Grandparents Play Key Role in the Lives of Grandchildren

Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

These days, fewer grandparents get to be grandparents in the real sense of the word, in the lives of their grandchildren.  Various changes in the society, notably, migration of young couples to farther distances, higher divorce rate between parents (incidentally, grandparents too are divorcing at a higher rate) and greater disharmony between parents and grandparents are weakening the family as an institution.  These social changes have produced diametrically opposite results:  on one hand, some grandchildren have little contact with their grandparents, and on the other hand, some grandchildren are raised by their grandparents with minimal involvement of parents.  The latter situation occurs when one or both parents abdicate their parental responsibility in pursuit of drugs and/or self-centered pleasure.     

Currently, three million grandparents in U.S. take care of their grandchildren, as legal or informal guardian.  Some of these grandparents are the bedrock of our society.  Raised in the Great Depression era, they teach their grandchildren the traditional American values of hard work, honesty, and integrity.  If not for these grandparents, many children would have been deprived of a moral and healthy environment and some would have become wards of the state.  This is not to undermine the fact that some grandparents an also be an unhealthy influence, for example, when they interfere and meddle with parent-child relationship.  This happens when grandparents, instead of being grandparents, compete with their children to be virtual parents.  Some try to parent a child through proxy.

I dedicate this article to grandmothers and the important role they play in the lives of their granddaughters.  This very special and unique relationship can add a valuable dimension to granddaughter's personality.  Like it or not, paternal grandmothers, it is the maternal grandmothers who are more popular with granddaughters.  One reason may be that the closeness and harmony between a mother and her own mother is likely to be greater than between a mother and her mother-in-law.  Take a look at a maternal grandmother, mother, and a daughter interacting with one another and you can see the same genetic matrix weaving through them.  The "chemistry" between them is apparent.  As a granddaughter grows older, she seems to form an independent relationship with grandmother in her own right.  

One study, reported in the British journal of "Aging and Society," looked at the quality of relationship between adult granddaughters and their maternal and paternal grandmothers.  The study points out that the quality and intensity of relationship with a grandmother is influenced by how far she lives and how old she is.  However, the geographical proximity and grandmother's age being similar, the relationship with the maternal grandmother appeared as the more pivotal one.  

Granddaughters in this study were asked if they would have their grandmother live with them (if still living, of course).  Surprisingly, a majority of them said they would.  Seventy-four percent said they would have their maternal grandmother live with them and fifty-four percent said the same for their paternal grandmother.  Obviously some wouldn't mind either grandmother living with them.  When asked which grandmother they preferred, forty-five percent said their maternal, and twenty-two percent, their paternal grandmothers.  I guess, the other thirty-three percent chose to be diplomatic, they didn't want to offend either grandmother or couldn't genuinely decide which one they liked more.

So, what do granddaughters get out of this relationship?  They feel they gain emotional security, closeness, and beliefs and values that only grandparents can pass from their own upbringing.  Grandmothers teach skills, such as, cooking, knitting, sewing, and housekeeping. This happens to be the case in my family, too.  Had it not been for the grandmother, my daughter wouldn't have learned knitting.  My wife never got interested in knitting, but my daughter did, and thanks to grandmother, this skill lives on in my family.  

In summary, influence of a grandmother is largely positive.  She imparts the traditional role and values to grandchildren, somewhat different and unique from what parents can provide .  Culture of tomorrow is shaped by what the previous generations pass on to the current generation.  So grandparents! You have something very valuable to give your grandchildren about the traditional values and mores.  Remember your grandchildren have greater knowledge of their peer culture than you do, so don't challenge them in that department.  Further, to have good relationship with grandchildren, you have to have good relationship with their parents.  Grandchildren! Be playful and childlike in front of your grandparents, even if you are an adult.  You can act as an adult around everyone else.             

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 



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