The importance of grandparents in the lives of children cannot be denied. Before our culture became so mobile, it was common for children to grow up surrounded by extended family, including one or both sets of grandparents. Seniors often moved in with their adult children and young grandkids when they became frail.
My own childhood mirrored this now quaint picture of the past, and I've always felt happy about the fact that my children were involved with both sets of their grandparents as they grew up. Yet, even though my kids enjoyed weekly grandparent visits, they were already in the minority. Many of their friends rarely saw their own grandparents, who often lived hundreds (if not thousands) of miles away. But, even with the obstacle of distance, I heard many of these young children talk excitedly about seeing Grandma and Grandpa over holidays and whenever they could.
The Revival of In-Law Suites
In recent years—often because of economic issues—a reversal of this trend has caused a significant number of families to return to the idea of sharing responsibilities and, in some cases, living spaces.
According to a Pew Research Center Report, a record 60.6 million Americans, or 19 percent of the population of the United States, lived in multi-generational family households in 2014. That's more than double the number of such households in 1980.
Another type of grandparenting has quietly maintained a strong presence in our society: grandparents who have become surrogate parents to their grandchildren because, for one reason or another, the parents cannot fulfill such a role. In 2015, more than 2.6 million grandparents were responsible for the care of their grandchildren. The influence of these “grandfamilies” is significant. Without them, thousands of children would have no familial anchor and, in some cases, no home.
Grandchildren Who Assume the Caregiver Role
When I was growing up, few grandparents lived to the ages of 85, 90 and beyond. But as modern medical care helps people live longer, more grandchildren are stepping up to provide care for their elders. These young caregivers are in what should be their formative adult years, yet they are torn between bettering their lives through education and job advancement, and the loyalty they feel toward their aging family members.
We see questions on AgingCare’s Caregiver Forum from this generation much more frequently than we did in the past. Many of these grandchildren adore their grandparent(s), but they are left to navigate complex medical and long-term care decisions while trying to make lives of their own.
Celebrate National Grandparents Day
The bond between a grandparent and grandchild is precious and unique. During the 1970s, a grassroots effort spearheaded by Marian McQuade of West Virginia led to the creation of a day set aside to celebrate this relationship.
Grandparents Day was deemed a national holiday in 1978 and is celebrated each year on the first Sunday after Labor Day. The purpose of this special day is to “honor grandparents, give them the opportunity to show love for their children’s children, and to help younger generations become aware of the strength, information and guidance that older people can offer.”
Take this opportunity to appreciate your own grandparents, your children’s grandparents, and all elders who have had an impact on your life. If you know a younger caregiver who is providing assistance to their grandparent, offer some recognition or a helping hand. Grandparents Day is a reminder that we owe a lot to older generations who have passed down their love and hard-won wisdom.
Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.
Visit Minding Our Elders
View full profile
“What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.” ~Rudolph Giuliani
Have you ever wondered about what is the role of grandparents in the family? Did you ever try considering that the role of grandparents in the family is as important as your role? You as parents have your daily duty towards your children, but the role of grandparents is a very consistent, often unacknowledged one.
Nowadays, fewer grandparents get to be real grandparents in the real sense of the word, in the lives of their grandchildren. The reason being because of the various changes in the society like, migration of young couples to farther distance, greater disharmony between parents and grandparents, and higher divorce rates between parents and even grandparents, which are weakening the family as an institution.
Such changes have completely produced opposite results: on one hand some grandchildren are raised by their grandparents with minimal involvement of parents, and on the other hand, some grandchildren have little contact with their grandparents.
America is fast becoming a granny state, where less frail and more involved grandparents are shunning retirement homes and stepping in more to raise their grandchildren, while young adults struggle in the poor economy. They teach their grandchildren the traditional American values of hard work, honesty, and integrity. Had it not been for these grandparents, many children would have been denied a moral and healthy environment, and some would have become wards of the state!
However, some grandparents can also be an unhealthy influence, like when they interfere and meddle with parent-child relationship, which happens when instead of being grandparents; they compete with their children to be virtual parents, while some try to parent a child through proxy. They need to take care about being a part of the family, yet maintaining a respectable distance.
As per research, the grandparent-grandchild relationship can have lasting positive effects, and it’s worth putting in efforts to help your kids know your parents. Research shows that language skills develop better for preschool kids who are in the care of grandparents; though in some cases they don’t go quite far in the academic learning areas when cared for by grandparents. But at the end of the day, wouldn’t you prefer having your kids cuddled and chatted with, and let their language skills develop, rather than developing only the paper-and-pen skills that they would have to deal with for the rest of their lives?
According to research, the better the relationship is between parents and grandparents, the greater the contact and closeness between grandparent and grandchildren. However, it’s up to us parents to convey the message that the role of grandparents in the family is integral to our children’s lives. Even if you don’t have a great relationship with your parents, your kids may still get along well with them.
If there aren’t any potentially harmful situations, it’s best to be positive about your parents to your children. You should be willing to discuss things that are and aren’t working to create positive relationships, as the strength of the grandparent-grandchild relationship mainly depends upon the parents.
At times grandparents hesitate to participate in their children’s families because they are unsure about the expectations we may have about them, or the kids and others may have about them. We need to make an extra effort to invite grandparents into the family. Whether grandparents live close by or far away, they have a lot to offer us. Most of the times grandparents have resources that parents do not, and they are able to reach our children in ways we might not.
Mentioned below are some of the roles of grandparents in the family that they play in the lives of their grandchildren.
- As an ancestor and historian
One of the important roles of grandparents in the family is that of a historian, which helps grandchildren find their identity in a larger context. They are the link to their grandchildren’s ancestors, the head of the family, and a connection to the family’s common history. Grandparents share the stories of the past, which maybe about relatives, important events, family traditions etc. as these stories are passed on.
The grandchildren gain a positive image of aging and their place within the family solidifies. Grandchildren feel now that they belong to a family unit, a sense of ‘we’ develops, and that gives them a sense of safety and security.
Grandparents, who have fought in or lived through wars or other extreme hardships, may be the real-time heroes to their grandchildren, who feel that as their grandparents have endured for many years, they would step in to help or rescue their grandchildren in a time of need. A grandparent being a hero gives the grandchildren someone to turn and look up to, and someone to inspire them.
Grandparents in the family are like cheerleaders always inspiring grandchildren, in developing their imaginations and dreams, nurturing their spirit, and encouraging their intellectual growth while giving them a sense of self-worth. They are mentors and “heroes that many children seek to pattern their lives after.”
Grandparents are especially effective as teachers because of their unconditional love, which makes the grandchildren feel safe, comfortable, and loved for who they are, now how they perform.
The actions of grandparents in the family can teach their grandchildren how they should behave in society, care for themselves, and how they should aspire to be as future parents and grandparents themselves.
The influence and role of grandparents in the family helps create a positive perception of older people in general. The relationship of grandparents with their grandchildren can also serve as a model for your grandchildren’s relationship, with their own parents and children.
The support of grandparents provides an emotional and social safety net for the entire family, making the grandchildren feel safe and secure. This role of grandparents in the family is more important nowadays with the increasing divorce rates, teenage pregnancy, parents’ career demands, and other social problems.
Grandparents in the family need to assure their children and grandchildren that they are always there if needed, and keep in close touch with them through frequent phone calls, letters or postcards, if frequent visits are not possible.
Grandparents are playmates to their grandchildren, and it’s nice for children to have fresh spectators to perform for once in a while! As they are not responsible for the day-to-day care and discipline of their grandchildren, they are able to assume the role of a secret confidant, and pal.
Grandparents offer kids a broader range of knowledge, experience and emotions than they did as parents. They provide a safe place for children to turn in times of stress when they feel they cannot approach their parents. They also occupy a special place in the family as a trusted adult, yet separate and different from the child’s parent.
As grandparents treat their grandchildren in a more relaxed and lenient manner than they ever treated their own kids, children often feel more comfortable discussing sensitive issues with grandparents than with their own parents. However, grandparents need to be careful of pitfalls such as planning activities that are against the parents’ wishes, spoiling, and partiality towards one grandchild over another. Sometimes your parents may surprise you with a hidden sense of humor or fun that seems to have been born along with your first child!
Role of grandparents in the family as a spiritual guide can help teach their grandchildren to value and achieve spiritual rewards like compassion, joy, peace, love, tolerance, reverence, faith, gentleness, and kindness.
As grandparents are not responsible for the daily well being of their grandchildren, they can focus on their moral, spiritual growth and development, by setting an example for their grandchildren to emulate.
Grandparents in the family have a great opportunity to impart their knowledge, special skills, and experience to their grandchildren as their teacher. However, if the subject matter meets with opposition from the grandchildren’s parents- as in the case of values, lifestyle, religion and tradition, grandparents need to talk it over with them, in a calm and open manner, and try to come to a compromise.
Grandparents can strengthen families in ways that parents alone sometimes cannot. They can also support lessons that the parents are teaching children.
While some grandparents in the family are full-time care providers for grandchildren, but in most families grandparents fill in the gaps. You need someone at home who can step in when the regular child-care plan breaks down, as in the case of a sick child to be left with a stranger. Most parents can only afford part-time daycare, so grandparents take the child the rest of the day till the parents comes home. They are always ready to help out in case of need.
While grandparents have lots to teach their grandchildren, they have many valuable lessons to learn about, and from them also. Grandparents can become students by joining grandparenting groups, taking classes, reading grandparenting books and magazines, besides listening to what grandchildren have to teach them.
Grandchildren can teach grandparents about keeping up with new inventions and ideas to help them grow and change, which is the key to remaining youthful and vibrant. Grandchildren also get a sense of self-worth and empowerment by teaching grandparents new things and sharing a bit of their life and culture with them.
Something that grandparents in the family should think about is to have the courage to be honest with their own children. They shouldn’t let themselves get pushed into a child-care arrangement that they don’t really want, and should clarify things as to why they are doing this. Grandparents need to sort out any kind of resentment they may have so that they don’t feel they are being taken for granted.
The role of grandparents in the family also includes having open discussions with their children. They can do this by sharing a meal or a cup of coffee with them, to share anything about their grandchildren that may need attention. Discuss their progress, fill each other in on what’s going on, plan activities, and come up with new ideas together. Instead of letting the days drift by, plan one activity for each day so that the days are not monotonous.
Grandchildren bring energy, love, optimism, laughter, youthfulness, and purpose to the lives of grandparents in the family. Similarly, the role of grandparents in the family is also to provide knowledge, maturity, stability, and unconditional love to the lives of their grandchildren.
Take some time way and think about your grandparents, which of these roles did they fulfill in your family? Were your experiences with your grandparents positive or negative? What role of grandparents in the family did your grandparents play for you?
Photo Credit: Photostock
About the author
Harleena SinghHarleena Singh is a positive thinker and a freelance writer. She loves to write inspiring and thought provoking posts on self-improvement, family, relationships, health, and other aspects of life. She's also a blogger, who loves to share her blogging knowledge and experiences.