All three generations benefit from a close connection according to Susan Bosak, author of How to Build the Grandma Connection: The Complete Pocket Guide.
In an excerpt from her book, she writes that grandparents have always been important. Today, they’re even more important. In busy, two-career and single-parent families, an involved grandparent goes a long way to filling a void for children.
The special kind of love you get from a grandparent is a love you can’t get anywhere else. It’s a very important kind of love. Parents have to worry about who children will become in the future; their role is to be providers and disciplinarians. Grandparents can just enjoy children for who they are in the moment. The love of a grandparent is often freer, more unconditional, and far less psychologically complex than a parent’s love. The love of a parent and the love of a grandparent are different, and both are necessary. The grandparent/grandchild relationship is, in fact, second in emotional importance only to the parent/child relationship.
Parents and grandparents can’t take relationships across generations for granted. You have to believe these relationships are important so that building them becomes a priority in your family. Relationships between young and old, between grandparents and grandchildren, are important because they make us feel connected. They make us feel connected not only to each other, but to something bigger, to the flow of life, to the past and to the future. This connection leads to tangible benefits for all generations.
Benefits to Grandchildren
The benefits to children of a close connection to their grandparents include:
- Children have a better sense of who they are and where they’ve come from. They have roots, a history, and a sense of continuity and perspective.
- Children develop higher self-esteem, better emotional and social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure), and can even have better grades in school. Children need adult influences in their lives (some research says anywhere from four to six involved, caring adults) to mature.
- Children feel special. They’re “spoiled” a little. Children know that being with their grandparents is special. They don’t expect the rest of the world to treat them the way their grandparents do. A grandparent’s love is the unconditional stuff of fairy tales.
- Children can get undivided time and attention from grandparents that tired, busy parents often can’t give them.
- Children have someone to talk with and confide in. While children may want to be different from their parents, they often don’t mind being like their grandparents. This gives grandparents a lot of power and ability to influence a troubled or confused child.
- Through sharing in a grandparent’s interests, skills, and hobbies, children are introduced to new activities and ideas. Grandparents can be very patient, effective teachers. Knowledge, skills, and attitudes children pick up from grandparents tend to stick with them through life more than those picked up from other sources.
Benefits to Grandparents
The benefits to grandparents of a close connection to their grandchildren include:
- Grandparents say they feel a “joyful freedom” in their new role. They don’t feel the pressure they felt as a parent. There’s a saying that a mother truly becomes a grandmother the day she stops noticing all the terrible things her children do because she’s so enchanted with all the wonderful things her grandchildren do. As a grandparent, you get all the benefits and joys of parenthood without many of the drawbacks.
- Many people see grandparenthood as a “second chance.” Maybe you weren’t able to spend as much time with your own children as you would have liked, or made some mistakes you’ve now learned from. Grandchildren are a fresh start.
- Active, involved grandparents consistently report much less depression and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future.
- Grandparents and grandchildren fulfill the role of student and teacher for each other, and it’s not always the older person who does the teaching. Children like to feel needed, and they can teach their grandparents lots of things – like how to find some pretty cool stuff on the Internet! Grandchildren also help you see the world anew again, through a child’s eyes.
- Grandparents have an opportunity to leave a powerful legacy, to make a difference, to send a message into the future through their grandchildren. The relationship can fulfill our need for immortality.
Benefits to Parents
The benefits to parents when the “grand generation” is a part of their lives and their children’s lives are also clear.
Today’s parents are often stressed and overwhelmed. A loving, supportive grandparent can give them someone to talk with – someone who’s “been there” but now, with the benefit of hindsight, can help put issues into perspective. It’s also comforting for parents to know that there are other adults who love their children and are looking out for them. Grandparents take some of the pressure off parents. Finally, there is the tangible support of reasonable physical or financial help when it’s needed. Grandparents can be a safety net in the highwire act we call the modern family.
Many people say their relationship with their parents improves when children enter the picture. For example, an overly strict parent suddenly becomes a “softie” as a grandparent. Adult children see their parents in a new light, and this can help heal relationships.
Bottom line: most parents WANT grandparents to be involved – not in a judgmental, meddling way, but in a loving, supportive way.