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Find out more about How to Build the Grandma Connection


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by Susan V. Bosak
excerpt from How to Build the Grandma Connection

Surprising benefits for children, parents, and grandparents

Grandparents, never doubt that you are a very important person – a VIP – in your grandchild's life.

Anthropologist Margaret Mead once even stated that connections between the generations are "essential for the mental health and stability of a nation."

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. In extreme situations, the courts have found it's often a grandparent who can reach a troubled teen when no one else can.

On a lighter note, a teacher friend of mine had her grade four students talk about their heroes one day in class. One girl said her grandmother was her hero. When the teacher asked why, the girl explained, "Because she's the only one in the whole world who can boss my parents around!"

I remember seeing a T-shirt available in both children's and adult sizes: "When the going gets tough, I go to Grandma's." Ask many adults – men and women – to recall a couple of fond memories from childhood, and most often one of the memories will involve a grandparent. It's a very special relationship for people, one that can give them strength and comfort far into adulthood.

The special kind of love you get from a grandparent is a love you can't get anywhere else. It is an important kind of love – in fact, 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. Just ask a child! One study of school-aged children found that if they were in charge of family vacations, their first choice would be to go to... grandma/grandpa's house – "because it's fun."

Parents and grandparents can't take relationships across generations for granted or undervalue them. You have to believe these relationships are important to make building them a priority in your family.

I've seen it in my workshops and in all the research: 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. Believe it or not, research shows this is a good thing. 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, so it's really not "spoiling." A grandparent's love is the unconditional stuff of fairy tales. One girl explained it this way: "Grandparents are great because they don't always tell you what you're doing wrong. They just like what you do, any way you do it."

  • Children can get undivided time and attention from grandparents that tired, busy parents often can't give them. A six-year-old girl told me, "I love my grandma because she's always happy for me to show her things other people don't bother with." Another girl said, "Every time I go shopping with Mom she goes fast and says hurry up, hurry up. But when I visit with Grandma and go shopping, she always has plenty of time and lets me look at whatever I want to."

  • 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. One girl told me, "Granny fills the gap Mommy and Daddy leave out." A teenager told me that she can tell her grandmother things she would "never, ever" tell her mother. "My grandmother understands me," she said.

  • 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 (again, remember the research indicating that children need anywhere from four to six involved, caring adults in their lives to fully develop emotionally and socially). 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.

© SV Bosak, www.legacyproject.org

How to Build the Grandma Connection

Excerpt from How to Build the Grandma Connection by Susan V. Bosak. This popular bestseller offers ideas and tips for new and experienced grandparents. Click to find out more about
How to Build the Grandma Connection.

How to Build the Grandma Connection

"Outstanding!... Excellent advice... Grandparents and parents alike will love this highly usable, imminently practical guide."
Today's Librarian

"Editor's Pick. Great for building bonds with the lower limbs on your family tree."

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