May 2024

Grandparenting Outside the Box

Before my granddaughter was born, I had a sense about what kind of grandmother I would be. I may have underestimated how obsessed I would be with her, but other than that, I am the sort of grandmother I imagined I would be. After all, grandparenting is just an extension of who we are as parents, which is an extension of who we are as human beings.

Now that we’re older (sorry to break the news), we may have mellowed in some ways while some personality traits might have gotten even more annoying, but we’re basically the same people we’ve always been (no matter how many self-help books we’ve read).

There are approximately eighty-million of us grandparents in the United States now, with eighty million personalities. However, if you ask the experts, our quirks, idiosyncrasies, and ways of being can be distilled into these five basic styles of grandparenting: Formal, Companionate, Fun-seeker, Surrogate Parent, and Reservoir of Wisdom.

Formal grandparents are more hands-off, also known as the We’re Just Not That Into You approach. Fun-seeking grandparents take their cues from Cyndi Lauperthey just wanna have fun with their grandkids. Surrogate Parents are full time caregivers and deserve a medal (I’m exhausted after one day.). Reservoir of Wisdom types can’t seem to stop themselves from dispensing wisdom and advice.

If I had to categorize my grandparenting style I would say it’s Companionate, the type of grandparent who has a warm, loving relationship with their grandchildren but does not take on day-to-day responsibility for them (except on Fridays).

If you ask actual grandparents about their grandparenting styles you will probably get a much more nuanced and interesting answer. None of us are one dimensional. You can probably find your style in several of these categories.

The Reservoir of Wisdom style seems especially silly to me. It’s hard to imagine a grandparent who spends all their time passing on their wisdom and giving out advice or the child who would enjoy that. Isn’t that supposed to happen naturally while you’re doing other things with your grandkids, like seeking fun and companionating?

Still, these styles offer more variety than the stereotypical images of grandmothers from my childhood: gray-haired ladies knitting in rocking chairs or baking cookies in their calico aprons.

We’ve come a long way, grandbaby!
This point was driven home recently while I was taking a break from care-taking my granddaughter while the East Coast helping my dad who has Alzheimer’s. (Side bar: I have grown out of the sandwich generation and into the club sandwich generation.)

Winter on Cape Cod is very different from summers there. Goodbye lobster roll, hello pub food. Thankfully, one of those pubs was the Irish kind and featured live music

The musician mentioned she was the mother of the bartender and that she was a grandmother. I’ve seen a lot of live music in my time, but I’ve never seen a sixty-something gray haired, tattooed woman joking about her comeback tour and belting out rock and roll covers.

I was smitten, mostly because she was a grandmother who didn’t fit the grandmother mold or probably any other category one might try to put her in. It was another reminder that it’s not that helpful and not at all interesting to put people in a box.

However, if they ever add Badass to the list of grandparenting styles, I will happily join her in that box.
If you are enjoying my column or have a topic you’d like me to write about, I’d love to hear from you at [email protected].


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