The Roles That Grandparents Play

  • 01 of 07

    A Light-Hearted Look at Grandparenting Types

    Senior man taking self portrait on digital tablet
    Every grandparent decides what kind of grandparent he or she wants to be. Portra Images / Getty Images

    Being a grandparent requires a bit of soul-searching. We all have to decide what kind of grandparent we want to be. Then the hard work begins. Sometimes we have to fight against our own personalities to become our best grandparent.

    The academics have a lot to say about grandparenting styles, but this look at the roles we play isn't, strictly speaking, scientific. Conclusions are based on some research and a lot of observation. Mostly this piece offers a way of better understanding our...MORE grandparenting impulses, how they can be harnessed for the good and how they may occasionally have to be tamped down.

    Most of us are actually a blend of more than one type, but we may still need some help making the blend better. 

    Special note: All of these types appear in both genders. To avoid the clumsy "he or she," I have used one gender for each type. It's not that the Grumpy Grandparent is more likely to be male. Or is it? 

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  • 02 of 07

    The Pollyanna Grandparent Plays a Positive Role

    Some are simply delighted to be grandparents. Kidstock | Getty Images

    This is the grandparent who is always ready to babysit, who in fact begs to babysit. Not only that, but she's likely to be the best babysitter you'll every find. She regards an evening with her grandchildren as a gift from above, and she plans activities for the grandchildren that are both fun and educational. Her love for her grandchildren is genuine, and her tolerance is unbounded. This is the grandparent who is a great gift-giver, who writes the grandkids letters, who remembers their...MORE ball games and dance recitals without being reminded.

    The Up Side

    She’s always there when she is needed. If she lives nearby, she’s a great back-up when the grandkids get sick. If she's a long-distance grandparent, she’ll hop on a plane if she’s really needed. Also, the kids get a big helping of unconditional love from her, and they probably adore her.

    The Down Side

    A Pollyanna Grandparent can make the rest of us seem bitter and dark. Ordinary grandparents often feel that they can't compete with Pollyanna Grandparents, and they may be right. However, because a Pollyanna Grandparent is a relatively simple creature, she may not get irony, sarcasm and satire. And that means that you get to teach the grandchildren these delicious topics.

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  • 03 of 07

    The Grumpy Grandparent May Hide Emotions

    Not all grandparents spoil their grandchildren. Kidstock | Getty Images

    This is the grandparent who grumbles a lot about the grandchildren. They lose his glasses and make stains on the carpet. He will take them for a walk or play board games with them, but only with a show of reluctance. The Grumpy Grandparent will never let anyone know that he is a big softie where his grandchildren are concerned, although he gives himself away when he buys ice cream for everyone. And if anyone ever threatens the grandchildren in any way? Well, you wouldn’t want to be that person.

    Th...MOREe Up Side

    A Grumpy Grandparent is really good for grandchildren, because he appears not to believe that the world revolves around said grandchildren. He definitely won't spoil the grandchildren. The grandkids aren’t going to always have their way with him, which is a good lesson in how the world operates.

    The Down Side

    Sometimes the Grumpy Grandparent can be downright ungracious, and sometimes he puts too much emphasis on things that don’t really matter. If a Grumpy Grandparent is married to a Pollyanna Grandparent? Well, opposites do attract, but they also clash. The result may be one of those grandparent couples who argue about grandchildren.

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  • 04 of 07

    The Take Charge Grandparent Wants to Fix Things

    Some grandparents assume responsibility for grandchildren. John Lund/Marc Roman | Getty Images

    This is the grandparent who seems to be convinced that her grandchildren's welfare depends on her. She buys necessities for the grandchildren, even if the parents are financially able to do so. She wants to be in on doctor visits and teacher conferences. She’s a great giver of advice, usually sound, but also unsolicited.

    The Up Side

    Lots of the grandparents raising grandchildren are Take Charge Grandparents who stepped in when their grandchildren needed them. Take Charge Grandparents are...MORE especially in evidence when the parents aren’t particularly competent. Perhaps if the grandparents weren’t around, the parents would achieve a higher level of competence, but who wants to take the chance when there are grandchildren involved?

    The Down Side

    Take Charge Grandparents are by definition interfering grandparents who have trouble recognizing boundaries. Although such interference is acceptable in extreme cases, Take Charge Grandparents will definitely try to take over even from competent parents. And that can lead to family disputes, some of them severe. In fact, it's the Take Charge Grandparent who is most likely to be cut off from contact with grandchildren. And that's no joke.

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  • 05 of 07

    The Migratory Grandparent

    Some grandparents are of the come-and-go variety. Kidstock | Getty Images

    The Migratory Grandparent loves his grandkids, but has so many other things in his life. If he is still working, his job is his primary focus. If he is retired, well, he retired so that he could travel and enjoy life. Whether he lives nearby or far away, he will swoop in to visit and then not appear again for months. Some would classify him as an uninvolved grandparent, but that may be a little harsh. He's interested, just at a distance.

    The Up Side

    The Migratory Grandparent is a demonstration...MORE that life doesn’t end at fifty, or sixty, or seventy. His multiple interests and enthusiasm make him fun to be around. He’s likely to quickly build rapport with the grandchildren. He likes to take them places and do things with them. That makes it even harder when he’s not around.

    The Down Side

    Often the Migratory Grandparent is on a second marriage or is otherwise a part of a blended family. Holidays present special challenges, so the Migratory Grandparent’s solution is to be on a beach somewhere. Occasionally the Migratory Grandparent comes across as a tiny bit selfish. At the very least, he’s a master at avoiding conflict by staying just one step away. Sometimes, however, when his grandchildren really need him, he will leave his itinerary behind and settle in for a nice, long stay. 

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  • 06 of 07

    The Crunchy Grandparent

    Some grandparents love to teach the grandchildren green living. Westend | Getty Images

    Need a recipe for homemade bread or directions for creating a compost pile? Call the Crunchy Grandparent. She has preserved some of the skills of our forefathers, but with a new edgy vibe. She will feed the grandchildren healthy foods and teach them how to take care of the planet. She will read to them, do science experiments with them and take them to museums. She may or may not take them to the mall.

    The Up Side

    Most grandchildren are all for green living, and a grandparent who shares their...MORE passion is cool. It's even better when she has the skills to help them turn their passion into action. And let’s face it. Our planet needs all the help it can get, and sugar shouldn’t be the major food group for the grandkids.

    The Down Side

    People are more important than carbon footprints. Crunchy Grandparents occasionally need to be reminded of that fact. Occasionally their enthusiasm has to be tamped down a tad, as when dinner conversation turns into a sermon. Sometimes Crunchy Grandparents can be a little self-righteous, making the rest of us feel guilty when we don't have the energy to be eco-friendly. But, most of the time, we approve.

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  • 07 of 07

    The Cool Grandparent

    Gaming grandparents are one of the cool varieties. JGI?Jamie Grill | Getty Images

    The Cool Grandparent is up on whatever the grandkids are interested in, plus he has some groovy ideas of his own. He’s a tech monster who has computers, gaming systems and all the other technological bells and whistles at his disposal. He still goes to the movies. He may even be up on the grandkids' music. He's as unlikely to bore the grandchildren as he is to complain about their screen time.

    The Up Side

    Like the Migratory Grandparent, the Cool Grandparent breaks stereotypes. He teaches...MORE the grandchildren that old doesn’t mean dull. He understands the grandkids and can relate to them, and most children can do with one more person like that in their lives.

    The Down Side

    Those traditional grandparenting skills like gardening and baking are definitely going begging. Whereas most grandparents are treasured as links to the past, the Cool Grandparent only has ties to the future. That’s not terrible. It’s just ... different.