What makes it so special?
The love of grandparents is a special kind of love. Some children have deep bonds with their grandparents that last into adulthood, while others do not. The quality of our relationship with our grandparents depends on several factors. When the right kind of relationship is in place, both grandparents and grandchildren benefit in important ways.
A survey from the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) found that 90% of grandparents said they played an important role in the lives of their grandchildren.1 Another survey from Pew Research found that 22% of grandparents said they provided daily childcare services for their grandchildren, while 72% said they provided care occasionally.2
Grandparents with an active role in caring for their grandchildren often find their relationship evolving from caregiver to confidant and trusted advisor. It’s thought that this deepening of the relationship occurs because grandparents can play a more objective role in the grandchild’s life. Being removed from the daily drama that goes on at home, the grandparent can be a safe haven offering love and support with more perceived neutrality.
Research shows that children lucky enough to have strong relationships with their grandparents benefit in a number of ways including better behavior, social skills, self-confidence, and even academic performance.3
So what makes the difference between having a strong relationship with grandparents or not? Family intervention specialists have narrowed it down to several key factors.
Living near grandparents is the strongest predictor of grandchildren having a close relationship with them.4 The closer they are the more available they will be for personal interactions. As with any relationship, absence doesn’t make the heart grow fonder. The more time we spend in person with anyone, the more that relationship will grow. Although technology is no substitute for in-person interaction, (you can’t get a hug through the computer) some grandparents who live far away and can’t travel regularly use internet services like ZOOM to do live video visits with their grandchildren.
Frequency of Contact
It goes without saying that even though children may live close to their grandparents, they actually need to visit each other on a regular basis to build strong bonds. Unfortunately in the case of divorce, children often find their relationship with the non-custodial grandparents suffering from a loss of contact, as visits with the custodial grandparents increase. Because courts overwhelmingly favor maternal custody, it’s nearly always the children’s relationship with their paternal grandparents that diminishes no matter how close they live.5
Grandparents’ Role within the Family
When grandparents provide childcare for grandchildren they have far more opportunities to bond.6 Studies show that it’s the regular presence of the grandparent rather than the function he or she performs that is central to the bonding.7 So even if a grandparent doesn’t provide daily care for the grandchildren, he or she can make a point to stop by several times a week to play with them. The point is to be there for them…often.
In some cultures, children are taught from an early age that they have obligations to help everyone in the family, including the elders that cared for them. As they grow up, this might include helping to care for other children and their elderly grandparents, as well. Across the generations, responsibilities are shared including financial assistance and completing tasks. Children growing up in this type of household tend to show stronger relationships with grandparents than those who live in homes that do no emphasize intergenerational support.8
Making It Last
In healthy families, children are naturally closer to their parents and siblings than their grandparents. Even so, that doesn’t make the special bond with grandparents second rate or of lesser value. In fact, as grandchildren grow and their grandparents’ social circle decreases as their friends, siblings and spouses begin to pass away, bonds with grandchildren become more important to help them remain socially connected.
Perhaps the most important point of fostering a relationship with grandchildren that will last is to start as early as possible. Relationships made with very young children and sustained over time have the strongest foundations.9 It’s also important to know that when grandparents are close with their adult children, the odds are very good that they will have a strong relationship with their grandchildren, as well.
1Lampkin, C. L. (2012, March 16). Insights and spending habits of modern grandparents. Retrieved from https://www.aarp.org/research/topics/life/info-2014/grandparenting-survey.html?cmp=RDRCT-c3c7691c-20200402
2Pew Research Center. (2015, May 21). Family Support in Graying Societies: Helping adult children. Retrieved from https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/05/21/5-helping-adult-children/
3Dunifon, R., & Bajracharya, A. (2012). The role of grandparents in the lives of youth. Journal of Family Issues, 33(9), 1168-1194. doi:10.1177/0192513×12444271
5Doyle, M., & O’Dywer, C. (2010). “How can you just cut off a whole side of the family and say move on?” the reshaping of paternal grandparent-grandchild relationships following divorce or separation in the middle generation. Family Relations, 59(5), 587-598. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2010.00625.x
6Xu, L., & Silverstein, M. (2014). Emotional closeness between grandparents and grandchildren in rural China: The mediating role of the middle generation. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 12(3), 226-240. doi:10.1080/15350770.2014.929936
7Hakoyama, M., & MaloneBeach, E. E. (2013). Predictors of grandparent–grandchild closeness: An ecological perspective. Journal of Intergenerational Relationships, 11(1), 32-49. doi:10.1080/15350770.2013.753834
8Blundon A. The Role of Grandparents. Rural Transformation and Newfoundland and Labrador Diaspora. Transgressions (Cultural Studies and Education). 2013 (pp. 243-250). SensePublishers, Rotterdam. doi:10.1007/978-94-6209-302-7_21
9Grandparent-Adult Grandchild Relationships: Perspective of Attachment among College Students. (2016). International Journal of Social Science and Humanities Research, 1(4), 26-34.
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