Tom’s journey in the postlaunching phase has been similar to Jack’s. One challenge when I (Tom) return home is the need to return as a more helpful, caring son as opposed to an adult. Due to my mom’s history of strokes, I had to do more caregiving as a child than most of my peers. I learned to wash and fold clothes at an early age. When I return home as an adult, Mom’s chronic health issues often become a source of conflict. Having conversations with a parent about what they can and cannot do for themselves is challenging under the best of circumstances, let alone when significant health issues are a part of the picture.
Leaving home is definitely a challenge for both parents and adult children. The fact that launching has taken place doesn’t mean that all issues have been clearly worked out between family members. In fact, working out these family relationships is a lifelong process. Making adjustments is difficult because the family is a network of patterns and roles so predictable that they seem cut from a template. And even greater adjustments are required when adult children bring their partners and children into the mix. Old routines will be tested, and new coalitions will bring a mosaic of different interactions and interconnections. Expectations and unspoken messages can
leave the new spouse feeling excluded. If parents and their adult children are to have a successful relationship during the launching and postlaunching stages, new roles and patterns must be established. The family should endeavor to create new ways of relating that are also inviting to and include the new members.
An aspect of differentiation is the ability of launched children to be objective about their families and resist the pull that hooks them into the old patterns. Instead of responding in predictable ways of the past, parents and adult children alike need to find appropriate new ways that work best in the current circumstances. A flexible environment allows changes that enhance all relationships so that there is a feeling of well-being and harmony among family members. Rodney Clapp (1993, 86) comments insightfully: “When family is not the whole world, parents can let children go and in turn find themselves reclaimed as parents. Truly letting a child go is hard, not only because of the pain of separation, but because a child fully released will reclaim and reshape the relationship in a way that may not be entirely to the parents’ liking.” This opportunity for change and growth can increase interconnectedness and renew the relationship.
Grandparenting Grandparents have long been depicted as gray-haired, slightly frail, sitting
in their rocking chairs, and passing out sugar cookies to their adoring grandchildren. Such stereotypes do not fit our modern picture of grandparents between the ages of fifty and sixty-five who dress in blue jeans and tennis shoes as they actively engage with their grandchildren. In view of the amount of financial and emotional support given by grandparents, it is now accurate to describe the North American family as a modified extended family.
Research has provided insights into the changing nature of how grandparents contribute to their grandchildren as they develop and mature from childhood to adulthood. Infants and toddlers benefit most from secure bonding with grandmothers who provide physical and emotional care. During the early school years, grandchildren value what grandparents do for and with them, such as showing love, giving presents, taking them places, and having fun together. In preadolescence, grandchildren continue to value indulgent grandparents but focus on the feelings of connectedness and the family pride they derive from the relationships (Ponzetti and Folkrod 1989).
When the relations between parents and teenagers become strained, grandparents can be sensitive, nonjudgmental listeners to their grandchildren. It is especially important that grandparents of teenagers listen to the problems relating to self-esteem, affirm their grandchildren’s strengths, and demonstrate their care by attending special school events and other performance-oriented activities. An intimate, meaningful relationship between grandparents and teenage grandchildren can be mutually beneficial, contributing to both the grandparents’ mental health and the grandchildren’s efforts to resolve identity issues. Adult grandchildren and great- grandchildren can benefit from the emotional support given by grandparents and great-grandparents.
What goes around comes around, for those grandparents who actively bond with their grandchildren when they are young can expect their grandchildren to be emotionally supportive and concerned about them when they are old. Although granddaughters and grandsons bond equally well with their grandparents, there is a tendency for both to be closer to maternal than to paternal grandparents and to be closer to grandmothers than to grandfathers (Hodgson 1995). Since women traditionally take on the role of keeping up relationships with extended-family members and kin, this finding is not surprising.
In traditional nonindustrial societies, most grandparents were highly involved in the lives of their grandchildren. Since parents devoted much of their time to work, the care of children as well as the inculcation of morals, beliefs, and values were frequently the province of grandparents. Indeed, Scripture emphasizes the grandparents’ spiritual role of passing on the faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you” (2 Tim. 1:5). But because of both the decline of the extended family and the high geographical mobility of industrial society, few grandparents have daily involvement with their grandchildren, let alone the opportunity to pass on their faith. Moreover, in our society, not only the parents but also often the grandparents work outside the home.
The extent to which contemporary grandparents are involved in the lives of their grandchildren varies greatly. Differing circumstances create different styles of grandparenting that can include grandparents as fun seekers, parental surrogates, reservoirs of family wisdom, or even distant figures. Margaret Mueller, Brenda Wilhelm, and Glen Elder (2002) found that
grandparents who were most influential and supportive were usually part of a highly cohesive family, had more education, fewer grandchildren, and lived closer to them. Grandparents with a more traditional view tend to be formal figures who take on the role of defining moral behaviors and rules. Grandparents who live a great distance from grandchildren pack a lot into brief visits once or twice a year. They are prone to engage in fun-seeking interaction during those visits but remain background figures for the rest of the year.
Grandparents who live with or close by their grandchildren usually have frequent contact with them. It may be that they serve as surrogate parents for a variety of reasons. And this surrogate parenting is an unfortunate necessity for many in the later-life developmental stage. According to a US census report in 2012, about 10 percent of all children cohabited with grandparents. The number of grandparents who were “grandparent caregivers” or primarily responsible for their grandchildren was roughly 2.7 million (Ellis and Simons 2014). In terms of households, roughly 3 percent of all households include grandparents co-residing with grandchildren. Most of these households are maintained by the grandparent. When Tom was in full-time private practice, grandparents were increasingly seeking parenting education and individual and family therapy to improve parenting. Fortunately, evidence suggests that parenting interventions by grandparents are effective (Sherr et al. 2018). In these cases of surrogate parenting, it goes without saying that grandparents have a great impact on their grandchildren.
Many adults tell heartwarming stories that credit grandparents with providing the love, prayer, values, faith, and beliefs that made all the difference in their lives. The sad news is that when grandparents are divorced, they, and particularly grandfathers, are less involved in the lives of their grandchildren (King 2003). Most grandparents make quite an effort to connect with their grandchildren, even if they are geographically distant. Interest, support, and concern can be communicated through phone and video calls, cards, email, packages, visits, summer trips, and vacations. Regardless of the grandparenting style, most grandparents can be counted on for support in one way or another.
Most adult children turn to their parents for help during times of stress and crisis. Grandparents are called on to fill in the gaps and provide a significant amount of support to their children and grandchildren when divorce occurs. The role of grandparents in the lives of grandchildren can be especially
meaningful at transition points, such as leaving home, when the tensions between parents and child are at their highest. Think of the advantage for a child of any age who can draw on unconditional support and love from both maternal and paternal grandparents. Grandparents who have intense relationships with grandchildren during their childhood promote continuation of the relationship into adulthood (Geurts, Van Tilburg, and Poortman 2012a). Parenthetically, it is good to note that intense relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are predictive of adult children supporting their elderly parents (Geurts, Van Tilburg, and Poortman 2012b). Yorgason, Padilla-Walker, and Jackson (2011) found that the emotional and financial support from nonresidential grandparents had a positive effect on their grandchildren.
There are increasing numbers of grandparent-headed households in the United States. Grandparents who assume the responsibility of raising grandchildren face special challenges, including “financial burden, worry, health issues, and freedom restrictions” (Williams 2011, 948). Drawing from a number of research studies on resident grandparents, Strom and Strom (2011, 910) suggest that successful grandparents are able to “establish suitable priorities, recognize the necessary adjustments in their thinking and behavior, and discover how to assess progress by being willing to amend their dreams, get to know grandchildren by spending time together, and adopt a perspective that enables management of stress.”
Multigenerational Households Multigenerational households, consisting of three or more generations