pandemic changes

Grandparents and grandchildren

The role grandparents play in the lives of children has always been important. From childcare to fostering to simply being fun, we grandparents support our children. We pay for school or give respite to parents. We encourage new experiences. 

Grandparenting has changed dramatically in the pandemic. For some, it has created closer and deeper relationships, as our children and their children rely on us for more support. They may have moved into our homes or depended on us to stay with children who were no longer in in-person schooling. For these families, it may feel that the boundaries between generations have become more fluid.

For others, the pandemic has created much more space than we want. We don’t see our children who are very far away and are reliant on technology to maintain relationships with grandchildren. We miss them and feel that we don’t even know them anymore. It’s an additional grief in these two years of loss.

What does it mean to be a grandparent in a time of pandemic? Recently, we did a presentation for the Jewish Grandparents Network (JGN) about this question. Here are some of our thoughts.

First, understand that your grandchildren are growing up in a world that is unlike any we have encountered. Between political strife, climate change, racial reckonings, antisemitism, COVID and our own individual losses, their lives have been marked by disruption and distrust. They may look at older generations as people who have failed, as we have not adequately addressed the issues that define their lives. They may be quite cynical about their futures, which makes sense. Our advice is therefore less valuable – we had our chances and we made so many mistakes!

Second, many of them are overwhelmed. And so are their parents. So the work of maintaining their relationships with you may feel like it’s just too much. Find ways to interact that are less demanding. Call and don’t expect a long conversation. Text. That’s their primary communication mode. And don’t express all of your disappointments with them – would you want to speak to someone who kept telling you how you let them down? 

Ask open-ended questions. Try to plan what you’re going to say so that you’re not simply saying “How was school today?”

Don’t expect long conversations. They don’t have long conversations. That’s not about you. We need to accept them for who they are, not who we want them to be.

The most important aspect of the grandparent-grandchild relationship is simply love. Love them and love them more. Love them when they’re struggling with gender fluidity. Love them when they’re hating their parents (but don’t take sides!). Love them when they do poorly in school or losing friends. Love them when they’re scared or stressed or struggling mental depression. For way too many of our kids, they think they are most loveable and most worthy of love when they succeed. That’s not love. That’s approval. We are not obligated to approve, but the foundation of this intergenerational relationship is love. And love spans challenges, difficulties and pain. 

Betsy S. Stone, Ph.D., is a retired psychologist who currently teaches as an adjunct lecturer at HUC-JIR. Her classes include Human Development for Educators, The Spiritual Life-Cycle, Adolescent Development and Teens In and Out of Crisis. She is a regular contributor to eJewish Philanthropy.

Erica Hruby is parent educator and coach at Anchored Parenting, LLC.