Grandparents worldwide share their values, history, wisdom and love with the next generation—but there is nothing cookie-cutter about their approach.
The stereotype of days gone by is one in which Grandma lives in a nearby town, “over the river and through the woods,” where she bakes pumpkin pie and awaits her holiday visitors. But today’s grandparents don’t limit their activity to baking. They share babysitting duties, travel across the country to drop in on family and even coach their grandkids’ football teams. Discover the new faces of grandparenting.
Grandparents as Traveling Companions
Travel is life for 74-year-old Werner Haasch and his wife, Elizabeth, and they enjoy sharing this passion with their grandkids. The couple lives near St. Petersburg, Florida, and travels at least 3–4 months each year.
“Sometimes we just take the car and are gone for a week,” says Haasch.
On at least two excursions every year they invite their eldest grandsons (ages 7 and 10) to join them. Most recently, the couple traveled to Alaska with the boys and their parents, a special trip for the family as it preceded a different journey for Haasch—treatment for head and neck cancer at MD Anderson Proton Therapy Center in Houston.
“I love traveling because I like to see different things and how other people live,” Haasch says. “Bringing my grandkids along makes it even more fun, and the experience brings us closer together.”
Grandparents as Sitters
Retired U.S. Army Chaplain Mark Lenneville, 62, and his wife, Laura, live in Lampe, Missouri, where they care for Laura’s 95-year-old mother (who lives with them) along with their 20-year-old granddaughter, Laine (who moved in with them last year).
“She is going to either go to a nearby technical school or a community college in the fall,” says Mark of the arrangement. “She will most likely stay with us through college.”
The Lennevilles, like many grandparents across the nation, have assumed the duties of custodial grandparenting, taking on full-time protective care for their grandchildren because the parents cannot actively care for them.
In addition to caring for Laura’s mother and Laine, the couple welcomes three grandsons (ages 7–14) into their home every day after school until their parents pick them up around 6:30 pm. “In some respects it is déjà vu being a parent all over again,” Mark says. “But even with all the challenges that go along with caring for children, we feel so lucky to be part of their lives.”
Grandparents in Senior Living
Barb Weiler and her husband, Phil, live at White Sands La Jolla, a be.group senior living community on the beach in La Jolla, California. The Pacific Ocean has proven to be quite a draw for their grandchildren, ages 15–31.
“Our youngest started coming when she was just 6 years old,” Barb says. “The residents fell in love with her so much that they call her the White Sands mascot. Every year she stops and greets people in the dining center and attends the swimming and Pilates classes.”
The tradition is continuing with the next generation. “My oldest grandchild now brings our great-grandchild to visit,” says Barb.
Grandparents Raising Grandkids
Steve Markfeld, 66, and his wife Ali Becker, of Roswell, Georgia, love their role as custodial grandparents to 13-year-old Alexa, even if the arrangement was a little unexpected at first. When their daughter gave birth, the couple didn’t think they would become parents again, but less than two years later it became evident that Alexa would have a better life living in their custody.
“It was a shock because we were empty nesters, but we pretty much immediately became attached to her,” says Steve. “We like to say that Alexa is sewn into our hearts.”
Today the family of three enjoys spending time together. Steve likes taking Alexa to the movies and Ali enjoys taking her granddaughter out for manicures and pedicures. They travel together often and recently took Alexa to London for her Bat Mitzvah present.
“Oh, being parents again, it’s so much better than the first time,” laughs Ali, “partially because we are smarter and don’t take things as seriously as we did the first go-round.”
Grandparents as Summertime Hosts
Pat Gill, 57, and her husband, Jerry, live near Shreveport, Louisiana, and have seven grandchildren. Every summer the Gills open up their home to the entire clan for something of a multi-week summer camp, complete with bike riding, gardening and, of course, family meals.
Sleeping arrangements also take on a camp feel. The younger grandchildren always want to sleep in the Gills’ bedroom on a settee at the foot of the bed, Gill says, while the others sleep in sleeping bags on the floor.
“The most important thing about being a grandparent, to us, is to just have fun,” Pat says. “I don’t care if our couch gets broken when they jump on it as long as everyone is having a great time.”
Grandparent Trends: Custodial Grandparenting and More
From grandparents raising grandchildren to grandparents in retirement living communities, today’s cross-generational relationships are anything but standard.