Emotionally smart kids grow into successful adults, and the grandparent connection plays a key role in this development. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is different from cognitive intelligence (IQ) and is an area where we can grow. EQ relates to our ability to understand and control our own emotions and understand and relate to the emotions of others. Emotionally smart kids can successfully manage difficult situations, express themselves clearly, gain respect from others, influence others, get things done, and they have positive self-esteem. Growing up in homes that encourage emotional growth helps children respect themselves and others. They are emotionally stronger and better able to face the world. Grandparents give this gift to grandchildren.
Let me share a story my mother told me about her grandmother:
When I was little, we loved going to visit our Mamma. It was always an adventure. All the cousins would come over and we’d run around all day long. We would eat candy and drink pickle juice straight from the jar. If you wanted something to eat, Mamma would make it. We created the most amazing games including a version of flashlight tag. We would turn off all the lights and chase each other, but we didn’t have flashlights so Mamma would let us roll up newspaper and light the end on fire.
See why I remember it? Let me tell you, MY Mamma never let us run around with torches in her house and my mom doesn’t let my kids either. But what a story! And it is a legacy–A legacy of Mamma passed down from generation to generation (but maybe without the fire hazard). A legacy of play, and freedom, and creative expression. My mother is an amazing Mamma, and she also lets my kids have a little more free rein than they get at home. They can drink soda and chew gum. (Gum is generally outlawed at our house because of smacking and mouth noises.) She lets them destroy her kitchen with flour and powdered sugar to make cookies or brownies or another great treat. She even has an entire drawer dedicated just to sprinkles and toppings. She helps them sew stuffed animals, pillowcases, and quilts. And however they want to put it together (even the ugliest bear ever), that is how they do it, and that bear is well-loved.
Grandparents are an important part of families and provide fabulous support for grandchildren. Dr. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University stated the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is of critical emotional importance, second only to the relationships with their parents. Margaret Mead stated the connections between the generations are “essential for the stability and mental health of the nation.” And a study at Boston College found that an “emotionally close relationship between grandparent and grandchildren is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.”
What do grandparents provide, exactly?
- History. Grandparents pass on the traditions, the heritage, and the stories of the family. Grandchildren may not fully appreciate what they are being given, but they are learning where they came from and who they are. So much depression and mental illness centers on feelings of isolation, being lost, and being disconnected. This heritage and family history gives you a foundation–something to build your life on and something that shapes you, whether you fully realize it or not.
My grandfather, my Poppy, was a quiet, humble man. Our family gatherings could be rambunctious and loud, and he was always sitting quietly to the side. But one-on-one with him, he was a wealth of knowledge. He could fix anything, build anything, and he would patiently show us how. He had amazing experiences in his life that I did not hear until I was an adult and he shared them with my children. He told stories of being a spy for the railroad and helping them uncover corruption. He was a slight man under 100 lbs. soaking wet but he was fearless, dedicated, and smart. He could do amazing things and his stories sink into my children giving them the belief that they too can do amazing things.
- More hands on deck – We do not all have the luxury of living close to our extended families, but when we do, it adds an extra layer of parenting that we should never discount. Whether it is picking up kids from school, teaching them to drive, financial support, or babysitting, grandparents are a huge help in filling in the gaps. Raising children is hard, and asking for help is not a weakness. It is brilliance in my opinion! If you do not have grandparents near by or do not have supportive grandparents, then adopt one! Finding a grandma or grandpa that can mentor and support you while also providing support for your children is worth its weight in gold.
When my first baby was born, my mom offered to stay with us but she just lived one street over and I felt pretty confident. “I’ve got this,” I told her. And then I called in the middle of the night because his nose was stuffy and I didn’t know how to use that little bulb thing to suction it out!
When my second baby was born, I gladly accepted her help with keeping our toddler while I was in the hospital, but when I was home I again thought, “I’ve got this. Raised one. I know what to do now. No problems with that nose-suctiony thing now.” And then I called crying on the third day, because I was so tired and now I had two that needed me.
When my third baby was born, I said, “Please come over and could you please do the laundry?” This time I did have it down – ASK FOR HELP! Third time’s a charm. I got it figured out!
- The gift of time: We are told we should sit back and “enjoy” the baby phase and the little moments because it will go by so fast and it does! Grandchildren are a gift that gives you back that time to just sit and rock a baby for hours because you have the time to do so. Grandparents are patient. They have the time to listen to the endless four year-old stories that are all plot and no point. They can wander through the craft store with an 8 year old and look at every item on every shelf. Parents are busy. They are hurried. We all try our best to find that quality time and to give our best to our children, but I am not sure that is always our job. Our job is to parent, and sometimes that is busy. Our job in not to entertain and give in to every whim. Sometimes it is not only okay, but it is good to say to your child, “Not now. You will have to wait.” But grandparents can give that unlimited time and space to children. And many times, children (especially teenagers) are going to be more likely to share their deeper thoughts and questions with a grandparent. It is a safe zone where they can double-check their thoughts and get loving feedback.
Since we have been traveling, my 9 year old has been calling her Mamma on a regular basis. Sometimes we can hear parts of her conversations, and she is a hoot. She tells her all about what we have been doing and gives her opinions of the activities (not always favorable). She gives her tours of each of our new homes using Facetime and she tells her jokes. She also will text her endlessly and my mom always responds back and never is bothered by the calls and texts. It is a fabulous connection for them both. And if sometimes she tells tales on the rest of us, that is okay too!
What children can receive from healthy relationships with grandparents
I found this fabulous list posted by Melanie Knights:
- Someone who offers unconditional love
- A mentor who can help with problems
- Companionship and someone to talk to
- Someone who will stand beside them
- A window into their parent’s childhood
- A sense of adventure
- Kindness, humor, and patience
- A zest for life
- Family traditions
- The ability to laugh at oneself
- Life lessons
Engaged grandparents provide more than just free babysitting. They provide a stronghold and a foundation for children in their emotional development. A study completed by Brigham Young University looked at the relationships of 408 5th graders to their grandparents over an extended period of time. The study revealed that the relationship children had with their grandparents had a significant impact on their academic, psychological, and social development. Children with highly engaged grandparents were more sociable, more engaged at school, and showed higher levels of compassion and empathy than those without close relationships with their grandparents. The researchers also found the children with close connections had higher levels of self-confidence. In fact, the researchers proposed that having a strong child-grandparent link was even more important then the child-parent link in the area of encouraging children to think outside of themselves and to have a wider world view.
What are the benefits to grandparents?
Many grandparents report the joy in being with their grandchildren. The pressure of parenting is removed and they can just enjoy the time. (And then send them home!). Some see this as a “second chance” to right some of the mistakes they made with their own children. Involved grandparents consistently report less depression and higher levels of life satisfaction. They tend to feel more hopeful and generally more positive about their life. Grandchildren can teach their grandparents new things such as how to use their smart phone or how to find something on the Internet. And most importantly, grandparents get to see their legacy developing and add to the rich history they have to give their grandchildren.
Share your grandparent stories! Would you be willing to move to get your kids closer to their grandparents?
–You can read more from KPA parent Dr. Julie Bates at drjuliebates.com.