My mother died when my son was nine months old. Less than a year later, we lost my husband’s father. Since our other parents died many years before he was born, my little boy is growing up without grandparents.
How much do grandparents matter? A former First Lady once famously said “It takes a village to raise a child.” In fact, she wrote a book about it. For most families, grandparents play an important part in that village. From looking after the kids when Mom and Dad need a break to offering advice, grandparents are a vital resource for help and support.
But what if, for one reason or another, you’re raising children without grandparents? Where do you get that support then?
A Village With or Without Grandparents
My own childhood included only one grandparent – my grandmother on my mom’s side, who lived with us after my parents divorced. A terrible cook and housekeeper, she didn’t always relish her role as a “stay-at-home grandmother” (always “Grandmother,” never “Grandma”). But my mother, then a single mom with three kids, needed her to fill that role. Because she was there every day, my mom could work a full-time job. My one grandmother was our village.
As for my husband, his parents immigrated to the United States from Greece. His big fat Greek family growing up included lots of aunts, uncles and cousins. Needless to say, his village was much bigger than mine, but his grandparents weren’t a part of it.
In both of our families, our parents made villages from the resources available. Increasingly, today’s parents find themselves doing the same thing.
Older Parents, Fewer Grandparents
With more and more couples putting off having children, their own parents become grandparents at a more advanced age as well. That means more children losing grandparents at a younger age, if they ever meet them at all.
In addition, health issues may affect older grandparents’ relationships with their grandkids. When I gave birth to my son at age 43, my mother was 73. If she were still alive, she’d be 81. Given her health before she died, I’m not sure she’d be in shape to look after an 8-year-old boy.
What Does Your Village Look Like?
Without the support of grandparents, my husband and I generally shoulder the parenting burden alone. I’m a stay-at-home mom, and my husband works full-time. Our son is an active third-grader who loves sports and Disney (ok, the Disney thing is mostly me). For the most part, we don’t go anywhere that we can’t bring our son along. We make a it point to know his teachers and coaches, and to encourage him to learn from them. As far as family is concerned, his aunts and uncles live close by, and he knows how much they love him. Also, he knows his grandparents died when he was a baby and that they loved him, too.
But since we’re raising our child without grandparents, those are really the outskirts of our village. Most of the time, it’s just the three of us. But that’s ok, because it’s who we are, and this is how we choose to be. This is our village.