Grandparenting has been called nature's reward for aging. You get all of the joys of parenthood without the day-to-day responsibilities. Studies show that even baby boomers are excited about the prospect of becoming nanas and papas.
"A lot of folks look on it as a second chance," said Susan V. Bosak, intergenerational researcher and author of "Something to Remember Me By," ($15.95, the Communication Project), a book inspired by her relationship with her own grandmother, who is 100 years old. "They may have had careers and responsibilities that kept them from spending as much time with their own children as they wanted. This time they want it to be different."
Though people 50 and older resist age stereotyping in most areas, AARP research reveals that the one role in later life they are enthusiastic about is grandparenting--rating the experience as a major life-changing event. But while few things are as exciting as becoming a grandparent, experts say learning to be effective in your new role can take some practice.
"Adapting to inter-generational differences in attitudes, values, religion and discipline techniques can be a challenge," said Dee Micari, director of childbirth education at Bristol Hospital in Connecticut. "Your sons and daughters are not going to raise their children the same way you did."
To help grandparents-to-be, Micari developed the hospital's Effective Grandparent Program. During the one-session workshops, participants learn what's new in childbirth and infant care, discuss the role of grandparents with the expectant parents and receive information about child safety.
Micari says taking your cues from the new parents and remembering that they--not you--are in charge is a good place to start. Keep in mind that your son or daughter will need to find his or her own way and make mistakes, just as you did.
Alice Grusse, whose eight grandchildren range in age from 3 to 23, has developed her own set of grandma guidelines over the past 20 years.
"Give advice only when it's asked for, don't break 'house' rules, help out whenever you can and keep your judgments to yourself," she said. "Then just sit back and enjoy the experience. It's one of the most wonderful relationships you'll ever have."
Tips for Grandma and Grandpa
With more than 70 million grandparents in the United States and 75,000 Americans between the ages of 45 and 69 joining the club each month, publishers have delivered a new generation of grandparent primers to bookstore shelves.
* "The Nanas & the Papas: A Boomers' Guide to Grandparenting" by Kathryn and Allan Zullo ($10.95, Andrew McMeel).
* "Grandparenting ABC's: A Beginner's Handbook" by Eleanor Berman ($13, Perigee, 1998).
* "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Grandparenting" by Walter and Marilyn Hartt with Will Cross ($16.95, MacMillan).
* "Grandparenthood" by Ruth Westheimer and Steven Kaplan ($22, Routledge).
Their tips for positive grandparenting include:
* Stay open to new trends in child-rearing.
* If you are a long-distance grandparent, use regular letters, e-mail, videos and phone calls to build and maintain a close relationship with your grandchild.
* The more hectic life becomes, the more simple things matter. Waving goodbye at the same window each time grandchildren visit, calling every Sunday evening or planning regular visits to the local park or pizza place are rituals that make memories.
For a free grandparent tip list from the American Psychological Association, call 877-603-4000. To receive the free brochure "Becoming a Grandparent," call 800-638-5433. For the free guide "Building the Grandma Connection," call 800-772-7765.