For the second time, they're empty-nesters

Brina Pepper knows a lot about being a grandmother. There's the indescribable joy of holding a newborn grandchild for the first time. The pleasure of reading "Goodnight Moon" to a toddler. The sweet anticipation of planning a three-generation family vacation. The list goes on.

But there's a catch. Mrs. Pepper knows these experiences only vicariously as friends talk about their grandchildren. The mother of three offspring in their 30s, she's still waiting for the next generation to arrive. For that matter, she's still waiting to play mother of the bride - or groom - to her two daughters and her son.

"Nobody's married - I'm 0 for 0," laughs Pepper, of Paradise Valley, Ariz. Explaining that many of her friends have two or three grandchildren, she adds, "I have to live through them."

These days she has plenty of company. As adult children in their 20s and 30s delay marriage and have babies later - or not at all - their parents are being forced to revise their timetables, too. The waiting game is creating a new kind of empty nest - the empty crib, requiring patience and judicious silence.

"I try to keep my mouth closed," Pepper says. "You can't push somebody to do something."

Though the singles revolution grabs much of the media spotlight, little is said about how this sweeping demographic change is affecting would-be grandparents.

The empty crib can be awkward for both generations. "Now that I've broken the 30 barrier, I have friends whose parents are dropping subtle hints: 'Gee, it would sure be great to have a grand- child,' " says Monica Schaffer of New York, a public-relations executive.

These friends, she notes, are "greatly relieved" when a sibling has a child.

Ms. Schaffer praises her parents for being "enlightened" - not pressuring her to marry and start a family until she's ready. Her mother, Marcia Schaffer, was 40 when Monica was born.

"I would love to have grandchildren," says Mrs. Schaffer, of Long Beach, Calif. "I just want my grandchildren with their original parents. I think [couples] stand a much better chance of staying together if they wait until they're more mature."

For some, the desire for grandchildren reflects part of a deeper yearning. They want their adult children "not to be alone and to have somebody there," as Pepper puts it. She adds, "When I go to a wedding, I just wish it was my child getting married."

Both of her daughters are changing careers, and her son, Jeremy, launched a public-relations business last year. "I would like to have kids," he says. "But right now all of my time and effort are put into my company."

Nowhere is it written that grandparenthood is an inalienable right. But the perpetuation of a family's lineage remains an almost automatic expectation. As today's grandparents-in-waiting temper their expectations, many are focusing on other activities. Some are pursuing careers. Mrs. Pepper is a real estate agent. Mrs. Schaffer and her husband own a small business.

Others reach out beyond their own homes. "My husband and I have been great baby sitters over the years for family," Mrs. Schaffer says.

Mrs. Pepper adds, "You nurture your friends and your great-nieces and great-nephews." She even nurtures two "grand-dogs." "I give them holiday gifts and bring them dog treats," she says.

Monica Schaffer has a few friends whose parents have given up on the prospect of grandchildren.

"They've just gotten on with other things," she says. "They realize their kids are just going to do what they're going to do. But it's got to be tough to be a parent waiting to have grandchildren."

Her mother takes a philosophical approach. "It's not up to other people to provide what you need, but for you to provide what you need," Mrs. Schaffer says. "It doesn't mean your children have to produce grandchildren to keep you happy."

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