We connected with Ann Richardson, an American-born writer and grandmother living in London, to explore the ups and downs of grandparenting little ones as we age.
Grandparents Raising Grandchildren
With the rise of the average retirement age, younger grandparents may still be working, while older grandparents have more free time to devote to grandchildren. But availability does not equate to capability.
“The older you are, the less energy you are likely to have, so the extent of commitment may fall,” says Richardson.
Though many grandparents take care of their grandchildren full time, Richardson says this is not often the case for older grandparents, who might feel more comfortable with a smaller commitment such as watching the kids one afternoon a week.
Grandparents Caring for Grandchildren
The author of Celebrating Grandmothers: Grandmothers talk about their lives points out that younger grandparents are often in better physical health than their older counterparts, and can therefore do as much as parents themselves can do, such as taking trips to the playground and running after toddlers.
But as you get older and potentially more frail, she says, those abilities may decrease: “You may not feel comfortable holding a baby for fear of dropping it, and you would not be able to run after a toddler, so you could not take sole charge.”
However, Richardson adds that older grandparents may feel more confident with school-age children, who require less running around and more quiet involvement such as reading together and helping with homework.
Long Distance Grandparenting
When it comes to long distance grandparenting, age becomes a significant factor.
“If you do not live near your grandchildren, traveling will be a greater issue as you age,” says Richardson. “Older people may feel reluctant to take on the demands of traveling regularly to visit the grandchildren, and if there are infrequent visits, the relationship necessarily becomes less close.”
While an older grandparent might not have the energy to travel, she says, a young and healthy grandparent might be able to visit often enough to keep close ties.
Benefits of Being an Older Grandparent
Of course, grandparenting when you’re older is not all doom and gloom. Richardson cites greater wisdom, experience, and insight as benefits of older grandparents.
“This wisdom affects all relationships, but especially family ones,” she says. “It helps you provide support for your grown children and helps you understand what small children are feeling.”
Plus, as we all know, being around children keeps you young.
“One of the effects of becoming a grandparent is a sense of rejuvenation,” says Richardson. “In general, the older you are, the more likely this is to be a delightful consequence of having young grandchildren. If, however, you are feeling very frail, this might be a reverse effect – making visible your infirmities and inability to do simple looking-after.”
Though Richardson describes herself as a “reluctant giver of advice,” she does offer some tips for those navigating the highs and lows of grandparenting little ones while coping with the aging process.
“Do as much as you can, but don’t take on so much that it becomes a chore,” she advises. She encourages grandparents to set boundaries with their adult children, such as limiting the number of hours they will watch the grandchildren.
Richardson also believes children can understand that grandparents tire easily, and learn to put less pressure on them.
“Older grandparents should feel free to explain this to their grandchildren and let them learn about human frailty,” she says. “They are constantly learning about it anyway – for instance, my grandchildren know that Granny can’t lift them, even for fun, but Granddad can and they work with that.”
In the end – no matter how old you are – it’s always exciting to have a new grandchild, says Richardson.
“Just as becoming a parent for the first time brings a lot of changes, so too does becoming a grandparent for the first time,” she says. “There is the sheer physical pleasure of cuddling small babies and the anticipation of getting to know a new little person. But there is also the introduction of a whole new role of helping and supporting the parents at the same time as enjoying the presence of the grandchild. It changes your image of yourself.”
Whether you’re in your 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s, or beyond, grandparenting is incredibly rewarding, says Richardson. “Enjoy it to the full, whatever age you are.”
Chime in: What’s the best part of being a grandparent? Comment below!