As we all get older we tend to reflect on how “things used to be” and how different life is for kids today. One of the big changes is the slow decrease in the grandparent connection. Up through the 60’s and 70’s grandparents played a significant part in the raising of families simply by just…being around. With dual-income, career driven professionals chasing opportunities with ease across the country — and the globe — that connection has been diminishing.
I grew up with grandparents that we saw once, maybe twice, a year and never really thought twice about it. My best friend had lots of relatives nearby; a grandma that treated me as her own grandchild; lots of cousins and family get togethers. It was just … different. It wasn’t until I became a mature adult that I truly realized how important the intergenerational connection is and the benefits that can come from that type of relationship. Here is my completely unofficial, not-backed-by-research take on why it’s important to have grandparents (or any senior) in your life—especially throughout childhood.
Grandparents are just NICE!
Grandparents are meant to spoil their grandkids. While parents have unconditional love, of course, grandparents have it ten-fold. Why wouldn’t you want to be around someone that hugs you and loves to see you and thinks you hung the moon? They ask about your life and want to play games, make cookies and tell stories. Grandparents have already raised their kids and are usually retired, so let’s be honest, they’re less stressed than most parents, which makes them fun to be around.
Being around grandparents creates an appreciation for elders.
If you’ve never been around someone different than you, you’ll find it harder to be comfortable around them when you’re older. For example, if you have never been around someone in a wheelchair, you may be uncomfortable or not know how to converse with them when you are. When kids grow up around grandparents, they gain a comfort level and respect for older generations. They can carry on a conversation with an adult. They understand where they came from and things they went through and experiences they had—because they’ve talked about it all.
Grandparents teach kids things and kids teach grandparents things.
Grandparents love to teach. Whether it’s working on the car, needlepoint, cooking, talking about history…they are a treasure trove of information and life experience. And way, way, way more interesting that sitting in a classroom. Kids learn from their grandparents ten times more than they realize. Likewise, the older generation learns from the kids too. Technology, current events, trends, social issues and even just getting them to do things they may think they’re too old for. It’s definitely a win-win relationship.
Kids appreciate history more and learn about their heritage.
There is this subconscious acknowledgement and appreciation for history when children grow up with a strong grandparent connection. For example, learning about WW2 was much more impactful knowing that your grandfather was part of it. Or hearing them talk about significant historical events that their own grandparents experienced. When you are around family you learn about your ancestry, roots, and that adds to your own self-identity and importance in the family tree.
A relationship with grandkids makes grandparent’s lives better and lowers depression.
Being around grandchildren can actually decrease depression in seniors. Simply the energy and vitality of being around someone young “rubs off” on others. It makes them feel loved and needed and happy.
It creates a “tribe” and teaches respect.
Children learn by watching. When grandparents are around, it’s one more layer of the family tribe to watch and learn from. They watch the relationships between grandmother and grandfather. They see the relationship between their own parents and grandparents. A lot of learning goes on from just watching and experiencing the relationships.
Obviously, not everyone’s family is a Norman Rockwell painting, but talking in generalities, the importance of the grandparent connection can have foundational significance on children throughout life. So if you don’t have grandparents nearby, maybe spend some time with an elderly neighbor or someone from church. You’ll be amazed at the benefits.
Connecting with grandparents during COVID
You may be thinking, “Um, hello? We’d love to connect with the grandparents, but we can’t during this pandemic.” We realize these are strange times, but keep communicating. Make phone calls. Face time if they have the technology to do so. Wave from the street. Have a socially distanced picnic. Try to keep connecting as seniors are more prone to feel isolated during this time. Just a phone call telling them you miss their hugs will make their day, week or month!