BALTIMORE — Modern American grandparents are abandoning their traditional roles of patriarch-matriarch of the family to become "pals" to their grandchildren, a new study concludes.
"A few generations ago, there was a lot of respect and a lot of love," said Andrew Cherlin, co-author of a book that resulted from the study, "but grandparents couldn't be your pal, your friend.
"Today's grandparents want to get down on their hands and knees and play cowboys and Indians with their grandkids," the Johns Hopkins University professor added.
Cherlin and Frank Furstenberg Jr., a sociology professor at the University of Pennsylvania, interviewed 510 grandparents for their study, which became a book when they realized theirs was the first national study on the subject.
The book, "The New American Grandparent," will be published Sunday on Grandparents' Day.
Cherlin said the study also found that, because grandparents are living longer and are wealthier, they value "personal pleasure" more.
This independence generally places them in separate homes from their children, making them less likely to become involved in family squabbles.
"They told us over and over again, they don't want to interfere," Cherlin said. But when there is a crisis, grandparents become the "family insurance policy" and a "source in reserve," he said.
The survey also found that grandparents make up a larger segment of American society than ever and, thanks to medical advances and Social Security, are living long enough to get to know their grandchildren as teen-agers and adults.
But this is also creating conflicts for grandparents, who are torn between intimate, stable family relationships and a wish for lives of their own.
"The best part of being a grandparent," one grandparent told the authors, "is that you can love them and then say, 'Here, take them home now."'