The changingrole of grandparents

This Sunday is National Grandparents Day. More than one-third of the 4 million children living with grandparents had neither of their parents present in the grandparents' home, and more than half were under 6 years old - a trend that is turning grandparents into primary caregivers. By 2002, there will be 98 million grandparents in the US, more than half of them grandmothers.

This growing number has prompted the research of Jean Giles-Sims, professor of sociology at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Giles-Sims says baby-boomer grandmothers differ significantly from earlier generations of grandmothers. They scorn the negative stereotype of rocking chairs. They are also facing two new, conflicting trends.No 1: Many grandmothers are more involved with their grandchildren, often because of a daughter's divorce or parental insufficiency. No. 2: Some grandmothers are cut off from their grandchildren, often because of a son's divorce and lack of contact with his children.

Giles-Sims says four types of grandmothers exist.

• Traditional: They offer support in times of difficulty, without taking primary responsibility.

• Pioneers: They bring competencies and mentoring possibilities to the grandmother role, but may be too controlling in other social settings.

• Ambivalent: They enjoy close relationships with their families, but conflict is present, often with their daughters. These conflicts complicate their attempts to become the grandmothers they want to be.

• Absent: They include both those who avoid the role of grandmothers through choice, and those who are shut out from relationships with grandchildren, usually by the parents. "Some of those who are shut out have histories of conflict with children, but for others, divorce - particularly of sons - leads to restrictions for the grandmothers," says Giles-Sims.

She adds that grandmothers today are increasingly political, with many lobbying for grandparents' rights and working for better schools and healthcare.Many shepherd their grandkids to Little League. Giles-Sims calls these "Zoomer Grandmothers."

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