Now that 50 is the new 30 and 60 is the new 40, North America has a creepy new phenomenon: Selfish Boomer Grandparents. Affected by what could be described as Familial ADD, these folks are capable of feigning amusement with the children’s spawn for extremely limited time. Say, just long enough to annually drag a single tray of cookies out of the oven or snap a few shots of the kid for the website.
The worst offenders seem to be those who coupled between the Summer of Love and Richard Nixon’s impeachment. Coming of age during the greatest wave of youth, they were able to ride a Tsunami of prosperity, where basically, if you weren’t brain dead you could make a buck. Somehow, they managed to be in the right place, at the right time, avoiding recessions and boom housing markets (unless they were selling).
The oldest children of these original Yuppies will turn between 32 and 40 this year, the majority of whom have their own young children.
It’s important to note that these new grandparents were young parents who had their kids the old fashioned way — by accident. Barely into their own 40s, they waved goodbye to the children who had robbed them of their carefree youth and embarked on idealized adolescences. And because they had jumped on the prosperity train in their 20s, retirement at 65 suddenly became the fate of suckers. They were young, fun and ready to burn through their kids’ inheritances.
Suddenly, it was trips to exotic Third World and tropical locales. Family cars were replaced with over-powered sporty models. Suburban homes were traded in for trendy town homes with granite counters and demographically correct neighbours.
For some reason, quite possibly the generosity of spirit and time that accompanies this endeavour, these people were unable to harness any enthusiasm for grandparenting. It was as if grandchildren were a hassle.
Don’t believe me? Here are some true life, stellar examples of grandparents behaving badly:
• One woman I know flew across the country with a couple of kids exhibiting the onset of flu symptoms during a grueling nine-hour milk run. During the two weeks they visited family in the old hometown, the West Coast kids saw their grandparent exactly twice.
• Another mom of two young children was mildly shocked when her boomer mom suggested that Joan and her husband drop the kids off for a night with them and check into a hotel in the city. Joan’s gratefulness outweighed her suspicision and she went for it. Phoning to confirm with her mom once the hotel was booked, her mother unleashed the quid pro quo — requesting a month’s worth of pet-sitting in exchange.
• One woman I am not so proud to be related to (don’t worry, it’s not you, Mom) treats her grandchildren like casual amusements. They’re perfectly fine as long as they are devoid of complications — like her sons’ former spouses — never mind the inconvenience of traveling to see them or picking up a phone. However, she regularly goes to great lengths to ensure she golfs every weather-permitting day.
• A couple whose daughter is a casual acquaintance were introduced to me last fall.
“I guess it’ll be great to spend some time with your granddaughter, give your daughter and her husband some time to relax.” They stared at me like I had suggested they indulge in a nude tango at the gazebo.
• Downing a coffee at Starbucks I overheard a couple of relatively new “hip” grandmas discussing why they felt too young to have grandchildren. I felt like getting up and yelling, “Look Oldsters, dump the low-riser jeans because obviously the draft is traveling up your spinal cord and causing brain damage. You’re 57 years old, your baby had a baby — deal with it and feckin’ rejoice, will you?”
Of course, not all boomer grandparents suck, and some non-boomers aren’t exactly glowing examples of interactive grand parenting, and many fall somewhere in between.
What’s keeping these people from connecting with the next generation? Is it fear that acknowledging grandparenthood makes them (gasp) no longer young? Do they feel that in raising their own kids they’ve spent their requisite time with kids? Or do they honestly believe that they are entitled to do whatever they want, when they want, just because of a socio-economic fluke?
The greater question is once they move from the “active senior” category to “elderly” what will their lives be like? I’m guessing they’ll have a lot of time on their hands to do what they want and consider what could have been.