This past weekend our kids spent the morning with their grandparents so my husband and I could attend church on our own. When we came to pick them up our three kids, they all begged to stay the rest of the day.
That evening when they finally came home my middle son declared that he had a blast that day! I promise you my parents did nothing special with my kids. They didn’t take them to the store or on a special outing. It was just them being together snuggling, reading, playing games, and watching movies that constituted a blast for my son!
This joy, support, and love that grandparents offer is so very important and impossible to fully quantify. Grandparents offer wisdom to those of us struggling through our parenting years and grace for grandkids that they can spoil in sweet snippets.
Grandparents are marriage savers as many times they can offer dependable and safe childcare for always-needed date nights. Grandparents even step in as parents to their grandchildren when their own children become parents before they are ready or lack the skills they need to parent on their own.
Grandparents are an invaluable asset to the upcoming generation.
What roles do we see grandparents filling in our society? The answer is so many! As life expectancy has increased the amount of shared life between grandchildren and grandparents has increased.
The love and support shared between them has grown too! Let’s explore some of the ways grandparents fill hugely important roles for their families.
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Why Is the Role of Grandparent Such an Important One in Today’s Society?
Despite factors such as spread out families, rising divorce rates, and family disharmony that make maintaining a connected extended family more challenging, research still shows there are real benefits to grandparents being involved in their children and grandchildren.
Grandparents fill many vital roles in their family structure and can offer great help to the generations coming up behind them. Even if grandparents are not geographically close to their grandchildren technology and the ability to easily travel to visit allows them to still remain connected to their grandchildren.
Here are just a few of the special roles grandparents fill in their families.
1. Grandparents Fill the Role of Historian
Grandparents fill the role of historian and pass on stories, understanding, and context for their children and grandchildren. This shared history helps grandchildren discover a significant sense of identity in the greater context of their family trees. Grandparents are the great storytellers of their families' past.
Sharing with their grandchildren tales about relative, family traditions, and important memories from their own growing up years. Hearing these stories help grandchildren gain a more positive image on aging and their place in their family becomes more clear. They feel like they belong to a family unit and a strong sense of belonging develops that gives them a feeling of safety and security.
2. Grandparents Are Role Models and Heroes
Grandparents have street credit! They have lived through hardships, trials, struggles, and all the many ups and downs that comes with having the chance to live a long life. These experiences make them into real-life heroes and role models to their grandchildren.
In the eyes of a grandchild, a loving grandparent who has lived through hard things is a safe-haven. They know that no-matter-what, their grandparents will be able to help them when they have a need.
3. Grandparents Are Amazing Caretakers for Their Grandchildren
Research has found that Preschoolers cared for by their grandparents develop more robust language skills. Another study by the University of Oxford shows that when grandparents are involved with their grandchildren’s lives their grandchildren are less likely to experience emotional and behavioral problems.
Grandparents being there to help take care of their grandkids gives them the chance to influence their futures for the better. Grandparents offer stability, fun, wisdom, and love when they are able to help in caring for their grandchildren in a fill-in-the-gaps caretaker or as a primary child care provider.
Research grandparents also offer financial support to help in the raising of strong and well cared for grandchildren.
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4. Grandparents Offer Spiritual Guidance
The faith of grandparents makes a huge impact on the life of their grandchildren. As a respected and loved figure in their lives your beliefs matter hugely and have the power to influence how they see the world. Grandparents have the chance to model how to treat others with compassion, love, kindness, and model how to be a person of integrity for their grandkids. Create experiences for your grandkids that help them engage with faith and the community.
Bring them to a service, a Bible study, to a community service event, talk to them about God’s hand in creation, and share the ways you are praying for them! They will never forget the way you are living out your faith and it is sure to influence how they see the world as they become adults.
5. Grandparents Make Great Playmates
Nothing is sweeter than watching grandparents and grandkids laugh together! Parents oftentimes are so busy parenting they don’t have the same time and flexibility to be silly as grandparents do. Grandparents can break some of the rules and do things that may feel a little off-limits for parents.
Consequently, memories are made! Some ideas for playing with grandkids is to engage imaginative play, read books together, create art together, plan a special outing to the movies or to the park, or just dial into whatever they are doing, embracing their energy rather than shying away from it!
6. Grandparents Make a Wonderful Teachers
Grandkids admire their grandparents' skills and life experiences. Most of us can think of a special recipe they loved from their grandma or a hobby grandpa had that captured our interest. Teaching grandkids practical skills like how to cook that special dish or share with them about your hobby is a great way to connect.
Many of these skills are lost if not passed down. Grandparents can also offer support for academics too. They may have the patience to step in as tutor or homework cheerleader when grandkids may need extra help.
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What Role Have Grandparents Filled Both Past and Present?
As technology, medicine, wealth, and more have made it possible for people to live much longer, grandparents have become more of a fixture in society. Over the past 200 years or so the shared lifespan with grandparents and grandchildren has grown dramatically.
In 1860 Finnish children could expect to share about 4 years of life with one grandmother and grandfather. By 1950 that same child would expect to share 24 years with a grandmother and 13 with a grandfather.
Grandparents have consequently grown to become more of a prominent fixture in their grandchildren's lives. Societal changes such as a longer lifespan, divorce, single parenthood, households with two working parents, and more have changed what the family looks like. Many times grandparents are the ones stepping up to help with child care and child-raising for grandchildren.
In most Western societies grandparents generally are expected to take a secondary role to parents in the actual hands-on-parenting. Grandparents tend to take the role of “being there for extra support.” The exception is when their child is a single-parent or in the event of a divorce. In those cases the grandparents may step in more as a “replacement partner” and take a more active parenting role.
Another recent change in grandparenting is that Grandfathers are taking a more active role in the lives of their grandchildren. In the past when we talked about grandparents people mostly were referencing grandmas but as gender roles have shifted grandpa’s are becoming more engaged with their grandchildren.
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Grandparenting Roles and Boundaries
Grandparents are a treasure! As they navigate their role in their children and grandchildren's lives they have to figure out what boundaries are best to help keep harmony in the family. Deciding how much they are willing to help with childcare, what level of parenting is comfortable in your family dynamic, and what other ways you are comfortable supporting each other is very important.
Sometimes grandparents may want to have more influence than parents are comfortable with or other times parents need more support than a grandparent is able to give. This is part of the work it takes to be family. Sometimes it takes tough conversation but finding the right boundaries and balance can help bring so much joy to your family dynamic!
When these situations arise make a point to get together to talk through your needs and expectations in person. Be clear, kind, and specific about what is working and what may need to change in your interactions with kids. Remember that grace is necessary to address these issues well! If the issue may be extra sensitive enlisting the help of a mentor, pastor, or counselor can help too!
Communicating your love and appreciation for one another while addressing needed boundaries always helps to steer clear of hurting one another while navigating these tougher talks.
Another factor to consider is that over time roles and the needs of your family change. Being adaptable to the new seasons that life brings is helpful to keeping the family unified over time. Talking through new needs, challenges, and limitations as grandkids and grandparents age is important.
Grandkids may need different kinds of support as they enter new developmental stages. Toddlers need love and supervision while kids may need someone to play a game with them and help them with homework and teenagers need guidance and a listening ear.
As grandparents age their ability to offer childcare or other supports may change. They may require more support from their family as aging brings new physical challenges.
Galatians 5:13 says, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh ; rather, serve one another humbly in love.” It is a beautiful thing to see each member of our families find the best way to serve one another with love. We all benefit when we are able to offer each other support and God’s love.
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Originally published Wednesday, 09 September 2020.