The Benefits of Having Grandparents Active in your Child's Life
- Parents Only
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By: Megan Tuohey, Relationship Psychologist
If you were lucky enough to have spent time being cared for by grandparents when you were little, you already know the significance of the role they play. Countless generations have relied on grandparents for childcare, emotional support and a helping hand.
In an ideal world, a child’s grandparents would live nearby, be willing and open to playing an active role in the child’s life and be on good terms with both of the child’s parents. However, what I find in my practice is that modern families don’t often have this ideal trifecta, instead having one or more elements available for the child, which is totally ok, albeit sometimes harder than you would like.
What we know from research is that children who have access to a grandparent who loves them and their family well will experience a broader and deeper sense of ‘belonging’ to a tribe, which provides a sense of security and trust in their lives. These children are more likely to experience those same feelings of security and belonging in the world as they move through to adulthood.
Typically, grandparents add an extra layer of protection that insulates the child against their parent’s stress (think relieving the parent’s burden through grandparent care) and the child’s environmental stress (think being another source of comfort when talking about navigating school, social or community issues) – and very often, grandparents do this through making sure the child gets the extra care and attention they need at stressful times beyond what the parent has already done.
This is to say that grandparents add to the child’s experience. Remember the last time your child overcame something hard, perhaps learning how to go underwater like my son has just done, and you as the parents are high fiving him, and when he sees his nanna next time, she also warmly congratulates him. These two hierarchies in a family noticing a child overcome a fear of going underwater and supporting him – they tell the child he is seen, understood and supported.
Grandparents are also sources of connection to their own parents and grandparents, which allow children to experience the broader family tree. This provides a sense of belonging and recognition that they come from a tribe that has survived and thrived through very different historical times. We also know that children hearing stories about their relatives, however distant, overcoming adversity can offer them the sense that they too can overcome diversity because their family has.
One piece of the puzzle that often goes unnoticed when talking about grandparents, is the role they play for their children, i.e. the parents of their grandchildren. Connected grandparents who can continue to play a coaching and supportive role for their child strengthen family bonds for their child as well. And you and I both know when parents feel supported and safe, their parenting is calmer, stronger and more connected.
I’ve talked a lot about the importance of grandparents in a child’s life, but you and I both know that children and grandchildren add infinite value back to the grandparents life as well. Research has proven time and again that grandparents experience extra vitality, uplifts in mood for longer periods and a greater sense of purpose when they play an active role in their children and grandchildren’s life.
One important detail though, is that if your child doesn’t have access to grandparents - perhaps they are no longer with us, or live far away, then your child is not going to be disadvantaged. First and foremost of importance is the child’s experience of parental love, connection and support. You get that right, and your child will have a wonderful foundation regardless. Secondly – it’s likely in these scenarios that you will have invested in other significant relationships so your child has long term access to people who provide that sense of regularity and stability and care. This works beautifully too. So if you’re reading this and you don’t have grandparents active in your child’s life, don’t despair, you’re doing beautifully too.
So the next time you’re feeling as though you need a break, or your child could do with some extra love and care, think about inviting the grandparents in for a few hours, chances are it will do everyone the world of good.
About Megan: Megan is a Relationship Psychologist who specialises in women. She focuses particularly on the relationship you have with yourself, your partner, your kids. When she’s not writing, you will find her working in her online coaching business for women, reading or playing with her kids and high-fiving her hubby for another excellent day. You can read more of her work at www.megantuohey.com