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The "Grand" in Grandparents

According to Kornhaber, "Kids can learn from grandparents what they can't learn from anybody else." This kind of learning can include crafts or skills that are not readily taught today, such as tatting (making lace) or whittling wood. It can also mean learning about life as grandparents share the experiences that made them who they are today. In this way a grandparent can act as an experienced guide or mentor.

"Grandparents are a living testament to the resiliency of the human spirit," explains Kendrick. "They have withstood the ebb and flow of life and are still standing. In sharing their past conflicts and inner doubts, they're saying to their grandchildren, 'I know you're going to stumble, but in a little while you're going to triumph.'"

Grandparents Modeling Good Communication
Grandparents can also be models for parents in the area of fostering a child's sense of self-esteem. Kendrick suggests that parents who observe Grandma and Grandpa taking the time to listen to a grandchild's new music CD or lending a sympathetic ear to a child's troubles will internalize that very supportive behavior, and down the road they may do likewise.

Kornhaber remarks that, as the family elders, grandparents can take the lead on establishing periodic family conferences to discuss issues that will have an impact on all family members, such as a family move or grandparents moving to a retirement community. "People often do these things automatically without thinking about the emotional and spiritual price they're paying, so it's important at least to discuss such changes."

Reaching Beyond Today's Obstacles
Changes over the last several decades have created some obstacles to the grandparent-grandchild bond, such as extended family members not living in close proximity to each other and the increasing divorce rate. Still, families can and should maintain this important connection.

Grandparents and grandchildren can use current technologies to bridge the barrier of geographic distance. They can exchange jokes via email, share videotapes of important life events, and create audiocassettes of favorite stories. "With the invention of the Internet," notes Kornhaber, "grandparents and grandchildren can now play games, tell stories, and do puzzles together in real time, despite living far, far away from each other."

Grandparents can do a lot to keep the connection with their grandchildren alive by nurturing their relationship with their own children. According to Kornhaber, grandparents have to start long before grandchildren are born by taking a responsible role in nurturing their children's marriage. "And then, it's important to be present — or in the vicinity — after the grandchild is born, to offer help to the mother, as well as resources and energy to the young family."

Parents, in turn, can help support the grandparent-grandchild relationship by making visits ongoing and frequent. Kendrick suggests that if Grandma and Grandpa are traveling some distance to be with the family for a holiday, parents can encourage them to stay for more than a day or two.

Grandparents and grandchildren have a need to connect at a very intimate level. For grandchildren, grandparents are the mirrors of the child's emotional well-being, notes Kendrick. "Grandparents' arms are always open. There's no queuing up or waiting. Grandma or Grandpa always says, 'Come to me. I want to hear your voice. I want to touch you. I want to see you smile.'" For grandparents, this need for an intimate connection may come from an awareness of their own mortality. The opportunity to establish a close relationship with a grandchild allows them to leave a part of themselves with a child, explains Kornhaber. "The more time that a grandparent and grandchild share undivided attention, the more the grandchild can soak up the grandparent in his or her heart and mind."

Source: In partnership with National PTA. Adapted from "The 'Grand' in Grandparenting" in National PTA's Our Children magazine.

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