The Importance of Grandparents

In today’s hectic and highly-mobile society, the access of grandchildren to grandparents is not as assured as it used to be.

But whether grandparents live near or far, families who actively promote the connection between grandparents and grandchildren can enjoy many psychological and emotional benefits.

Grandparents are an integral part of family life

In their article, Across the Generations: Grandparents and Grandchildren (Canadian Social Trends, Winter 2003), Anne Milan and Brian Hamm point out although there is much diversity in the frequency and type of interaction between the generations in Canada, the relationship with grandparents still is viewed as an integral part of the family that can last from early childhood into adulthood.

According to child psychiatrist, Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, a grandfather and the founder and president of the Foundation for Grandparenting in the United States, intergenerational bonds are critical to the well-being of children.

Not only do children who have a strong relationship with their grandparents have a good sense of family and security, they also tend to do better in school and to feel comfortable with older people.

What’s more, you just can’t spoil a child with too much love and attention, says Susan Bosak, an intergenerational researcher and author of How to Build the Grandma Connection.

Love is the Number One ingredient children need to develop to their full potential, says Bosak, and unlike busy, multi-tasking parents, grandparents can often provide more undivided, non-judgemental attention.

This not only helps build self esteem but makes it possible for children to become more independent, to learn how to take the initiative and to build competence.

Importantly, observes Bosak, the comfort a grandparent can provide helps a child feel safe, secure and lovable. As for the grandparents, a strong relationship with a grandchild gives them a “second chance” to improve on their parenting the first time around. It also gives their own children valuable support – physically, emotionally and sometimes, financially.

Five steps to strong bonds

Bosak recommends the following five-step plan for fostering strong intergenerational bonds:

  1. New grandparents should make a point of talking to parents before the baby is born. Share hopes, fears and expectations – yours and theirs. By talking about your role up front, you pave the way for a smoother relationship.
  2. You don’t have to do big, fancy things to bond with your grandchildren. It’s the simple things – like cuddling up to read a book or baking cookies – that make memories.
  3. If you’re a long-distance grandparent, send small, inexpensive surprises every once in a while, such as a colourful postcard, a finger puppet or a balloon with a message that says, “I’m thinking of you.”
  4. Expect moments of joy as well as frustration and worry. That’s all a normal part of being a grandparent.
  5. Remember to be silly! Make faces and big messes with your grandchildren to build a lasting bond and to stay forever young.

©Canadian Health Network