Caring for your aging parents — 15 January 2013
Cultivate the connection between grandparents and grandchildren

During the Holidays family members, young and old, gather to share the festivities. Many delight in the joy of intergenerational interactions. Seniors are enamored by the young children’s joy, delight in the maturing grandchildren’s accomplishments and many of the grandchildren cherish sharing time with their elders. Yet, for some, these relationships are not sufficiently fostered as often during other times of the year.

Parents, obviously, have the primary role in raising, educating, guiding and loving their children. Grandparents are not the replacement but the enhancement of these functions. When grandparents and grandchildren bond, both generations are profoundly enriched.

Arthur Kornhaber and Renee Woodward who interviewed 300 students described the five major grandparent roles: Family historian, Informs current generations about the experiences of their progenitors and the origins of their family lineage. Mentor-teacher, Instructs moral principles for a meaningful life. Nurturer, Promotes grandchildren’s emotional and physical well-being. Role model, Lives a life theadolescent and young adult can emulate, and Playmate, Participates in creative play with the grandchildren.

They add, “Sometimes parents are busy with jobs and the responsibilities of other children; however, grandparents are free from some of these obligations. For example, in one study recreational activities were a dominant theme discussed by adult grandchildren as a source of bonding with their grandfathers.”

Some parents may worry that encouraging their maturing children to keep up their relationship with their grandparents may be an unfair imposition. Yet, research by Joan Robertson’s discovered that, “Grandchildren do not see grandparents as old-fashioned or out of touch but rather feel they are an important source of influence on them; and grandchildren feel definite responsibilities toward their grandparents, especially in doing such things as providing them emotional support, tangible help when needed, and qualitative as opposed to ritualistic visiting.”

Sarah Ruiz and Merril Silverstein study found “greater cohesion with grandparents decreased depressive symptoms, particularly among grandchildren raised in single-parent families. However, cohesive grandparent relations reduced depressive symptoms more in the presence of stronger ties to parents”. These findings accentuate the role of healthy parenting and the contributory value of grandparents’ support

What constitutes a strong Grandparent/Grandchild bond? Silverstein and Ruiz identified three elements that are crucial to grandparent-grandchild bonding:” The child feeling a sense of emotional closeness to the grandparent, having regular contact and, viewing the grandparent as a source of social support.”

Grandparents often describe connecting with their grandchildren as a calming, restorative experience that contains the agitation and produces serenity. Dr. Daniel Goleman, who stated that human interactions shape the human brain, is reported to have likened time spent with his two-year-old granddaughter as “a vitamin” or “an elixir.”

For parents:

  • Understand that grandparents do not replace you or infringe upon your parenting role but amplify the benefits of helping your child thrive.
  • Accept that grandparents can offer your child unconditional love, support and encouragement that reinforce yours.
  • Facilitate the connection between your child and his/her grandparents for the benefit of both generations.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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