Sunday, March 2, 2014

Baby Boomer Grandparents

This isn't the way we envisioned this stage of our lives -- just as we finished raising our children and began looking forward to retirement, towards time to pursue interests that had been deferred, time free of responsibilities -- we instead find ourselves taking care of our grandchildren.  Our numbers are increasing as more of us retire, and financial strains further limit the choices of mothers as to whether or not to work.

Life is very different from the years when we were raising children.  Most of us were able to stay home when our children were young, if we so chose.  Now, the costs of housing, food, utilities, and transportation have increased enormously, and in most cases, mothers have no choice but to work in order to provide a secure life for their children.  There are basically three child care options for parents -- working alternate shifts so one parent can be with the children while the other works, day-care, or care by a family member or friend.  It is heart wrenching for parents to place their infant into the hands of strangers for eight hours each day. Fortunately, there is a generation of grandparents who are willing to step in and provide that care for their precious grandchildren.

For some of us, it was the only choice we could possibly make.  Looking into the eyes of my first little granddaughter a few minutes after her birth, I knew I wanted to be the one to keep her safe and secure while her parents worked.  At the time, we ran a contracting business from home, so I was able to care for her and keep up with my office work simultaneously.  I can remember working at the computer with her wrapped snuggly against my chest.  Then, her little cousin arrived ten months later, and his other grandma and I shared his care during the week.  I remember rocking my two precious little ones together in my arms at naptime.  By the time my third grandchild, another girl, was born, our business had failed, and I made the choice to retire, rather than join the workforce, so I would be able to continue caring for all three little ones.  

This is the choice being made by more and more grandparents.  A choice that is a labor of love.  You see us everywhere -- picking up our grandchildren at preschool, waiting at the corner for the school bus, pushing a stroller through the mall with a sleeping infant and a preschooler bouncing along beside us.  You see gray-haired grandpas holding the hands of little ones in the grocery store, grandmas sitting at library story hours with a preschooler listening intently as a baby watches from grandma's lap.  And, we share our stories -- the funny tales, the stories of our utter exhaustion by the end of the day, and the deep rewards of the close bond we have formed with our little ones.

We are giving our grandchildren a priceless gift -- they are secure, free to be themselves, and wrapped in love when they are with us.  We know that the world can be a hard place, especially today when it seems that more and more demands are placed on children at younger ages.  We give them consistency, constructive discipline, loving affection; we pass on stories, family traditions, values.  They are not "one of the kids" in day care -- they are the center of our world.  They will enter the larger world with the knowledge that they are special and unique -- and very much loved.

And, in turn, we receive a priceless gift -- a deep bond with these children who will leave our arms, but will always carry in their hearts the memories of these early days we spent together.  Our stories will be their stories; our homes will always be a familiar haven for them; we will be a part of their treasured childhood memories.  The baby boomer dreams of retirement can wait for a few more years, while we grandparents tend to our little ones -- what could be a more rewarding endeavor!!

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