In the September/October 2011 AARP Magazine, Jenny Rough tackled a painful issue that my 60-something friends without grandchildren are facing: “grandchild envy.” They want to be grandmas but their prospects are slim.
Rough says it’s a dilemma more and more parents of adult children are facing as they wait anxiously for grandchildren. “Parents need to recognize that society has changed,” she says. “Women today have more options than they did a generation ago, and they don’t feel the same societal pressure to marry young and reproduce early and often.”
In fact, many young women believe they shouldn’t settle down before they’ve established themselves in a career. U.S. birthrates are declining for young women and climbing for women in their 40s.
So if you feel left out of grandparenthood, what can you do? Experts offer several strategies for coming to terms with a childless child.
1. Give it time. Your children can delay parenthood longer than you did and still be able to raise their own kids and you’ll have time to watch them mature. Grandchildren may come through adoption or stepchildren from new marriages.
2. Talk to your children. Unless your children have specifically requested you not bring up the subject, initiate a conversation graciously. For example, “We don’t know what your plans are for having a family, but we want you to know we’re here and we support you in whatever choice you make.” If you learn that grandchildren are not in your future, you’re entitled to feel sad and you can express your feelings without sounding critical. Then follow some of the rest of these suggestions to move on and enjoy the family you have.
3. Enjoy your children as they are. Take advantage of the opportunity to spend time with your adult children one-on-one. Once grandchildren enter the picture, relationship dynamics change dramatically as do opportunities for time alone with their parents.
4. Redefine yourself. If being a grandparent is not in your future, embrace your other identities or look for new interests.
5. Become a surrogate grandparent. You need to get creative and resourceful. Here are a few suggestions:
- Consider asking a sibling or cousin with grandchildren if she would be willing to share them with you.
- Tell everyone you know that you’re interested in finding surrogate grandchildren.
- Get to know your neighbors with young children.
- Post a flier at your place of worship or ask at the local nursery school, elementary school, daycare center or pediatrician’s office.
- Check out family service agencies. Many of them have programs that match seniors with young families for mutual support. Local mother’s clubs are another source of young families who would welcome the attention from a surrogate grandparent.
- Check out Parentless Parents chapters located in 14 different states across the country. These chapters, made up of parents whose own parents have died, were started by Allison Gilbert, author of Parentless Parents.
- Volunteer in pediatric units to hold babies. Be prepared to provide references about yourself.
6. Talk with a counselor or support group. If you can’t let go of your sadness, talk to a professional to help you sort out your feelings. Talk to other people in similar circumstances. Sharing your disappointment and talking about your feelings with others can make your experience easier to bear.