The Grandparent Biological Clock


There was a time when grey hair was relatively rare: many people simply died before they were old enough to be called ‘Grandfather’ or ‘Grandmother’.

Hurry up please! I want to be a granny!

With life expectancy now reaching into the 80s in developed nations, it is not uncommon for children to know all four of their grandparents and possibly a great-grandparent or two.

While grandparents might hang around longer than they did in past generations, they are also waiting longer to become grandparents as their children delay marriage and childbearing into their 30s. Many would-be grandparents may wait into their 60s for their first grandchild to arrive, rather than their 40s as in previous generations.

Some older parents feel a sense of urgency about their adult children’s childlessness, a kind of grandparent biological clock. 

They sense the time of optimal presence to grandchildren passing by and are eager to share their time and wisdom with a new generation. But the grandchild timetable is not under their control.


Grandparents: An endangered species?

With each generation, the cumulative effect of delayed childbirth means that many potential grandparents will not survive to meet their grandchildren. Or if they do, they will be too infirm to be actively involved.

The math is simple: delayed childbearing means fewer years with grandparents. Less active grandparents reduces the family support capacity to the parents, making it harder for parents to cope with a large number of children.

Saints Anne and Joachim: Grandparents of Jesus

We know very little about the grandparents of Jesus apart from a legend told in a fourth century apocryphal gospel. According to the story, after years of childlessness, an angel appeared to tell the couple that they would have a child. Anne promised to dedicate this child to God, and they named her Mary.

We do not know whether they lived to see their grandson, Jesus, in his infancy and childhood. Whatever the facts of their lives, we can assume that Mary was raised in a Jewish family home faithful to God and to the religious traditions of her day. So much so, that she was led to respond wholeheartedly to God’s request to become the mother of God with a faith-filled response: Let it be done to me as you will.”

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