Those of us fortunate enough to have grandparents have many stories that illustrate the importance of the special cross-generational relationship between Grandma, Grandpa and their grandchildren.
When I remember my grandparents, for instance, it strikes me that the virtue I learned best from them is “patience.” My Grandpa loved orchids and had a lathe house filled with different varieties of plants, where he practiced his own brand of horticulture, patiently nurturing orchids into bloom.
As a kid I spent a great deal of time in the lathe house, as well as helping Grandma pick peaches and plums from her fruit trees. I vividly recall Grandma making buckwheat waffles on Sunday mornings.
To remember those days is to step into a time when time itself never mattered. They had lots of time to teach me card games. I spent many happy weekends at their home.
Grandparents, however, also impart faith traditions that grandchildren learn and remember. From praying the rosary to lighting the candles on the Advent wreath, oftentimes grandparents hold dear the traditions and rituals that their own children may no longer practice.
Pope Francis noted the role of Grandma and Grandpa when speaking at 2015 Youth Eucharistic Movement event: “…Because the grandparents are a source of wisdom; because they have the memory of life, the memory of the faith,” the Pope encouraged young people to listen and learn from them.
Indeed, studies confirm that grandparents play an important role in all aspects of a child’s development. A survey conducted by Oxford University and the Institute of Education in London found that children are generally happier if grandparents are involved in their upbringing.
According to the Oxford study, relationships that adolescents have with their grandparents show that grandparents who are involved in the daily lives of their grandchildren can contribute to the children’s well being.
Increasing numbers of today’s adults will become grandparents, according to author and psychologist Peter K. Smith, of the University of London. Smith noted that the mean age of becoming a grandparent is currently about 54 years in Britain. “Thus, most people will be a grandparent for around a third of their lifespan,” he writes. “It’s a role that should interest a wide variety of psychologists, particularly developmental, social, clinical and educational.”
A recent study by Boston College found that “an emotionally close relationship between grandparent and grandchildren is associated with fewer symptoms of depression for both generations.” Parenting Magazine recently published 10 reasons grandparents matter.
- Grandparents make a difference. Dr. Karl Pillemer of Cornell wrote, “Research shows that as many as 9 out of 10 adult grandchildren feel their grandparents influenced their values and behaviors. Grandparents transmit to their grandchildren the values and norms of social order.”
- More children have grandparents. While in 1900, less than half of American adolescents had at least two living grandparents, today there are about 80 million American grandparents.
- Intergenerational households are on the rise. According to the latest U.S. Census figures, 7.5 million children lived with at least one grandparent, which is more than 10 percent of the under-18 population.
- Many children are raised by their grandparents. According to the same census figures, 2.7 million grandparents provide for the basic needs of a grandchild. Even more take care of grandchildren on a regular basis but aren’t primary caregivers.
- Grandparents have spending power. Grandparents control an astounding 75 percent of the wealth in the U.S. and a good deal of that spending power is put toward grandchildren. A survey by MetLife showed grandparents spend an average of $1,700 on their grandchildren annually. That support is often used to help pay for childcare or housing.
- Grandparents give back to the community. Grandparents make 45 percent of cash donations to nonprofits organizations, according to an American Grandparents Association survey, and 28 percent volunteer on a regular basis.
- Grandparents are technologically savvy. More than 75 percent of grandparents use the Internet and nearly half use social media regularly.
- Grandparents love their role. The AGA survey showed 72 percent of grandparents “think being a grandparent is the single most important and satisfying thing in their life.”
- Grandparents have valuable experience. The AGA survey indicated 63 percent of grandparents “say they can do a better job caring for grandchildren than they did with their own.”
- Today’s grandparents are active and involved. Reportedly, 43 percent of grandparents exercise or play sports and 18 percent dance.
Undeniably, statistics and anecdotes confirm Dr. Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, who notes that the relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren is second in emotional importance only to the relationship between parent and child. Children benefit, Dr. Pillemer says, when grandparents are involved in their lives. Grandparents, too, enjoy benefits from the relationship with their grandchildren.