The bond between children and their grandparents is obvious, heartwarming and universal. “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. He says grandchildren and their grandparents usually “have an adoration and unconditional love and joy in one another’s existence.”
BENEFITS FOR GRANDCHILDREN
Experts say 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 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 as a youngster but will grow to appreciate even more over time. Children with involved grandparents learn they can love and depend upon someone other than their parents.
Susan Bosak, author of How To Build The Grandma Connection, says children who have strong ties with involved, caring grandparents develop higher self-esteem, better emotional stability, stronger social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure) and enhanced academic performance. Since grandparents’ parenting and intense work commitments have usually passed, they are able to offer the time and undivided attention that can be challenging for tired, busy parents. Bosak often hears children explain that grandparents are happy to give them the “real scoop” on family stories that their parents would rather they not hear, like the time Dad hit a baseball through the kitchen window.
BENEFITS FOR GRANDPARENTS
Likewise, grandparents 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 issues important to children and to fiercely protect their own health.
Cindy Giallombardo was struggling with multiple myeloma (plasma cell cancer) when her first grandchild was born. This devastating diagnosis paled in comparison to the fear that she wouldn’t have enough time with him. So when he wrapped his tiny fingers around hers, she vowed not to give up on treatment. Because she wanted to see her grandson reach major milestones, she explored every treatment option available, a road she may not have taken without the motivation of a grandchild.
Her grandson, now 7, has no idea he’s been such a huge motivation for his grandmother. He only knows “she loves me more than anything,” and he takes great pleasure in riding on her scooter and swinging on her tire swing. He also loves hearing about the time his mom ran a golf cart into a ditch, taking the family’s mailbox with it.
STAYING IN TOUCH
Not all grandparents are able to be as hands-on as they might like. But even those who live far away can still have a huge impact on a child’s life. With a little effort and some help from modern technology, the relationship can not only grow and flourish. Allan Zullo, a grandfather who co-wrote A Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting, says, “Being a grandparent is not an honorary position. 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 you both complete quilt squares while apart and then get together to complete the quilt or work on separate cars for one model train that you’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 and 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 stories and memories. Finally, encourage grandchildren to ask plenty of questions. Grandparents love to share stories and children love to hear them.
BENEFITS FOR PARENTS
Experts say smart parents 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 your child in the same way you do? Even better, grandparents are usually more than happy to give parents a break from child-rearing every now and then.
By showing your children that you greatly value their grandparents, you’re teaching them the importance of maintaining close family ties — a skill that you’ll certainly want them to master by the time they have their own children — your grandchildren. Zullo says 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.”
Shannon Dean is a freelance writer and mother of two.
Spark an intimate conversation between grandparents and grandchildren with one of these open-ended questions.
What was the best birthday you ever had? Why?
Did you get an allowance? How much?
Tell me about your parents. Were they strict?
What did your house look like? Was your favorite memory in it?
How did you do in school? What were your favorite subjects? Why?
What time was your curfew when you were a teenager? Where did everyone hang out?
What was your first car?
What was your first job?
What makes you proud of my mom or dad?
Did you have any pets growing up?
What attribute do you think is most important in life? Why?
Is there anything that I can teach you?
What is your greatest wish for me?
What advice would you most want me to remember?
What is the worst thing my mom/dad ever did?
What is the best meal you ever had?
What was your favorite vacation?
Do you have any talents? Can you teach me?
What is your favorite book or movie? Why is it meaningful to you?
What is your proudest accomplishment?