The Changing Role of Grandparents

Posted on May 30, 2016 in Wisconsin Family Connection Transcript


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2016 | Week of May 30 | #1153

Most married couples with children will tell you they can’t wait to be grandparents.  That’s certainly how it was in our family. My mother thought the highest status in life was to be a grandmother. I’m sure she shared with millions of men and women a similar idea that grandchildren were meant to be loved and spoiled, and then given back to their parents for appropriate discipline and the rest of the upbringing and the parenting.  However, I’m also sure that Mom would have thought twice about what it would mean if she and Dad had suddenly become the parents to their grandchildren.

The most recent data we have on this situation is from a 2012 Census Bureau report that shows that 71,600 Wisconsin grandparents are living with their grandchildren. Of that number nearly 94% of those homes belong to the grandparent and in about 33% of those situations, no parent to the children is present.  Overall, in about 38% of these grandchildren living with the grandparents situations, the grandparents are responsible to one degree or another for the upbringing and general welfare of the children.

I believe this statewide and nationwide trend of more grandparents rearing their grandchildren is yet another reliable indicator that our society is fraught with deep problems.  I dare say that most grandparents have taken on the responsibility of bringing up their grandchildren not because they think it’s the very best for their grandchildren or for themselves, but because they see it as the best of the available solutions to a situation that demands the best interest of the child or children.

Statistics indicate that the reason more grandparents are taking on the responsibility of rearing their child’s children is that families are disintegrating.  Alcoholism, drug use, child abuse and abandonment, imprisonment, divorce, teen pregnancies, and death are all reasons grandparents step forward and agree to once again become parents.

While we would agree that probably in most cases it would be far better for loving and capable grandparents to rear children who would otherwise become foster children, this situation certainly changes the role and the image of grandparents.   It also demands a shift in the thinking and the lives of the grandparents.

Perhaps America is reaping the result of moving away from extended families to the more isolated and independent nuclear families.  When extended families all lived under one roof or at least in the same city or town, grandparents had more interaction with their grandchildren and often even played a greater role in discipline and general upbringing than they do now, but parents still retained the primary responsibility for their children.  With the nuclear family model we have now, grandparents have often been seen as more distant role models and as supportive, encouraging, and fun-loving, and as being able to provide for their grandkids things and opportunities they may not have been able to provide for their own children.

When today’s grandparents are put in the position of becoming parents to their grandchildren, the grandparent/grandchild relationship will inevitably be altered, along with often the legal relationship, because the grandparents will now need to be rule-setters, rule-enforcers and disciplinarians.  And, of course, the lives of the grandparents will be significantly changed as they find themselves once again involved with schools and homework, sports and dating, clothing fads and all the rest that goes with bringing up a child—and all this after many of them had at least mentally set on another course.

On the positive side, many grandparents are more conservative and more faithful in practicing Christianity than their own children. Having more time with grandchildren is a great opportunity for grandmothers and granddads to build positive values into the lives of their much beloved grandchildren and to share the Gospel with them in both word and example.

While I’m thankful for those good, unselfish grandparents who have stepped forward and taken in their grandchildren in desperate situations, I don’t think we can take an ostrich approach to what this means.  It’s more fallout from the death of the intact, one- man-married-to-one-woman family that is the backbone and mainstay of every society—by God’s design. It’s another reminder that we must do everything we can to safeguard our own families and to help strengthen and protect marriage and family in Wisconsin.  Wisconsin and America are only as strong as our families.  As Abraham Lincoln said, “The strength of a nation lies in the homes of its people.”

For Wisconsin Family Council, this is Julaine Appling reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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