“If I knew having grandchildren would be this much fun, I would have had them first!” – Becky Raymond, grandmother of four little ones aged 3 and under, agreed with this saying. She said she is more laid back and happier when she is spending time with them. “Seeing your baby’s baby fills your heart with such a profound love, a feeling that is hard to describe,” she said. “Their unconditional love fills a spot that no one else can fill.” The bond between grandparents and grandkids provide many benefits, according to a 2016 study from Boston College published in Gerontologist. The relationship can actually reduce depressive symptoms in both groups. The study found that when grandparents can give support, whether financial or emotional, to their grandchildren, they feel better. Also, when grandparents can connect to a younger generation, they are exposed to new and different ideas from their own peer groups. The relationship keeps grandparents more mentally sharp and engaged. A recent study from the Women’s Healthy Aging Project in Australia showed when postmenopausal women spent one day a week with their grandchildren, they had a lower risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease.
“When I have my grandchildren, I get up early, clean my house and do laundry so when they arrive, they have my total undivided attention,” said Raymond.
Children receive different types of attention from parents versus grandparents. Parents are often involved with keeping up the household, discipline and work responsibilities, as well as caring for the other children in the home. When children are with their grandparents, they are solely focused on them. Children spending time with their grandparents can hear the wisdom of their grandparents as they grow into young adults. The stories they heard as children can offer new meaning to them as they get older and interpret them with more mature understanding. Spending time with grandparents also reduces behavioral issues in adolescents, especially if the family is having difficulty adjusting to life situations, such as divorce.
So what constitutes a healthy bond between grandchild and grandparent? According to an article published in Family Relations, a publication of the National Council on Family Relations, there are three critical elements: a child feeling a sense of emotional closeness to the grandparent, a child having regular contact with the grandparent and a child viewing the grandparent as a source of social support. Social support can include a grandparent being present at birthday parties or recitals, offering hugs and kisses or giving advice to their grandchild.
These relationships are becoming more important as generations continue to live longer. Many children now have the opportunity to establish relationships and make memories with great-grandparents, which wasn’t always possible in previous generations. “My grandchildren make me want to take care of myself, so that I can hopefully be around to see them grow up,” said Raymond.
If many miles are between you and your grandchild, there can still be close bonds between grandparents and grandkids. Write letters and/or Skype/FaceTime with your little ones. As they grow and become more independent, continue to let them know how much they and their activities matter to you.