The bond between a child and his grandparents is entirely obvious, heartwarming and universal.
Published: February 26, 2019
By: Shannon Dean
“It’s the only relationship in which people are crazy about one another simply because they’re breathing,” says Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, author of The Grandparent Guide and founder of The Foundation for Grandparents. Children and their grandparents usually “have an adoration and unconditional love and joy in one another’s existence,” he adds.
BENEFITS FOR GRANDCHILDREN
Experts say that the physical, spiritual and emotional benefits of a healthy grandparent-child relationship are significant for all parties. Grandparents help children gain a sense of history, heritage and identity and provide a vital connection to the past. Like no one else, grandparents can pass on important family traditions and life stories that a grandchild will not only relish when young, but will grow to appreciate even more over time. Children with involved grandparents learn that they can love and depend upon someone other than their parents.
Susan Bosak, the author of How to Build the Grandma Connection, says children who have strong ties with involved, caring grandparents develop higher self-esteem, better emotional and social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure) and enhanced academic performance. Since grandparents’ parenting and intense work commitments are usually no longer in play, they have the time to offer the undivided attention that tired, busy parents sometimes can’t.
Bosak often hears children explain that grandparents are always happy to give them the “real scoop” on family stories that their parents would rather they not hear, like the time that Dad hit a baseball through the kitchen window.
BENEFITS FOR GRANDPARENTS
Likewise, grandparents also reap numerous benefits from a close relationship with their grandchildren. The desire to be present as a child grows has encouraged many grandparents to remain active, to educate themselves on current events and issues important to children and to fiercely protect their own health.
Cindy Giallombardo was struggling with painful multiple myeloma (plasma cell cancer) when her first grandchild was born. She was devastated by the fear that she wouldn’t have much time to spend with him, but when he wrapped his tiny fingers around hers, she vowed that she would never give up on treatment. Because she wanted to see her grandson reach major milestones, she explored every treatment option available, even those that were painful or experimental, a road she may not have taken without the motivation of a grandchild.
Her grandson, now 7, has no idea that he’s been such a huge motivation for his grandmother. He only knows that “she loves me more than anything” and that he takes great pleasure in riding on
her scooter and swinging on her tire swing. He also loves hearing about the time his mom lost control of a golf cart, ran it into a ditch and took the family’s mailbox with it.
Not all grandparents are able to be as hands-on as they might like, but even those who live far away from their grandchildren can still have a huge impact. With a little effort and some help from modern technology, the relationship can still grow and endure.
“Being a grandparent is not an honorary position,” says Allan Zullo, a grandfather who co-wrote A Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting. “We have a strong role to play even if we’re not living in the same town. We can still have a great impact on someone’s life and we want to share the good things we have learned to make someone’s life better.”
He encourages long-distance grandparents to share any hobbies that interest their grandchildren and to then schedule the time to work on mutual projects. That could mean that they both complete quilt squares while apart and then get together to complete the quilt, or work on separate cars for one model train that they’ll connect during spring break.
Some other ideas to keep ties strong: Consider allowing children to spend part of school breaks or summers with their grandparents. Use the Internet or cell phones to play games together and to chat. Send texts, emails and photos. (If grandparents aren’t logged on, children also love to receive snail mail.) Ask grandparents to video or audio record themselves reading a favorite book or sharing their stories and memories. Finally, allow and encourage grandchildren to ask lots of questions. Grandparents love to share stories and children love to hear them.
BENEFITS FOR PARENTS
Experts say that a smart parent will make every effort to forge strong bonds between their children and a grandparent (or even a grandparent figure.) Who else truly understands, loves and values the children in the same way that the parents do? Better yet, grandparents are usually more than happy to give parents a break from child-rearing every now and then.
By showing their children that they greatly value their grandparents, parents are teaching the importance of maintaining close family ties, a skill that they will certainly want their children to master by the time they have their own kids.
Zullo says that encouraging a loving relationship with grandparents is a special advantage that parents can easily provide.
“What a gift,” he says, “a family history, a sense of family and their roots.”