Pendulum swinging to family

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

A century ago, you would have lived with your children and your children's children until the day you died.

The role of the grandparent was an unquestioned link in the chain that held families not only together, but alive and functioning.

Then came the decades of moving about. Sons and daughters took jobs in other cities, and the role of the seniors became that of guests or hosts on holiday or during vacation times.

Sociologists tell us it may swing back the other way again, when the baby boomers find themselves of Social Security age, with not enough younger folks out there to keep those coffers filled.

"A lot of the institutions that we have in place now to support the elderly aren't going to be there — or they'll be inadequate," says Philip Longman, author of "Born to Pay: The New Politics of Aging in America."

No question, the swing is back to family, the nurturing we find nowhere else. Your children and their spouses probably work; perhaps there's a divorce, and the burden is doubly tough.

Grandparents can offer harried children their hard-earned wisdom, the support that comes with similar experiences and the unconditional love for grandkids that the parents must temper with teaching and discipline.

The bond between grandparent and grandchild is one that must be cultivated, though. If the family is close geographically, it's easy: Grandparents often have the time for simple pleasures, such as walking in a field, taking in an afternoon ballgame or window-shopping at the pet store.

Long distance, it means sending cards or clippings of a child's favorite rock star or basketball player.

If the child or children are old enough, you might work together on a family tree. Genealogy is not only a fascinating and never-ending puzzle project, but also an invaluable tool to strengthen the sense of family and history.

The next step might be a vacation together, perhaps back to the small town where your great-grandfather settled.

Perhaps you share another common interest with your grandchildren. When they're old enough, consider a vacation sans parents (who would no doubt love the respite).

Or take a vacation to museums, parks, neighborhoods, shops, farms, zoos, or ice cream parlors.