Research shows that the role of grandparents is more vital to
grandchildren's lives than we may have imagined. Grandparents can offer wisdom and an
extra ear. In families where there is abuse or addiction, grandparents can
ameliorate depression in their grandchildren and offer safe haven.
In my childhood summers, from as early as age 7, my
working parents sent me—their only child—from California to New York to wear
out my "I'm bored" refrain with my grandparents. Usually, I started each visit with my father's parents, Oma and Opa, petite Germans whose crisp accents curled
with the influence of their 20 years living in Israel. They had a hearty
passion for reading and swimming, both of which I gladly indulged in muggy New
York summers and encouraged me to read and write.
By the age of 10 I was
taller than both of them. Equally large, however, was the strength of our bond.
I'd spend the other half of the visit with my maternal grandmother, a fabric
artist and poetry lover, whose apartment was a realm of fascinating nooks and artsy
knick-knacks. Here are other qualities grandparents bring that parents sometimes can't:
A grandparent does not have to engage in the power struggles
so necessary for children to learn boundaries between them and their parents. My
grandparents, who saw me for only several weeks per year, had the flexibility to say
yes more than no. When they did have to set a limit, I listened more easily
because our time together was short, and there were no parents there to run to.
2. Plant roots
Grandparents often provide a missing link to pieces of the past that parents don't always know or remember.
Knowing where you come from, your heritage,
provides a connection to history and an ancestry. This can have a powerful
impact on a child's sense of identity and purpose in the world. Grandparents
often provide a missing link to pieces of the past that parents don't always
know or remember. For me, learning that I had a personal link to the Holocaust and came from a line of survivors who had escaped tragedy helped shape
my compassion and understanding of what others suffer.
3. Act as "non-parental adults"
Studies show that children who have good relationships with "non-parental
adults" have better self-esteem and outcomes later in life. While these
adults do not have to be relatives, who better to exhibit love and interest in
the child's life than grandparents, who are generally crazy about their
I know the first words out of my grandmother's mouth when we
talked by phone were always: "What are you reading?" and "What are you
studying?" I always felt that she cared deeply about me and my interests. My
parents, divorced and grappling with serious issues like addiction and work
challenges, didn't always have the emotional presence to be available for my
needs in some of my most formative years. It wasn't until years later, when a
therapist wondered aloud how a child like me who had come through such
challenges, could be a relatively functional adult that I thought about the
powerful presence of my grandparents, and knew, without a doubt, that I had
probably thrived because of their love and support.
No matter how hard we work as parents to obtain our
children's respect, sometimes a necessary part of their individuation is to
resist us and reject it. But grandparents, by nature of being older, as well as
not usually an intrinsic part of the day-to-day family life can
teach a grandchild about the importance of respect, without taking any attitude
In modern life, more children come from homes where both
parents work. Many grandparents, on the other hand, are in the enviable
position of being retired from their jobs, which lends them more free time to
spend with grandchildren. And in many cases, older grandparents have greater
patience for the behaviors of their grandchildren that might drive a parent
nuts. My father, for instance, just cracks a joke or tries to distract my son
if he's emotionally melting down and never had any problem holding a screaming
baby (having raised three of his own).