A grandparent holding a newborn baby’s hand

There’s something truly magical about becoming a grandparent. A milestone in many people’s lives, it can be a rewarding role; however, navigating challenges such as technology, later retirement ages and career pressures mean that the role has evolved compared to 50 years ago.

Being a 21st century grandparent is a truly rewarding experience. Although it may have differed from the role your grandparent played in your life, this exciting transition is sure to bring joy to your life. “It’s difficult for me to say how grandparenting has changed over the last 50 years as I’ve only been a Granny for three months now”, Jo from the parenting blog Slummy Single Mummy shares. “What I hope though is that I will get to spend a lot more time with my grandson than my grandparents did with me and that I will get to have a much more hands-on role. I’ll still be the one dishing out the treats in secret though – I don’t think that bit has changed at all!”

Quote from Single Slummy Mummy

All first-time grandparents are likely to be filled with trepidation. Like parenthood, your experience will be unique to you. However, there are a few things that you can keep in mind that can help ease you into your new role. Find out more in this guide.

Be tech-savvy

A child playing on her iPad

Your grandchild’s generation is growing up with a wealth of information at their fingertips. The internet will be an integral part of their lives, even during the early years. Whether they’re sitting down to watch a video on YouTube, downloading an app to play on their tablet or reading a book on a Kindle, knowing how to use these devices yourself can come in handy.

Whilst you’re not expected to be a technology whizz, it can come in useful if you know how to navigate the App Store on their iPad, can help them search for their favourite TV shows online and, if you have a long-distance relationship, can use FaceTime to keep in contact.

Quote from Starting Over at Sixty

Paula from the blog Starting Over at Sixty has noticed the difference between grandparents 50 years ago and today. She said: “As I remember the role of my grandparents 50 years ago, it was one of comfort and stability; once they retired, their lives were very predictable. They were the phone call I could make and always get someone on the other end. That is no longer true. I hope my grandchildren think of me as fun, smart, active and still growing. Although grandparents are working, learning and travelling - I can still provide comfort and stability.”

The distance between you and your grandchild can be one of the most difficult things to face as a grandparent but using things such as FaceTime and Skype can help to ease this. They are reasonably simple to use but can help you to nurture the relationship between you and your grandchildren over prolonged periods.

Help out with childcare

A child reading a book unassisted

Defining the role of a grandparent can be difficult. While you may find yourself filled with excitement and anticipation to meet the new arrival, it is important to establish your responsibilities early on. For many expectant parents, mortgages, bills and other commitments mean that they may be in a rush to head back to work and, with expensive childcare costs, your son or daughter may look to you for assistance.

This is something that family and parenting blogger Rachel Bustin has taken advantage of: “Over the last few decades, I believe the role of the grandparent has changed greatly. They are much more involved with the grandkids’ day-to-day lives and help to look after them more. My children's Nan looks after them while my husband and I work, but a few decades ago this wasn't the case with most families as the mum used to stay at home. To run a household and live comfortably, it takes two wages in recent times and you need the grandparents involved to help with childcare and to help with the bringing up of the children. I believe they are key members of a household.”

Quote from Rachel Bustin

Although you may be willing to lend a helping hand, it is important to set boundaries with how much of your free time you’re willing to give up. With an increasing retirement age, more people are working for longer and, if you fall into this category, it is important that you set aside some downtime for yourself.

When helping out looking after your grandchildren, there are plenty of activities that you can do together. As mentioned, technology plays a large part in their lives, so recommend looking online for a recipe that you can bake together. That way, you can both showcase your skills and have a fun time participating in something together. There are lots of websites that have recipes specially aimed towards children such as BBC Good Food and Tesco. These are simple and easy to follow which is perfect for you and your grandchildren.

Take a step back

A child playing with their toys on the floor

Despite many new parents being grateful for your assistance, it is important to know when you’ve overstepped the mark. You may remember your son or daughter’s early years; sleepless nights and behavioural problems may have resulted in a difficult time for you and your child will likely be experiencing something similar. Expecting endless visits, especially when you’re not helping out, is likely to cause tension. Instead, offer to cook dinner, tidy up around the house, or watch the baby whilst they catch up on sleep.

If you’re a new great grandparent, it is even more important to take a step back for your own mental and physical wellbeing. Young children can be demanding, and you may not be able to answer their every need. Instead, offer to arrange a playdate every now and again to spend some quality time with them. This could include going to the cinema to see a film or taking them to a soft play centre.

Listen to their parents

A baby laying on their stomach with their mum

Many people associate grandparents with offering unconditional love, and endless gifts and an abundance of sweet treats. Although you may be more than willing to adopt these principles, you should check with your son or daughter first. Everybody has different parenting styles and whilst you may be more relaxed with letting the little ones watch TV, their parents may not. To avoid conflict, check first. They may have set certain rules, so you should abide by these to minimise confusion with your grandchildren (and to prevent potential future temper tantrums!).

Although being a grandparent has changed in the last 50 years, changes have even been made in the past 20 years. Those who are now great grandparents may be amazed at how technological advances and changes in society have altered the way in which parents bring up their children. Whilst your son or daughter may have appreciated a helping hand, the parents of your great grandchildren may be more independent. 

Go at your own pace

A boy laughing on a bench with a book

The excitement of having a grandchild may overshadow the fact that you’re getting older. In today’s society, pursuing a profession, feeling financially secure and the increasing cost of getting married may mean that many adults wait until later in life to settle down and start a family, meaning that the average age of grandparents is on the rise.

You may have envisaged your playdates consisting of exploring the local park or heading out on an adventure further afield. However, it is important to take care of yourself and not set high expectations for yourself. Although purchasing comfortable footwear such as men’s wide fit shoes can help to ease some of the strain felt when becoming an intrepid explorer with the little one, it is important to remember that they may be just as happy playing at home.

Quote from I Am Typecast

Although many people are waiting longer to start families, the traditional stereotype of old grandparents is becoming more flexible. Nickie, who blogs at I Am Typecast, defines a 21st century grandparent as she adopted the title of Granny at the age of 36. “My grandparents were almost at retirement age when I was born so they were more able to be involved in helping with babysitting duties and helping my parents out when needed. Nowadays, we have better health expectations so are starting families later or, as is in my case, babies are being born to young mothers, so it is not unusual to become a 'Granny at 36'.  This meant I was still working full-time (and will do for many more years) and not able to spend as much time as I wanted with the grandchildren. I also still had young children of my own at home. Our situation was fairly unusual but is becoming less so.”

How to be a 21st century grandparent

Children stood in a line wearing wellies

The role of a grandparent is constantly evolving. However, they are universally appreciated as an important member of both the family and in the upbringing of children. Sunday, October 6th, is National Grandparents Day so it is the perfect occasion to celebrate all you do, whether that’s with a gift, a fun-filled day out or a visit to see your beloved grandchildren. Or, if you’re looking for some inspiration for how a 21st century grandparent can spend this special day, take a look at these ideas:

  • FaceTime your grandchildren to catch up.
  • Plan a fun-filled day out with an activity such as bowling.
  • Go to the cinema.
  • Plan a sleepover at your house.
  • Learn how to play their favourite games consoles.
  • Search online to find a recipe to bake together.