to the freedom of enjoying retirement and empty nester life to taking on the complete or partial responsibility of raising the grandchildren.
Not all stories are bad. Some individuals are down on their luck for short periods of time; perhaps they are in a transitional stage, seeking the emotional support and sometimes financial assistance to those that are closest to them, typically the parent of the adult child in need.
Bob and Linda Dallesandro are such grandparents. Bob and his wife, Linda, of 43 years, ages 63 and 64,respectively, are parents to five children ranging in ages from 27-42 years old. Three live locally, while two have created lives for themselves in other states.
When Bob and I first sat down to discuss his new grand-parenting role, the first thing he said to me was, “we represent the new modern family. We do not look at our lives as a burden, but rather, Linda and I have created a Plan B-helping to care for two of our grandchildren while each parent works and goes to school. They are planning for the future so they can ultimately move on, creating separate, independent lives for themselves and their child.
But for now, help is needed.
Bob and Linda have fully embraced and risen to this challenge. They wish to focus on the positive development of their two granddaughters, ages 7 and 10, putting the past struggles and upsets behind them. They are the quintessential “intergenerational” family, where the two adult children, each with a child, live under the same roof as their parents.
I asked Bob and Linda several questions on how they manage their day to day lives as they help to raise their granddaughters; ranging from the parenting role, discipline, the biggest challenges, school work and what, if any, do they have as an outside support system or outlet to help them through the day.
BBJ: What does your typical day look like?
LD: I get up every day at 7am and give the girls their “stretch time.” Then it’s the typical dressing, washing and breakfast, then off to school. Their parents assist with the morning rituals if they are able. Bob used to do this before I retired from my teaching job last year but since Bob still works part time, I have taken over these morning tasks. I take them to and from school, help with the homework and feed them dinner. Usually the parents are home to put them to bed and spend some quality time with them. Both Bob and I share the responsibility of taking the girls to dance, brownies, swim practice, music and voice lessons. My grand-parenting day usually ends around 7pm.
BBJ: What are your biggest challenges?
BD: Technology. Plain and simple. It’s tough to keep up with today’s fast paced world of technology.The kids are very intuitive and all this technology “stuff” is not second nature to me, as it is second nature for them. I am always concerned- how much do they know? How do I monitor what they are doing? It’s very difficult, so I try to create options outside of the technology world in places where I can support and relate to them.
BBJ:When discipline is needed, what do you do?
BD: Well, you need to create a role for yourself where you are not the “disciplinarian” but the children respect what you have to say. For example, one of my granddaughters may say, “its not your business,” I will just reply by saying, “but you are my business.” It’s always a question of when do you let the reigns out and when do you pull them back in. We know we are in this for the long haul, so Linda and I have created an environment of respect and acceptance.
BBJ: What do the kids call you?
LD: They call me Nana and Bob, Poppop.
BBJ: What do you do to relax?
LD: In our town, there is a community garden where I grow my own organic vegetables. It is in walking distance to my home and very often I will go there to have a little time to myself, enjoying the peace and quiet before the girls get home from school or their extra curricular activities. Bob has a lot of energy, so he is always looking to do different activities with or without the girls.
BBJ: What is the best advice you can give someone that may be in your same situation or who may be getting ready to be a “parental” grandparent?
BD: Often times the children miss their parents and they have expressed this to Linda and I. All we can do, and what we recommend to those in the same position, is to just listen, let them talk to you freely and don’t suppress their feelings. Also, be sure to tell them that their parents love them very much and that they are extremely devoted to them. We also recommend trying to enlist outside family members who may be able to help out periodically. For example, our son who lives locally, will sometimes pick up the girls and take them to a fun place or he may even help with the carpooling, if necessary.
One never knows what the future will bring. Like Bob and Linda’s Plan A, which was to downsize, become an empty nester, and travel was only to be put on hold. However, their current role as “helping grandparents” is what life has delivered” and they are only too accepting of that.
Bob and Linda’s final words to me during this interview were, “ There is a fine line between being a substitute parent and being the “back up plan.” We do not consider ourselves to be the “back up parent or plan,” but rather the support system behind our children’s children.
Our ultimate goal is to foster the most stable, safest and healthiest environment for the entire family unit