A Most Important Family Bond

What it means to be a grandparent in the 21st century.


Violet Fraser

Violet Fraser

Grandparents matter. Those who are physically available are best, but even when they're far away or long dead, the importance of grandparents filters into children's lives through a mishmash of memories and myths. My maternal grandmother is entirely mythical to me because she died in childbirth when my mother was a teenager. But her raising of my mother, and the grief of its premature ending, shaped my mom and, through her, me.

Just being a grandparent makes you important to children, but being a beloved grandparent is something that must be earned. I hope I shall be remembered as warmly as my mother is remembered by my kids. While they were growing up, we shared a three-family, three-generation household, and all of us, including our grandchildren, who have heard so much about her, regret that we didn't manage to make it four.

Just as memories of grandparents vary, so do the realities of grandparent-parent-child relationships. The myth of family fragmentation, for instance, says that we don't have extended families anymore. And while it's true that families have changed more rapidly in the last 20 years than ever before -- and are still changing -- grandparents are also living longer, more active lives, and it's only a minority who have pulled up stakes and retired to Florida. In many parts of many states, perhaps especially in cities, at least one grandparent lives close enough to see at least one family of grandchildren as often as every week.

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