Maybe you have a great relationship with your parents and in-laws. Or maybe you feel like you might explode if they give you one more piece of parenting advice. Either way, it’s good to know that the positive effects grandparents can have on their grandchildren are significant. Here’s what the research has to say:
Four Outcomes of a Strong Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship
- Less depression as an adult. Researchers at Boston University examined data collected over 19 years and found that not only were adult children who had strong ties to grandparents less depressed, the grandparents were too.
- Resiliency. One of the authors of the Boston University study told the Boston Globe that grandparents, who have a wealth of experience, often offer grandchildren a first-hand historical perspective that enriches their lives. This is in line with research from Emory University, showing that children who grew up with intergenerational stories had higher self-esteem and a stronger sense of control over their lives. As a result, they were better able to cope with stress. One of the study’s authors linked this with children knowing they belong to something bigger than themselves. Yet another study, from the University of Oxford, showed that children with a high level of grandparent involvement fared better in the face of adverse life events, including divorce.
- Fewer emotional and behavioral problems. That same study out of Oxford showed that children with strong ties to their grandparents were more emotionally and behaviorally well-adjusted. This, in turn, helped them enjoy positive peer relationships.
- Less ageist views. If we want our children (as the saying goes) to respect their elders, spending lots of time with their elders may be the way to go. Researchers in Belgium linked spending quality time with grandparents to children having less bias towards aging adults.
Tips for Nurturing Grandparent-Grandchild Relationships
When it comes to children spending time with their grandparents, every family’s situation is different. 25% of children under age 5 are cared for by grandparents while parents work or go to school. Other families get together with grandparents frequently. Others may not see grandparents often because of physical distance, or because the parents’ relationships with their parents or in-laws is strained.
If physical distance is the issue, experts recommend frequent video chats between tots and their grandparents. It’s true that we’re not fans of screen time for little ones, but video chats with family are an exception (the American Academy of Pediatrics also gives the green light here).
If you struggle with your parents’ or in-laws’ role in your child’s life, you’re not alone. Plenty of parents say it’s difficult to manage unwelcome parenting advice, outdated parenting practices, and grandparents overindulging their grandchildren. You’re not wrong to worry about that last point; researchers from Scotland suggest that children cared for by grandparents may be at risk of obesity if grandparents do not respect the parents’ healthy-eating efforts.
If you resonate with that last paragraph above, consider these tips:
Come up with a few prepared responses for unwanted advice. The Center for Parenting Education suggests something like this: “Thank you for that suggestion. I’ll think about it.”
If parenting advice feels intrusive, consider setting a boundary (it’s best for the child of the grandparent, not the child in-law, to do this). Start by letting them know how much you appreciate their presence in your child’s life. Communicate that while you know their suggestions come from a good place, you want to make your own parenting decisions and would like their support.
Be sure they’re up-to-date on current safety practices, like putting babies to sleep on their backs, using properly-installed car seats, and not smoking around children.
Address overindulging your children. If your children see their grandparents infrequently, you may take an “everything in moderation” stance about treats and tweaks in routine. But if grandparents care for your child or are around a lot, communicate openly about what’s important to you and ask them to respect your wishes.
Above all, remember the many ways your child’s grandparents can positively impact their lives, and use it as motivation to create space for them in your child’s life.