Gen­er­a­tional ex­tinc­tion

How wait­ing to have kids later in life could wipe out the very no­tion of grand­par­ents

The Daily Press (Timmins) - - LIFE - Sabrina Mad­deaux

if you be­lieve the head­lines, mil­len­ni­als are a threat un­like any­thing this planet has seen since the 10-kilo­me­tre wide as­ter­oid that took out the di­nosaurs ap­prox­i­mately 65 mil­lion years ago.

The un­der-35 gen­er­a­tion is a plague, tak­ing out beloved sta­ples like home cook­ing, bars of soap, ce­real, cable tele­vi­sion, the wine cork, golf, pushup bras, land­lines and even pa­per nap­kins. Their ap­petite for de­struc­tion seems end­less, and now they have a new tar­get in their sights: grand­par­ents.

yes, poor grandma and grandpa may soon be ren­dered ex­tinct by what some call the most self­ish, self-cen­tred gen­er­a­tion yet. Time-hon­oured sta­ples like nonna’s pasta sauce, phrases like “back in my day” and grandma’s se­cret in­gre­di­ent will cease to ex­ist. More im­por­tantly, many kids in the near fu­ture may grow up with­out a his­tor­i­cally im­por­tant part of the fam­ily unit.

Mil­len­ni­als are wait­ing longer and longer to hit so-called “adult” mile­stones like get­ting mar­ried, buy­ing a home and hav­ing chil­dren. The me­dian age at first mar­riage is now 27 for women and 29 for men, an in­crease from 20 for women and 23 for men in 1960. it won’t be un­usual for many mil­len­ni­als to re­main un­mar­ried through age 40 — some­thing that was con­sid­ered highly un­usual in gen­er­a­tions past and earned one the hon­our of flat­ter­ing ti­tles like spin­ster. The Pew re­search Cen­ter pre­dicts that 25 per cent of Gen y will never marry.

While mar­riage is not a pre­req­ui­site for hav­ing chil­dren, many peo­ple still wait un­til they have a legally-sanc­tioned fam­ily unit to take the big leap into par­ent­hood. later mar­riage thus means later child­birth. Baby Boomer women tended to have their first child be­fore the age of 30, and of­ten did so ear­lier in their 20s. The birthrate of women over 40 has dou­bled since 1990. The av­er­age age of amer­i­can women hav­ing their first child hit a record high in 2013.

This de­lay in pro­cre­ation means that, inevitably, grand­par­ents will also be much older in the fu­ture — as­sum­ing they’re still alive at all. Great-grand­par­ents have al­ready largely gone ex­tinct, and grandma and grandpa may very well be next.

While the im­pli­ca­tions of a world with­out cable tele­vi­sion and pa­per nap­kins may be min­i­mal, there are real ram­i­fi­ca­tions to a chang­ing fam­ily dy­namic that threat­ens to push grand­par­ents out. The grand­child-grand­par­ent con­nec­tion plays a sig­nif­i­cant role psy­cho­log­i­cally and prac­ti­cally. in many fam­i­lies, es­pe­cially those who can’t af­ford sky­rock­et­ing day­care or nanny costs, grand­par­ents are nec­es­sary to keep child­care costs man­age­able.

ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics Canada, a grow­ing num­ber of grand­par­ents live with their grand­chil­dren and help foot the bills. some have stepped in as de facto par­ents. in 2011, 600,000 grand­par­ents shared homes with their grand­chil­dren and 12 per cent of those (or about 75,000) have no mid­dle-aged per­son in the home, es­sen­tially rais­ing their grand­chil­dren and keep­ing them out of foster care.

Grand­par­ents are es­pe­cially im­por­tant in in­dige­nous homes and the homes of re­cent im­mi­grants to Canada. For in­stance, 44 per cent of grand­par­ents from south asia who speak Pun­jabi at home live with grand­chil­dren. re­mov­ing grand­par­ents from the equa­tion would be a large fi­nan­cial strain for many fam­i­lies — per­haps even enough to make them think twice about hav­ing more chil­dren or force both par­ents to re­main in the work­force.

Be­yond house­hold bud­gets, grand­par­ents are psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tional safety nets. Cur­rently, 58 per cent of grand­par­ents in the u.s. re­ported speak­ing with their grand­chil­dren at least once per week. They’re a source of sup­port, com­fort and a con­duit for pass­ing down long-held tra­di­tions and val­ues. a fa­mous ital­ian proverb ad­vises, “if noth­ing is go­ing well, call your grand­mother.”

ac­cord­ing to arthur Korn­haber, Md and pres­i­dent of the foun­da­tion for Grand­par­ent­ing, grandma and grandpa aren’t just an­other set of par­ents. since they aren’t usu­ally re­spon­si­ble for day-to-day child rear­ing, and be­cause they’ve done and seen it all be­fore, they of­ten take a more re­laxed ap­proach with kids. rather than strict au­thor­i­tar­ian fig­ures, they’re se­cret con­fi­dants, friends and “light­hearted con­spir­a­tors.” as a re­sult, they’re of­ten the ones youth turn to with sen­si­tive is­sues. Par­ents may teach their off­spring to be book and street smart, but grand­par­ents pass on emo­tional and so­cial in­tel­li­gence that shapes our char­ac­ter and how we in­ter­act with the world.

in­ter­gen­er­a­tional re­la­tion­ships pro­vide chil­dren with a stronger sense of the fam­ily unit as a “we.” They em­pha­size that fam­ily, com­mu­nity and cul­tural her­itage are larger than the in­di­vid­ual and pro­vides a sense of se­cu­rity. if you think mil­len­ni­als are self­ish now, just wait un­til you meet a gen­er­a­tion of kids raised with­out grand­par­ents.

los­ing nonna’s se­cret sauce won’t only be dis­as­trous for our taste buds, but also a cul­tural loss. Par­ents largely fo­cus on fun­da­men­tal re­spon­si­bil­i­ties while grand­par­ents have time to pass on recipes, sto­ries and tra­di­tions that have ex­isted for gen­er­a­tions.

in a coun­try as di­verse as Canada, older gen­er­a­tions are a key part of en­sur­ing we re­main a cul­tural mo­saic with rich eth­nic his­to­ries. Many top chefs credit their grand­par­ents’ kitchens for in­spi­ra­tion and the sto­ries we hear around their din­ner ta­bles in­flu­ences ev­ery­thing from mu­sic to the­atre.

even drake has rapped about his grand­mother, eve­lyn, who also made a cameo on his 2011 track, Look What I’ve Done. With­out grand­par­ents, we may soon be a ba­sic na­tion ex­ist­ing on Kraft din­ner and Bryan adams reis­sues.

next time you ig­nore that phone call from grandma, re­mem­ber you might be one of the last gen­er­a­tions with the lux­ury of do­ing so. a world with­out grand­par­ents may be unimag­in­able, but it’s en­tirely pos­si­ble.

Getty im­ages/is­tock­photo

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