The New Generation of Grandparents
Stepping in and providing care
By Linda L. Esterson
Walking into the Lutherville home of Barbi and Lou Hyman, one would think they were parents of young children. The coffee table is filled with toys, an upstairs bedroom houses a crib and there’s even a newly-erected swing set in the backyard.
But the Hymans are in their 60s, representing a new generation of grandparent. Today’s grandparents don’t just visit their grandchildren, they help to care for them as well.
It’s Barbi Hyman’s joy, she says, to care for Noah and Eli Baum, ages 3 and 1 respectively. With her son-in-law, Jeff Baum, traveling for work, she spends some evenings after work with her daughter, Amy, helping with the end-of-day child care. Some days, Barbi Hyman might pick up the boys from the Park Heights JCC to meet her daughter at home, where she helps with dinner and bath time. If Amy Baum works late, she helps her son-in-law in the same manner.
“Life is very difficult for this generation of parent,” says Barbi Hyman. “In almost every household both parents are working. I try to do the best I can to relieve the stress and pressure of being a parent and, of course, I love every minute of it.”
Barbi Hyman sees some of her friends helping out significantly as well. Some have a “regular day” watching the grandchildren while the parents are at work, some have altered their work schedules to devote days to child care and others fall in the “Plan B” category, as she describes her role. If a child is sick, she’s often the one who stays home from work to care for him.
“It appears to be a trend,” she says. “Childcare is very expensive and when grandparents can help out, it’s a huge relief to the parents to know the child is in really good hands. And, there’s no fee for grandparent sitting.”
“Right now, because of the recession, parents are calling upon their own parents more,” says Jodi Fishman, director of the Meyerhoff Early Childcare Center at the Park Heights Jewish Community Center. “Even if they can afford childcare, they can’t usually afford full-time childcare. So whether it is taking care of the grandchildren during the day or even just dropping off and picking them up …there is definitely an increase in grandparent participation.”
When Barbi Hyman was a young parent, her parents lived out of town. She didn’t have help from the grandparents. Instead, her friends, other young mothers without grandparent help, provided the assistance by watching each other’s children if needed. That does not exist today, she explains, because most mothers are in the workplace.
Ellen Marks, director of the Beth El Congregation Infant & Toddler Care Program, sees many grandparents during the day at Beth El, either providing transportation to and from the program or being the adult who comes to the school to retrieve an ill child.
“Grandparents are the contact people, because mom and dad are working a distance away and grandparents are available,” she says. “It’s a lot more prevalent than it used to be.”
Today, grandparents are much more involved in their grandchildren’s lives. In previous generations, time spent together was in the form of weekend visits. Today, it’s more about being there to help with the care.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone — it’s great for the parents, great for the grandparents and great for the children,” Marks says. “It’s a trend that’s come out of necessity.”
Amy Baum, who works as a legal recruiter for Robert Half International, says she chose to live in Baltimore to be close to her parents, knowing she would have children and her parents would be willing to help. In her case, she planned to work after having children, saying her personality was “wired” to do so rather than stay at home.
“It’s so important to have these role models not just visiting, but there every day, and who love them so much and add to their lives,” Amy Baum explains. “For the kids there’s nothing better. You can’t have too many people close to you who love you, take care of you and do fun things.”
When her first grandchildren, Brett and Tyler Falck, were infants, Carol Matz provided their childcare while their mom, Karie, worked. Now they are 7-and 5- years-old, and Matz’s role has changed. She helps to take them to appointments if needed. She also helps out with her other grandchildren, picking up Harper Melnick, 4, from preschool every day, and she’s the “fill-in” once or twice a month for Harper’s brother, Holden, 6-months.
Matz estimates she spends about five hours a week providing care and/or transportation, not including the weekends, when one, two or all three of the oldest grandchildren sleep at her Upperco home. Her husband, whom they call “Pa Joel,” takes them to train gardens and museums, and he and his wife, whom they dubbed “Mickey,” happily attend grandparent’s day at preschool, as well as their granchildren’s fundraisers, shows and sporting events.
“We are almost like second parents to them,” says Matz. “They know we’re there for them for anything they need.”
As the children age, their connection to their grandparents develops into a stronger bond than when they were infants. Sandy Gilbert has eight grandchildren under the age of 13. Six years ago, the former nanny service owner “refocused” her life to allow time for volunteer work, community involvement and, of course, grandchildren. She went to Tot Shabbat, Pee Wee Play and music classes, took them to and from school, doctors’ appointments and swimming meets, hosted birthday parties and served as the emergency contact.
“The bond is so strong because you did all of that when they were younger,” says Gilbert, 64, who estimates she spends 10 hours a week with her grandchildren. “It validates you … It just comes with the wonderful job of being a grandparent.”
“It’s exciting to see my mom in the role that I don’t remember,” says Amy Baum. “It’s neat to look at her with the kids and realize what a great life I must have had.”