Playmate or surrogate? The 5 (very) different types of grandparents.

Being a grandparent is a different experience for everyone, and that experience changes with each grandchild.

Which style do you hope to be? Which style was your grandmother? Is it best to be a mix that draws on personality, lifestyle and family attitudes? Let us know.

1. The ones who adore their grandkids, no matter what… (aka The Playmates).

Image: Pinterest.

The playmates are the fun ones! There’s nothing that is easier to love than a grandchild and Playmates absolutely love their grandchildren. These are the grandparents that give big cuddles, that the kids get excited to see, that give them treats and spoil them. They have the jar of lollies in the car, they have the bedroom ready and made up for special sleepovers and the kids know that when grandma comes to babysit it’s always going to be a fun night!

This grandparent makes me think of a family friend who always showered her grandkids with kisses, cuddles and only ever had a nice thing to say to them or about them. If they misbehaved there was no real punishment and instead she stood there and looked completely and utterly pleased – perhaps she was enjoying watching her kids deal with what she once did!

2. The ones who like their grandkids, but are happy to give them back after their annual sleep over… (The Casual).

types of grandparents
Image: iStock.

The Casual grandparents are those who prefer to prioritise other things over grand parenting. Perhaps they prefer travelling on school holidays as opposed to spending days at the museum or doing something fun with the grandkids. They stay in touch with them but just enough. They are happy to talk about the grandkids with their friends, but the story of their grandkids and their real relationship with their grandkids reflect very different stories.

There are a few of these around and the one thing they all have in common is fairly high disposable income. Everyone I know who has this grand parenting style enjoys luxurious trips overseas and really does consider spending time with the grandkids a bit of a chore.

3. The ones who are really second parents… (The Surrogate).

The Surrogates are the grandparents that pick them up from school, watch them do their homework, make decisions about what they can and can’t do and have a significant role in managing their life. For these grandparents, the relationship is a little less warm and fuzzy because in some cases, they are also the disciplinarian. However that doesn’t make it any less valuable or rewarding.


There are so many grandparents who spend more than 50 per cent of their own time babysitting or caring for their grandchildren – over 70 per cent in fact. I know several of these people and this style of relationship has both pros and cons. They sometimes feel they don’t have the luxury of being ‘friends’ with their grandkids, which isn’t always a good thing.

4. The ones who don’t know how to handle grandkids… (The Formal).

types of grandparents
Image: iStock.

The Formal grandparents are those who don’t really have a relationship with their grandchildren. They don’t care much for them, and perhaps weren’t even very hands on parents themselves. They send a present, most likely a good one, at birthdays and special occasions, but don’t prioritise actually forming a relationship with their grandkids until they are a little bit older and have some adult value to share with the world.

This is one style of grandparent I can relate to from personal experience. Growing up as a young child my siblings and myself weren’t even allowed inside their house. They worried we’d ruin or dirty the carpet. We also got versed in complex Latin from the age of about four and our inability to speak it back to my grandfather made it quite unpopular.

5. The one who waits for the grandkids to come to them… (The Backseat).

types of grandparents
Image: iStock.

These are the people who are always there when the grandkids need them to support them, encourage them and give them advice, but they aren’t always there forcing a relationship. The Backseat will often be a quieter type of person or might even live away from the grandkids. They have a very positive relationship with them, but not necessarily an intimate one.

The grandparents I know who are like this are really quite lovely people. One in particular is a great man. His children had a falling out and one of them even declines to speak with him now but his grandchildren have all been able to rely on him in times in need.

So there ares the five types of grandparents… Tell us in the comments below, which one are you?

This article was first published on Starts at 60 and has been republished with full permission.

Rebecca Wilson is the founder and publisher of Starts at 60, Australia and New Zealand’s largest media site for over 60s, reaching over 500,000 monthly. With nearly 2 million page views a month, Starts at 60 provides daily news, views and conversations for the over 60.

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