Balancing Act: Planning gives working grandparents time for kids

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On her way to work recently, Mara Rey Suarez made an unplanned pit stop. Midway through her commute, she spun her car in the opposite direction and dashed off to cuddle with her twin grandsons before heading to her Miami office.

As a mother, Ms. Suarez says she never would have considered a late arrival at work. But now, enjoying the flexibility that her senior title at City National Bank affords her, she wants to "be there" for her four grandchildren. "I have my priorities much clearer," she said. "I have passion for my role at my company, but I want to be a part of my grandchildren's lives, and I will make as much time as possible."

Grandparents like Ms. Suarez may not have the same responsibilities as parents, but they still must juggle schedules to be close to their grandchildren while managing their own careers, households and social lives. Having sacrificed balance when their own kids were young, some grandparents today prioritize efforts to bond with their grandchildren.

As Doreen Rosenthal and Susan Moore, authors of "New Age Nanas: Being a Grandmother in the 21st Century," explain in their book: "The old stereotype of delicate ladies in rocking chairs, scone makers par excellence, has changed." Research by the two authors found that most of the 1,000-plus grandmothers they surveyed work full or part time while looking after their grandchildren for varying amounts of time.

Often, today's doting grandparents were sprinters in their early careers. By now, they know what it takes to run a company, manage a staff, impress a boss. And they've learned the price of sacrificing family for career.

Because of their experience and longevity, grandparents often have more clout at work than young parents to shift hours and days off or even bring grandkids to the office. Often, they're the ones who make it to school plays or dance recitals.

Veteran South Florida attorney Jan Atlas said he, too, approaches work and family differently as a boomer. The 68-year-old grandfather of four jets to Charlotte and Los Angeles to see his grandkids at least once a month. The routine requires careful management of his work schedule. "I plan for my younger associates to take over," Mr. Atlas said. Though in his younger years he invested intense commitment in his career, he said, "I don't want to be a workaholic at this age."

To be sure, there are still find boomers who struggle to make ends meet and can't take time off. And many can be found on the golf course and in yoga class who enjoy their hobbies. But boomers also like to feel needed -- and pitching in with their grandkids can be the ideal outlet.

Cindy Krischer Goodman is CEO of BalanceGal LLC:

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