Filling Some Big Shoes as a Grandparent

Some of my fondest memories growing up are those of my grandparents. Coming out of school at the end of the day and seeing my grandpa waiting to drive us home was always a fun and welcome surprise! I can still hear our screams when Grandma would pop the cork on a bottle of her homemade root beer before serving us root beer floats. In the summer they would sit through the heat and humidity and applaud and cheer as they watched us swim and show off our new swimming skills and tricks. I think about how they hosted all of us grandkids for overnight stays and made it look so easy, even though it was chaotic, loud and messy. I could go on and on and on about all the wonderful memories I have of my grandparents.

Over the years I have come to appreciate the important role my grandparents played in my life. There was no place safer and more fun than Grandma and Grandpa’s home. They offered a buffer zone of security, affection and attention. They had tons of patience and oodles of time to play games and go places with me. When I was naughty and being scolded by my parents they would smile and wink – reassuring me they still loved me.

In past blogs, I have written about the importance of positive parent-child relationships in the social and emotional development of children. There are countless research studies and statistics that highlight the many benefits that come from strong parent-child bonds. What isn’t always recognized, however, is the positive impact that a close relationship between a grandparent and grandchild can have on the happiness and wellbeing of the entire family. Simply put, having grandparents around is good for everyone.

Unfortunately, not all children grow up with grandparents who are actively engaged in their lives. And, just as not all parents are positive role models for their kids, the same can be true with grandparents. In these instances, any older positive adult can play the role of grandparent in the life of a child. So, when I use the word, “grandparent”, it can mean a blood relative or someone who isn’t. What is important is that every child has a positive relationship or bond with an older adult who they look to as a grandparent.

Living through the pandemic this past year and being physically separated and isolated has made us realize just how important a healthy connection between a grandchild and his or her grandparent is and how beneficial it is to both sides of the relationship. It will come as no great surprise to learn that most grandparents feel happier spending time with their grandchildren. However, it is more than just a good feeling as it can have huge benefits for their psychological health. The closer the bond, the stronger the anti-depressive benefits. A study at Boston College found that “an emotionally close relationship between grandparent and grandchild is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.”

A positive connection between grandparents and grandchildren can benefit both in many ways.

Grandparents truly impact their grandchildren’s lives.

Studies show that as many as 9 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their beliefs and values. A child’s perspective of what constitutes a healthy, normal relationship is shaped by the relationship he or she holds with a grandparent. Through regular contact, a sense of emotional intimacy and unwavering support, children can experience what a true, positive relationship should look like.

Grandparents offer an affordable childcare option.

Oftentimes grandparents play a vital role in raising their grandchildren. Some are custodial grandparents who have taken over the parenting role entirely. Some provide free or less costly child care for their grandchildren while parents are working. Other grandparents fill in the gaps when parents are incarcerated, serving in the military or struggling with substance use or other mental health issues.

Grandparents have a great amount of experience.

Grandparents are a valuable resource because they have so many stories and experiences from their own lives to share. Children are more likely to listen to grandparents even when they are not listening to their parents or other adults. Research shows that hearing stories about family members overcoming hardship can actually help children become less discouraged when they face hardships. Whether they are informative, humorous or tragic, or told at bedtime, around a campfire or kitchen table, hearing stories about our own grandparents’ lives can teach us important life lessons.

Grandparents are teachers and students.

When grandchildren and grandparents have a close relationship, they can expand each other’s knowledge base. Grandparents have a wealth of life experiences and knowledge to share with their grandchildren. Likewise, grandchildren can also teach their grandparents a lot by keeping them up to date on current news, trends and technology and help them learn new skills and knowledge.

Grandparents connect us to our heritage.

Grandparents help to connect their grandchildren to the past. Children understand more of who they are and where they come from through their connection with their grandparents and the traditions that are passed down to each generation. Traditions help children feel secure, give them a sense of family identity and let them know that they are a part of something larger than the individual.

Grandparents provide a sense of security.

Especially during tough times, having an extra layer of support can make a big difference in a child’s life. Studies have shown that close grandparent-grandchild relationships during the teenage years are associated with less behavioral and emotional problems and fewer social difficulties with peers. Grandparents offer an extra ear when kids need someone to talk to. Sometimes children find it easier to open up and share their difficulties and problems with their grandparents.

Grandparents provide unconditional love.

Many grandparents report that they weren’t prepared for the overwhelming surge of unconditional love they felt with their newborn grandchild. While parents are the most important source of unconditional love, parental love can sometimes be complicated. It tends to be all bound up with hopes and expectations and ambitions for their children. The love of a grandparent is a little simpler. Grandparents have usually lived long enough to know that our lives seldom go in a straight-line trajectory toward success and without making mistakes along the way. We all falter and fall back, and at those times, we need a little extra love and encouragement. A close relationship with grandparents helps grandchildren grow in confidence. It makes them feel worthy. It makes them feel loved – no matter what.

In summary, there are many benefits for a grandparent and a grandchild when a positive relationship forms between the two of them.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the relationship I had with my grandparents and the positive influence they had on my life. It’s been on my mind a lot because…

I became a grandparent for the first time on Monday!

I’M A GRANDMA! WOO HOO!!!

Amidst all the joy that comes with earning the title of, “Grandma,” I am also overwhelmed with the sense of responsibility it brings. I want to be the kind of grandparent to my grandson as my grandparents were to me, but the shoes feel SO big to fill!

In past blogs I’ve talked about the influence a parent can have on their own kids through their own modeling of behavior and how we tend to parent the way we were parented. The blog, The Gift That Keeps on Giving, speaks directly to this overall message…How you parent is a gift that will keep on giving in the years to come.

Well, the same is true with grandparenting. We tend to grandparent the way our grandparents did with us. The modeling of positive behavior from one generation of grandparents to the next is one of the greatest gifts we can give our kids and grandkids.

I have been fortunate to see how the gift of grandparenting keeps on giving from one generation to the next in my own family. My father learned how to be a grandfather from one of the best – his father. I witnessed my dad doing many of the same things as a grandfather to my two children, as my grandpa did with me. I realized this week just how much of a positive influence my dad had on my son when I learned he and his wife named my new grandson after him. Having their son be the namesake of his great grandfather is a powerful gesture of the love and respect they have for him.

Being a grandparent may come with some big shoes to fill. But, having role models who have shown me how to wear the shoes and grow into them will eventually create a perfect fit for me and give me a pair of shoes that someday I can pass on as a gift to my grandkids. In the meantime, let the fun of being a grandma begin!

REFLECT: Think about the positive ways your grandparents have influenced your life. If your grandparents are still living, take the time to tell them how they have impacted your life and what you appreciate the most about them. If you are a grandparent or hope to be someday, what did your grandparents do that you would like to also do with your grandkids? If your job is working with kids, find ways to engage and support their grandparents in your work or programming.

Here’s a blog you may have missed or want to read again that adds more perspective to today’s blog:

Giving the Gift Back

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