Don't Call Me Grandma

Active, health-conscious baby boomers are redefining what it means to be a grandparent

December 24, 2006|By Linell Smith | Linell Smith,[Sun Reporter]

BAKA, DEEDA, OJI, Gunga, Leelee, Uma, Zayda and Wahoo share something beyond membership in the baby-talk hall of fame: These Americans are allergic to the terms "Grandfather" and "Grandmother."

Those well-trod names have become too old. At least for the 39 million baby boomers who are now exploring the even more youthful world of Babies "R" Us.

"The name thing is an issue," observes Chris Crosby, publisher of Grand, a magazine for grandparents. "We all grew up in a culture that put a negative connotation on the terminology we used. Like 'Don't be such an old grandma.' You think of this old person hunched over in a rocker with a bun on her head. This generation is anything but that. So why should they want to be labeled as something they aren't?"

Especially when Glamma and GP (short for Grandpa) sound so much better.

"Goldie Hawn, who has graced our cover, is known as Glamma," Crosby says. "She picked that name, and that was that."

Hawn, who narrowly missed being a baby boomer (she was born in late 1945), staked her claim in 2004. Since then, the new generation of grandparents has become known as "grandboomers" and "glamparents," according to marketers and trendspotters hot on their trails of spending.

After all, they point out, who could be less Granny Clampett than Whoopi Goldberg ... or Susan Lucci ... or Billy Crystal ... or Peggy Fleming ... or Donny Osmond ... or Uber Boomer Donald Trump, who's expecting a grandchild next summer ... or Cristina Rojas of Butcher's Hill?

Rojas, a 56-year-old Spanish teacher, likes to plunge her three grandchildren into the language, music and dance of her native Colombia. But they know better than to call her "Abuela" -- the Spanish word for grandmother.

"They never call me that because abuelas, they are old," Rojas says. "I like to do a lot of exercise, to walk a lot, to see a lot of the outside life with them. They call me 'Tata.'"

While grandparenting has become more age-conscious, it has also blossomed -- and collected a few issues. Consider the following facts, compiled from studies by the AARP and Social Technologies, a futurist research and consulting firm.

The average age of today's grandparent is 48 -- only two years older than the average Harley-Davidson buyer.

This is the first generation who can expect to be grandparents for 40 years or so. (This, in turn, should produce the largest-ever generation of great-grandparents.)

Each grandparent spent an average of $500 a year on their grandchildren in 2002 -- while 33 percent spent up to $2,500. (KB Toys, a national chain, recently started a grandparents' discount -- 10 percent off all purchases on Tuesdays -- available to anyone 50 and older.)

The majority of grandboomers are exercising and playing sports with their grandchildren. Many are taking grandchildren on one-of-a-kind trips designed to create lasting memories. These trips range from intergenerational elderhostel programs offering fishing, hiking and canoeing to high-end European tours designed by such travel companies as Grandtravel.

On the other hand, an increasing number of grandparents have also become the primary care-takers of their grandchildren -- 6 percent, according to the most recent AARP study -- because of problems in their adult children's lives. Many grandboomers are also looking after their own elderly parents. Fortunately, few are doing both at the same time, says Andrew Cherlin, a professor of sociology and public policy at Johns Hopkins University.

"Grandparents want intimacy at a distance," he says. "They want to live near their children, but not with them. They want to maintain their own active lives."

Sometimes, that means re-creating a grandchild's nursery in their own home for overnight visits, says Frank Foye, warehouse manager and delivery man for Bratt Decor, a children's furniture store in Belvedere Square.

"The grandparents now also have lifestyles. They don't want to come over to someone's house to babysit, they bring the grandchildren to their house so that they can carry on with their lives. If a child is used to their own bed, the grandparents get the exact same furniture for their home so that the kid will feel good."

Cherlin, 58, notes another unexpected twist to American grandparenting.

"There's something of a grandchild shortage," he says. "Today's grandparents had fewer children than other generations. So there's a very large generation of grandparents and relatively low numbers of grandchildren."

Some kids are already reaping the rewards of grandboomer abbondanza. Because of divorce and remarriage, Cherlin points out, many of today's grandchildren can have eight grandparents at the same time. He himself is a step-grandparent.

"And from what I've seen, grandchildren are quite happy to collect as many grandparents as they can!"

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