June 28, 2010

USA: Grandparents are getting younger, bringing earlier joys and challenges

NOVATO, California / Marin Independent Journal / Lifestyles / June 28, 2010

By Paul Liberatore

Grandparents Cindy (left) and George (right) Rodericks with their daughter Kylie (middle) and their two grandchildren, Samantha and Matthew Moore, all get in a cuddle in the Roderick's residence in San Rafael. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)

Instead of worrying about getting old, a growing number of baby boomers can claim that they're young in at least one respect - as grandparents.

In 1985, most grandparents were 65 and older. But, by the end of this year, boomers 45 to 64 are expected to make up the majority of the country's grandparent population, the youngest in history, according to Grandparents.com., whose slogan is, "It's great to be grand."

George and Cindy Rodericks of San Rafael would agree that it's great to be grand, but they weren't expecting to be grand quite so soon.

In March 2007, George was 41 and Cindy was 42 when their daughter, Kylie, gave birth to their grandson, Matthew, now 3, when she was still in high school.

"Cindy and I were excited, but it was a shock at first," he recalled. "We saw this as probably 10 years away."

Three-month-old Malia Poppe is held by her mother, Lizzy Poppe (from left), grandmother Marcelle Poppe and great-grandmother Thomasina Wilson at the Poppe s home in San Geronimo. More adults younger than 50, such as Marcelle Poppe, are becoming first-time grandparents. (IJ photo/Jeff Vendsel)

In 2008, their daughter gave them their second grandchild, Samantha, who will be 2 in October.

"People are always really surprised when they find out I'm their grandmother," Cindy Rodericks said. "When I'm out with the kids by myself, they think I'm their mom. It never even occurs to them that I might be their grandparent."

They're members of Gen X, but consider themselves honorary boomers.

"Because we're young grandparents, we don't feel like we're completely Gen X," he said. "It changes our perspective. We've got more in common with the baby boomers."

Boomer grandparents have higher incomes than grandparents of old. In 2009, they were in a position to spend $52 billion on their grandchildren, according to a study commissioned by Grandparents.com.

Far from retirement age, the Roderickses (he's now 43, she's 44) are on a par with working boomer grandparents financially as well. He's the city manager of Belvedere. She's an accountant for a pair of restaurants in San Anselmo.

"We're able to spoil them more because we aren't living on a retirement income," he said. "I find myself giving to them more than I probably did my own daughter. You just want to make everything wonderful for them. Being in the midst of our careers, though, makes time more challenging, the money less challenging."

Not only do young grandparents have more money these days, they still have the energy to keep up with their grandkids.

"It's been wonderful in that you get to experience the whole grandparent thing and you're not too old to sit down on the floor with the kids and enjoy them," Cindy Rodericks said. "In that way it's been great."

What hasn't been so great, she's quick to add, is that their grandchildren live with them. So does their daughter and her fiance, the children's father.

"Since they live with us, it's been more like, 'How do we get away from the noise and the chaos and let our daughter deal with her kids the way she wants to deal with them?" she said, noting that her daughter and her family will soon be moving into an apartment downstairs.

"I'm hoping that when they get moved there and they are separate from us that I'll be able to do things with them instead of going, 'Oh, God, I have to see my grandkids again," she said, chuckling.

Marcelle Poppe, who turns 49 in August, became a grandmother three months ago with the birth of Maia, her first granddaughter.

She is the latest in a line of young grandmothers in her family. Her grandmother and her mother were also younger than 50 when they became grandparents.

"It's amazing," she said. "It's so different to be a grandparent. I look at that little baby and think, 'She's a part of my baby.' It's a wonderful feeling. I love it."

Susie Owens of Grandparents.com says this new generation of grandparents are younger in interest and attitude than their grandparents.

"They're more likely to be playing Nintendo with their grandchildren than sitting in the corner knitting," she said.

Nintendo would be a little sedentary for Poppe.

"Being younger, I'll be able to go horseback riding with her when she's 5," she said. "If I were older, I don't think I'd be able to do that."

Like the Roderickses, she was in her early 20s when the first of her three sons, Eric, now 26, was born.

Eric suffered a stroke a little over a year ago, which convinced him that it was time for him and his wife, Lizzy, also 26, to become parents while they still can.

"When he was intensive care, he looked at her and said, 'We need to start our family,'" Poppe recalled. "It's a beautiful story. "It kind of makes me want to cry all over again."

Poppe, who celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary in April, lives in San Geronimo, not far from her son, his wife and new granddaughter.

She works for an insurance agent in San Anselmo, but takes Fridays off so she can spend more time with her family and its newest member, whom she calls a "little angel."

"There are people who have goals, and mine was to get married and have children, and the rest is cream on the top for me," she said. "It's great to be a younger grandparent, but any age to be a grandparent is pretty special."

Copyright © 2010. Marin Independent Journal.