The grandparent factor: what children gain from a relationship with their grandparents

You are probably way ahead of me on this one. I have unfortunately underestimated a wonderful resource right in front of me. Grandparent gold!

Multigenerational living

We have lived in a multigenerational household since I was pregnant with my oldest. So, as other moms have reminded me, I’m a bit spoiled. I have always had grandparents around for support and help. This family model is becoming more common in the United States, according to this article on Forbes.com. Perhaps this is why when you Google the term “multigenerational”, many of the results you get are floor plans to homes designed for extended family living.

Sure, some people still cling to the negative stereotypes of living with several generations under one roof. But the truth is this arrangement has many advantages.

Not least is the sweet relationship my girls have with their grandparents.

At first I focused too much on the differences in the way we do things. I didn’t like the unlimited TV time, I didn’t like the distract method of dealing with tantrums. I wished my kids would sometimes hear the word “no” from another adult besides me.

Then one day my friend talked about her own relationship with her Granny. She said that she was one of the best influences in her life. She said how precious it is when little ones get to have that. Her eyes misted over and her voice was sentimental, even reverential, when she spoke of her Granny. It made me stop and think.

I learned to appreciate what I had

What better thing could there be for a child! To have a close relationship with the ones (next to mom and dad) who had a share in providing their genetic material. The ones who understand them instinctively. The ones who love them fiercly no matter what, who have their back, and lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on at a moment’s notice.

My sister-in-law apparently got that right from the start. She put the baby in my mom’s hands and said, “You’re giving her this bath.” Even though there have been things they don’t agree on, that has always been the uniting bond between them, their unconditional love for that child.

I was missing the forest for the trees. I needed to see the whole picture. Sure, Grandma wants to make the kids happy, and if that means watching back to back episodes of Caillou for 2 hours, that’s what she will do. Instead of seeing it as a ridiculous amount of TV time, I started to see it as it was, Grandma and Grandpa’s way to show their love. (IF you think about it, that’s quite a sacrifice, one I’m not willing to make, lol!) All the other things that I found annoying were really in the same category.

What our family gains by multigenerational living

Research has shown that grandparents are an important emotional resource for children. My girls feel comfortable confiding in Grandma. Sitting at her counter with a glass of milk and a cookie and pouring out their little hearts with Grandma’s undivided attention has become the highlight of their day. Wouldn’t I rather they tell Grandma their little secrets than the kid on the bus or some other stranger?

I learned to take ownership of my own parenting style. I am mom. By definition that makes me the one who has to say no. Grandma can enforce it if she hears me say it, but if I never say “one Caillou and TV time is over”, you can guess that she isn’t going to want to put her foot down. And why should she? That’s Grandma’s trump card in the child care game.

I learned to talk to my girls openly about the different roles each adult has and the respect they should show to each one as well. How could this do anything but enrich their lives?

Multigenerational homes also benefit the adults in the family. Obviously, the economic plus is one. The grandparent generation in the household can receive help with health care and tasks that become more difficult with age. The parent generation can benefit from reliable, secure childcare. Grandparents are often willing to watch the little ones for anything from getting in a 10 minute shower to even returning to a full workday.

Instead of buying into negative stereotypes, why not see this lifestyle choice as the resource it is?

Long distance grandparents can be just as influential

The other set of grandparents in our family lives half the country away. I needed to be proactive in order for my girls to have a meaningful relationship with their long-distance grandparents. Often, when we visit we spend time with all the other relatives too, which can make one-on-one time with Nana and Papa scarce.

I needed to step away, let them talk and interact in their own way. Now that they’re older, we try to have regular phone conversations without mommy mediating. It’s truly beautiful to see the bond strengthen and grow.

Again, the genetic link they share seems to add to the sense of connection they feel. My daughters notice little things. Like after Papa had said a few bedtime and mealtime prayers with them, my daughter said, “Papa prays like you.” I laughingly said, “Actually, it’s the other way around. Papa taught me to pray.”

That means a lot to me. My girls can see that the heritage their father and I are passing down comes from our family values. They are learning the importance of hard work, honesty, kindness, and love. They are gaining a friendship that is deeper and wiser than any school friend could provide.

Do you live with or near parents or in-laws? What are some unexpected benefits of being near them? What are some challenges? If you’re far away from family, how do you keep the bonds strong?

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