Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Grandparents Day - Old Roles, New Rules

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Grandparents Day - Old Roles, New Rules

Article excerpt

IF the importance of an occasion can be measured by the number of greeting cards it spawns, National Grandparents Day must be one of the least-observed events around. In the endless racks of cards at several pharmacies and stationers in suburban Boston, Grandparents Day rates only 18 different cards. That puts this Sunday's celebration behind even next month's National Boss Day, with a selection of 26 greetings.

Grandparents do, of course, receive recognition on Mothers Day and Fathers Day. But the fact that a separate day of honor was established 15 years ago signals a changing perception of the nation's more than 55 million grandmothers and grandfathers, who form part of the fastest growing age group in America.

Once upon a time, the role of grandparent was fairly predictable. Children grew up, married, and soon began producing the next generation. Grandmothers were entitled to carry purse-sized photo albums labeled "Grandma's Brag Book" and to splurge on pricey gifts for the youngest family members. Grandfathers were elevated to the role of patriarch, becoming imposing figures who inspired as much awe as affection among their grandchildren.

Now the noun "grandparent" has become a gerund - "grandparenting" - as if to signify far more active involvement. At the same time, the role that once came so naturally is surrounded by instructions and guidelines, delivered in books and in special grandparent classes and support groups. Last year Sage Publications put out what it bills as the nation's first "grandparent education curriculum," a five-volume series of books with titles ranging from "Becoming a Better Grandparent" to "Achieving Grandparent Potential."

Being a modern grandparent, it seems, requires a delicate balancing act. Become involved, the experts advise, but don't interfere. Be available to help, but maintain your independence.

Independence may, in fact, be far more common than active involvement, considering the miles that separate many families. But with or without rules and guidebooks, never have all generations needed each other more. As parents become increasingly stretched between responsibilities at work and at home, and as more families are reconfigured by divorce and remarriage, grandparents form an essential link between generations. …

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