Grandparenting in Your 70s: What to Expect as an Older Grandparent

grandparentingThere’s a world of difference between becoming a grandparent in your 50s and 60s (or younger) and having grandchildren when you’re in your 70s and 80s.

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.”

Grandparenting Tips

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!

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2 comments on “Grandparenting in Your 70s: What to Expect as an Older Grandparent
  1. Karen says:

    We are first time grandparents @ 70 and husband 77 and retired. We had given up on being grandparents. We are elated with our new baby girl. We have baby sat for one day per week as the parents work. We do not carry a 2 month up and down stairs. We have a car seat installed in the car in case we have to trans port baby. We follow all of parents plan for care of baby and donot try to impose our opinion. As we are older we feel safer with 2 of us baby sitting rather than one alone. We are enjoying this baby so much. It takes us a little time to rest up the next day, but this is fine. We are in good health. Hope this has been of some interest.

    • Robyn Tellefsen says:

      Thanks so much for sharing your story, Karen. Congratulations on your granddaughter! It’s wonderful that you and your husband are so involved in her life. What a blessing for all of you.

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