How Do We Keep Our Families Together?


Despite its tremendous joys, being a Jewish grandparent isn’t easy. Our kids are too religious or not religious enough. In other words, they don’t do it our way. This also applies to their thoughts about Israel: they may love it more than we do or demonize it. Of course, we’re not spared the secular tiffs of differences in disciplinary methods, diet, bedtime routines, the use of money, and rewards and punishments. All of this is complicated further when we have more than one child who has children, since each one of your children may make different choices. One may keep Kosher and the Shabbat and refuse to go to your home or the home of their siblings. How do we keep our families together?

Since the publication of my first book, Don’t Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children, I have been privileged to travel around the world talking with grandparents and parents of adult children. No matter how much research I do, I never cease to learn from all on the frontlines. The Jewish Grandparents Network can be a forum in which grandparents discuss what has worked for them. We can learn from each other about how to negotiate, how to find compromise, and how to keep peace in the family.

Intermarriage, geographical separation, and new opportunities for the grandparents, the parents, and the grandchildren have altered the dynamics of these relationships from what many of us experienced. In addition, we change throughout the life course, as do each one of the other generations. Old expectations may not apply. We may be working full-time and cannot babysit, or we may be traveling the world when our kids expect us to be sitting at home helping them. Of course, the reverse can be true. These unfulfilled expectations lead to disappointment and often anger. Again, as we share our experiences, we can redefine grandparenting.

As Jewish grandparents, we may be disappointed when our grandson is not circumcised, or we are not consulted about the child’s name. We may be asked to help pay for Jewish day school or find our grandchild going to Catholic school. Each stage in life provides opportunities to have wonderful discussions with our adult children. Some of us have been more successful at ongoing conversations than others. What do those parents who feel successful do?

I look forward to hearing how so many of you manage to find love and support from your children, your grandchildren and even your children’s in-laws at the beginning of life, the end of life and all the crises in between. As a community, we have much wisdom. Combine that with 2,000 years of experience in making mistakes, forgiving, and then growing. The Jewish Grandparents Network can be a source of learning for us all.

Ruth Nemzoff is Scholar at the Brandeis University Women’s Studies Research Center, a member of the Jewish Grandparents Network National Advisory Committee, a board member of Interfaithfamily and a founding board member of Gateways: Access to Jewish Education. Ruth has 11 grandchildren.