Being an Active Grandparent Gives Benefits
By Emily Stier Adler and Michele Hoffnung
Active grandparenting benefits grandchildren, parents, and grandparents. While some benefits are obvious, such as more attention from loving adults and assistance with childcare, the benefits for grandparents are less obvious. Our book, Being Grandma and Grandpa, discusses all these issues; here we focus on grandparents.
Personal growth is important at all stages of life. As one of the 224 grandparents we talked to put it, “grandchildren clearly contribute to aging in a rich environment.” Another said being a grandparent helped him “stay active, feel younger and connect with a new generation, while teaching him the value of patience.” Even more dramatically, one grandmother told that being a grandparent saved her life, “My beloved husband died and soon after I was forced to retire from my job, so life was colorless. My grandson fills my heart.”
Grandparents speak of many benefits; research backs them up. Engaging with grandchildren’s interests and activities helps aging minds stay active, provides opportunities to revisit earlier stages of life as child and parent, and allows grandparents to help their adult children learn to nurture the new generation.
Being an active grandparent builds intergenerational bonds that have benefits when grandparents need assistance themselves.
As with most relationships, those between grandparents and grandchildren depend primarily on the quality of time spent together (in person or electronically). Many grandparents indicated this in one way or another. One grandmother advised: “Go to see the kids in their own home. Kids profit from it and you profit from it. Kids are different when they are at home than when they are in other places . . . Play games, read a book, do a puzzle, get on the floor, take them to the supermarket.”
Grandparents frequently mentioned sharing holidays, special occasions and trips as a way of connecting the generations. Grandchildren remember the reoccurring routines and rituals. Traditions can be passed on from earlier generations, created fresh, or old and new combined.
Being an active grandparent builds intergenerational bonds that have benefits when grandparents need assistance themselves. One 87-year-old grandfather said, “My son and my grandson (age 29) are very helpful with taking care of stuff I can’t do myself. And they do it with eagerness. Psychologically they are helpful, too. We are on the same wavelength politically and enjoy talking about politics.” Most grandparents agree that the benefits continue long after the grandchildren become adults.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Emily Stier Adler, Ph.D. is Professor of Sociology Emerita at Rhode Island College. She has published work on marriage, adolescence, political life, retirement, and grandparenthood. She has four active grandsons.
Michele Hoffnung, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology Emerita at Quinnipiac University. Her research and writing have focused on lifespan development, women’s roles, motherhood, and grandparenthood. She has six grandchildren.