Filling the Void
In When Your Children Won’t Have Children, Part 1, we looked at the impact of not having grandchildren. As one might expect, the parents who found themselves in this situation experienced sadness, emptiness, and even devastation. But most of the fathers and mothers I spoke with eventually found creative ways to cope. Here’s how.
Some POGOs look at the glass half full
They value what they have rather than obsess over what they don’t have, i.e. grandchildren. “I have so much more free time,” said one. “I don’t have the emotional entanglements a lot of my friends have due to bitter custody battles and their grandchildren’s boring soccer games” said another. “I’ve got a lot more discretionary money,” said a third. “So many of my friends have to pay for their grandchildren’s private schools and camps, but I’m free to be philanthropic and also indulge myself in little ways before I go to that great bridge game in the sky.”
Some parents double down on their relationship with their adult children. “I think my daughter and I talk to each other more and at a deeper level than we would if she had had children,” said one woman. “It’s simpler,” said another. “Even if I had grandchildren, there’s no guarantee we’d have precious, lifelong intimacy. But human beings do need an outlet for their love, so I’m pouring mine into my husband and our dog.”
Some POGOs are accidental surrogate grandparents
One POGO took over with the kids when his best friend died suddenly at the age of 42. With the friend’s widow floundering, this man and his wife stepped in to provide stability and normality to the household. “The kids told us they liked us better than their real grandparents,” he said, gloating only slightly. “In fact, they made up a certificate that declares us their honorary grandparents, so in a way, they adopted us. They were so needy after their father died, and I guess we were needy, too, without grandchildren. For years we had a weekly date with the kids—playing games, going to movies, ordering in for pizza—just the way we would if we were a real family. Fortunately, they also bonded with our grown children, so family occasions work out great.”
Another couple became accidental surrogate grandparents when they sponsored a music student at a local conservatory. This young oboe player travels around the world for his work, but he takes it upon himself to visit his “grandparents” when he’s within a two-hour drive of their home (which is more than many biological grandchildren would do!). One year he arranged a small concert for his surrogate grandfather’s birthday. “We consider him our grandchild,” said the wife, “so I guess you could say we moved up to pseudo-grandparenthood.”
The prize for the most unusual route to accidental grandparenthood must go to the woman who acquired a grandson when her gay son donated his sperm to lesbian friends who wanted to have a baby. Her son stayed in the picture and now she is considered the child’s grandmother. “One of the lesbian mothers calls me “Nonnie,” said the woman, “which is strange but nice. I can’t say I feel that I’m a 100% grandmother, but as I age it’s a blessing to have a connection with any youngster who can bring more love, light and “connectedness” into my life.”
Others are more deliberate in their quest
Some POGOs make a concerted effort to acquire grandchildren in untraditional ways. Their pro-active efforts include “adopting” nieces, nephews, neighborhood children and dear friends’ grandchildren. “Even though I’m just an ‘honorary’ and not the real deal,” said one woman, “I still have the joy of hugging, holding, kissing, buying onesies, reading to the baby, showing pictures, and bragging about what a genius she is because she can hold her head up! A child can’t have too many people who love it, and enlightened parents welcome the extra attention and help that an ‘honorary’ can bring.”
Other would-be grandparents volunteer with family service agencies that match young families with seniors for mutual benefit. Others get trained to serve on the pediatric wards of local hospitals. Mother’s clubs are another source of young families who would welcome attention from a surrogate grandparent as is Parentless Parents, a support group with chapters in several states.
Some seniors are taking advantage of new online services, such as Find-a-Grandparent in Australia, and Surrogate Grandparents in the United States. Surrogate Grandparents is a private Facebook group that works like Match.com to pair up seniors and young families. Surrogates and parents post profiles of themselves and then get acquainted through texts, emails, phone calls and, ultimately, face-to-face visits. When the relationship clicks, it fills a yawning void for all concerned. “Even though our adoptees live far away,” said one surrogate grandfather, “we make it work by sending one another little gifts, exchanging cards, and celebrating the big holidays together. Teaching our adopted grandson to fish was the kick of a lifetime for me,” he said.
Fortunately, today’s extended family can come in all sizes, shapes, and configurations, including biological and adopted. As we’ve seen, those seniors who really want to have a special relationship with a child now have more avenues open to them than ever before.
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