So many changes when you begin a family of your own. You have the ultimate privilege of helping, loving, and guiding a little person through life and the joy of watching your parents transform into grandparents.
Our culture might make the ideal nuclear family a far-reaching concept, but according to at least one study, both grandchildren and grandparents benefit tremendously from close relationships with one another.
Both groups experienced fewer depressive symptoms, and that’s just the beginning of the benefits this strong emotional bond provides.
From The Boston Globe
An overwhelming amount of psychology and social science research is devoted to parent-child dynamics. But even in our nuclear-family age, that’s not the only bond children have with adults. In the last year, significant new findings have emerged to shed light on the important benefits of children’s relationships with their grandparents — for the people on both sides of the equation.
A study by Boston College researchers found that emotionally close ties between grandparents and adult grandchildren reduced depressive symptoms in both groups. The study, published online last year in the journal The Gerontologist, included 374 grandparents and 356 adult grandchildren who were taking part in a larger study. The researchers looked at data collected over a 19-year period.
Close grandparent-grandchild relationships are often a marker of strong family ties overall, but these intergenerational bonds also come with their own distinctive benefits, said lead author Sara Moorman, an associate professor of sociology at Boston College. As people are living longer, these bonds are becoming even more important.
For grandparents, relationships with grandchildren provide connection with a much younger generation and exposure to different ideas, which might otherwise be limited. For grandkids, grandparents can offer life wisdom that they can put into practice as they navigate young adulthood.
“Grandparents have a wealth of experience — they’ll often tell stories about their lives and how things worked when they were young, and once kids become adults, they’re able to maximize those lessons,” said Moorman, who said her study is a tribute to her own grandmother. Grandparents also can offer their grandchildren a first-hand historical perspective that enriches their lives and understanding of the past.
Earlier research has shown links between strong grandparent-grandchild bonds and adjustment and pro-social behavior among kids. A study of English children ages 11-16, for instance, found that close grandparent-grandchild relationships were associated with benefits including fewer emotional and behavioral problems and fewer difficulties with peers. These relationships also helped to reduce the adverse impacts of experiences such as parent breakups and being bullied.
For grandparents, involvement with grandchildren may help to keep them mentally sharp. An Australian study published earlier this year found that grandmothers who spent time watching their grandkids performed better on cognitive tests than did grandmothers who didn’t, and than women who didn’t have grandchildren. (Interestingly, though, minding grandkids one day per week was linked to better test performance than watching them more often.)
Of course, relationships between grandparents and grandchildren are shaped by the larger family context. A study of Israeli teens published in September found that the closer teens were with their parents, the more they benefited from strong relationships with their grandparents. Specifically, among teens who reported being very close to their parents, strong bonds with grandparents were more effective in reducing emotional and behavioral problems.
Ensuring these relationships have an opportunity to grow and flourish requires effort, but according to science, it’s definitely worth the work.