Both grandparents and their grandkids generally react to the question in one of two ways. Either they say they were not bothered at all by the question; or they experienced some degree of embarrassment and self-consciousness. Whatever their reaction is to the question, my advice is to answer it! Don't avoid it because this question, like many other difficult questions, parenting grandparents face, is an opportunity to role model for your grandchildren how to deal with not only challenging questions from the outside world, but how to manage difficult conversations in general.
Many people make conscious or unconscious assumptions when “a way of being” is outside the norm of what they have become accustomed to. When people, behaviors, rituals, and traditions are different or unfamiliar to us, we tend to scrutinize them. We also tend to judge them, criticize them or label them. Children and teens can be quite sensitive to criticism and scrutiny. Teenagers, in particular, are all about establishing their identity, and anything that subtracts from how they want to be seen, causes them a fair degree of angst.
I would like to share some tips for you and your grandchildren if faced with this question about your age. First of all, you may want to initiate the discussion with your grandchildren before the question is ever asked. You can simply say to them that some people may wonder why you are such an “old” parent, so let's have this conversation so you will know how to handle it should the question come up. Your candor and honesty role models a very proactive approach which your grandchildren can learn and use throughout their lifetime.
“Why are my parents so old? Well, you see …”
Being able to deal with a difficult conversation is an exceptional skill and serves us well. It keeps gossip and rumors at a distance or even prevents their occurrence. It teaches us that we have choices on how we want to deal with, not only difficult conversations, but difficult behaviors, also. In essence, we teach our grandchildren there are several ways to respond in any situation. This is a valuable life lesson. With your guidance, they will learn to find the response that will be both comfortable for and supportive of both them and you.
Inviting your grandchildren to share their thoughts and feelings with you if they feel hurt, embarrassed, angry, or sad teaches children to “own” their internal responses, instead of ignoring or pretending they don't exist. When you teach this exceptional lesson to your grandkids you are giving them permission to be authentic. This means helping them to express, in both their words and behaviors, what they are feeling and thinking in a way that will allow the other person to hear them and acknowledge them. When we say and do what is true for us, we reinforce our self-worth and we become less dependent on the outside world for approval and validation. How fortunate is the grandchild who learns this lesson early in life!
Humor can be a wonderful way to deal with the issue of a grandparent's age. Wisdom is certainly one of the true gifts of aging, so you can talk about the advantages of being your age. As a grandparent you have learned what matters the most in life, and it is essential for all children and teenagers to learn what really is important and meaningful in life.
In the end, your grandkids will see that your age does not really matter. All that really matters is how much you love them, and how committed you are to providing them with a safe, secure, loving home environment where they can be their authentic or true selves and be loved for who they really are.