05 Sep Magic Happens When Grandparents Spend Time with Grandchildren
My aunt and uncle tried to adopt for years—years filled with hope, anguish, invasive home visits, and lots and lots of money.
Eventually, they got the call. A young mother had given birth and decided to put her baby up for adoption. If my aunt and uncle could get to the hospital and sign the paperwork that day, the baby was theirs…hopefully. The birth mother had four days to change her mind.
They signed the paperwork and waited out the four days. And they were four strange days. Granddad, my aunt’s father, was dying of cancer. Hospice had come in. My aunt spent time in the birthing center filled with joy and time at my grandparents’ home filled with sorrow.
Finally, the day came. That fourth day, Granddad died. That same day, Baby A joined our family.
My aunt could hardly contain her joy. She’d made peace with Granddad’s passing since he’d suffered a long illness, and she wanted to revel in having her deepest heart’s desire fulfilled. But my grandmother was in no shape to celebrate. She told us that Granddad was her everything, and without him, she didn’t even know what she had to live for.
My aunt brought Baby A to my grandparents’ house. Handing her over to Grandmom, she said “Mom, we’re suddenly parents with full-time jobs. We need your help with childcare. Will you take care of her for us?”
My grandmother agreed. Baby A had the love and patience of Grandmom by day and the security of her adoptive parents by night.
My grandmother cared for my cousin for several years, and they adored each other. She’d run right to the kitchen when she was dropped off because Grandmom always had a homemade cake waiting. Grandmom kept her clean and well fed, and as she grew, Grandmom taught her true southern hospitality, how to care for the home, and the fine art of front porch gossip. My grandmother, who felt so helpless in losing Granddad, found her joy again.
In the midst of great loss, came great joy.
Every grandparent I know brags. They generally get all the fun of children without the burden of bringing them into the world and raising them. They get time with the grandkids without it being 24/7/365 days a year. It’s utter bliss, so I’ve heard.
I also know lots of bragging grandchildren. They brag about being spoiled, staying up late, eating delicious home cooking, and relaxing in the comfort and safety of their grandparents’ home. As they grow up, they remember simple pleasures like making breakfast or helping with a painting project.
Grandparents play a vital role in the lives of their grandchildren, and here are just a few of the benefits:
Ever tried to hurry with a four-year-old whose still developing fine and gross motor skills? Grandparents often don’t have the pressure that parents face to accomplish a lot in a short amount of time, so they can move more slowly, accommodating the needs of the child.
Grandparents can look back on their own mistakes with their children and see when a child needs a bit more patience, time, or understanding. “In a sample of 3- and 4-year olds, grandparent involvement…reduces the detrimental influence on children of negative reactivity and mothers’ harsh parenting” (Barnett, et al. 2010).
Grandparents often offer financial support to pay for extra curriculars, school clothes, and eventually maybe even a down payment on a home. In fact, an AARP (2017) study shows that grandparents contribute significant financial support with as many as 58% reporting that they contribute to the needs of the children and parents reporting that this offsets the cost of care.
Grandparents have hindsight in spades. They can see how a parenting style will affect the child and steer a little differently when the grandchild is in their care. “Among older children, the grandparent may serve as a confidant and emotionally-supportive mentoring figure” (Silverstein and Marenco, 2001).
People want to know where they come from, including grandchildren. Grandparents connect grandchildren to their culture, language, and family tree. They help to keep alive the customs of the past. Children who know their history are more resilient, are better able to handle problems, perform better in school and are more socially connected because they know they are part of something larger than themselves.
They are often stable and provide the child a safe refuge when parents are going through difficult times. In 2009, 9% of all U.S. children were living with a grandparent; 17% of children living with a single mother were doing so (U.S. Census Bureau, 2009b).
They may take the time to teach grandchildren life skills or explore their grandchildren’s personal passions. Grandchildren “will learn important life lessons their parents may not have time to teach” (Nemeth 2015).
According to a study by AARP (2009), about 15% of grandparents regularly provide childcare for their grandchildren. Grandparents offset the huge expense of childcare for parents who are working or going through a transition.
All that said, grandparents have the power to make a remarkable impact on their grandchildren. They make life a little less bumpy and a little more fun for those they love.
Barnett MA, Scaramella LV, Neppl TK, Ontai LL, Conger RD. Grandmother involvement as a protective factor for early childhood social adjustment. J Fam Psychol. 2010 Oct; 24(5):635-45.
Emling, Shelley. (2017) “The Grandparent Check.” AARP. Retrieved https://www.aarp.org/home-family/friends-family/info-2017/2017-grandkids-cost-how-much.html.
Nemeth, Karen. (2015) “Magic Happens When Grandparents Care for Grandchildren.” National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved: https://www.naeyc.org/resources/blog/when-grandparents-care-grandchildren.