The benefits of young grandparents--and young parents.Every Friday my syndicated column appears in a bunch of newspapers in southeastern Ontario and Saskatchewan. Here’s this week’s on the benefits of young parents–and young grandparents.

My grandparents were 61 and 62 when I was born. My earliest clear memories of them take place after they had already turned 70.  One of my grandfathers had suffered a massive stroke. My surviving grandmother was already showing signs of dementia.

My mother, on the other hand, was only 51 when she became a grandmother. My husband’s parents were younger still. And so my children have great relationships with their active and healthy grandparents.  Their grandparents baby-sat them, and played with them, and vacationed with them in ways much harder to do when health concerns have already hit—or when that generational gap becomes much wider.

That is not to say that older grandparents cannot be close to their grandchildren; seventy is the new sixty, and people are often living quite healthy and energetic lives far longer than they used to.

But all things being said, I still think it’s easier to become an active grandparent when you’re in your fifties than when you’re in your seventies. Unfortunately, that’s a little outside of your control, since adult children have a habit of living their lives by their own timetable rather than yours, but the fact still remains that spry grandparents can be an awfully big advantage!

In 1976, the average age for becoming a first-time mother in Canada was 23. Today it’s 28.

That means a lot of not-so-spry Grandmas. If your youngest child, for instance, doesn’t start having children until she’s well into her thirties, and then she goes on to have three, chances are you will be well past your seventieth birthday before your last grandchild is born. Many people are now facing the teen years with their kids at the same time as the nursing home years with their parents. Talk about the sandwich generation.

I know not everybody can have a child at 25.

You want to finish school. You want to find a good job. You want to lay up a nest egg. Most of all, you want to find that special someone, and quite often that takes a while. And no one should ever rush to have a child when they don’t really want to.

Yet at the same time I wonder if Mother Nature has a point. We’re ready to have children biologically far sooner than we are socially, emotionally and practically. Personally, I think society would be much better off if we started stressing the benefits of marriage and family far earlier, and started raising teens to take on responsibility at a far younger age, instead of encouraging teens and twenty-somethings to launch a fifteen year quest to “find yourself”. Sure it’s great to have fun and be responsibility-free at 26, but if you have kids younger, you’ll be younger when they leave home, too. And at 46, you have a whole lot more money to have fun with.

Not everyone can be young parents (or young grandparents), but most of us would be better off if we were able to settle down faster and have children sooner.

Our parents could help more. We’d have more energy, and they’d have more energy. And we’d have longer before elderly parents started needing our help. So perhaps we should get back to the days when we prepared kids to be adults at 21. That wasn’t ancient history; it was just a generation ago. That’s what I’m aiming for, because I really want to be a grandparent before my knees give out, and given how lousy my right knee already is, I figure I only have a few decades left.

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