The Role Of A Grandparent


Studies have shown that when a grandparent is actively involved in their grandchildren’s lives, the children grow up with better stress-coping mechanisms, more confidence, and fewer behavioral issues. With people living longer, it is common for grandparents to be in this role for several decades and watch their grandchildren become adults. They are very likely to still be working and to have many outside interests and activities. So, what is a grandparent’s role and how do parents make the most of this resource without handing over the reins?

The Typical Grandparent

The statistics on grandparents in the United States reveal that their average age is 64 but they may become grandparents at 47 years of age, 50% are still employed, and 77% of them are married. Additionally, 54% of them have a college education and 55% have paid up their mortgage.

The mean number of grandchildren is six.

Grandparents own a third of the assets in America and have the biggest net worth compared to other demographic groups. They spend $2 trillion a year, of which $52 billion is used to provide for their grandchildren. $3 billion alone is spent on baby clothing and $32 billion on education for their grandkids.

Roughly 10% of American children share a house with a grandparent, with a third of these having both parents living there too. These grandparents tend to be poorer than those who live apart from family and are more likely to be widowed or divorced. They are generally younger than other grandparents and have a lower standard of education.

There Is No Single Model For A Grandparent’s Role

Families differ and this affects the role a grandparent plays in their grandchildren’s lives. With the nuclear family no longer the norm, with spiraling divorce rates and single-parent families, the structures of family units have become diverse.

This can create confusion for a grandparent over how involved they should be in raising their grandchildren. For example, a single mother and child living with a more financially stable grandmother who is widowed may present issues around who has the final say when it comes to bedtimes, nutrition, and play areas. While the mother has to acknowledge that this is her mother’s home, she should not give up on determining how her child is raised.

In tricky situations such as these, the parties need to agree on the ground rules from the start. This will prevent the child from being witness to family fights and not knowing what is and isn’t permissible.

Active Grandparents

Because people nowadays generally become grandparents during middle age, they are bound to have an active social life, work commitments, and hobbies that take up most of their time. Yet this is unlikely to stop the average grandparent from spending time with their grandkids.

Whether this involves parents and children stopping by briefly every day after work, grandparents babysitting while mom does the shopping, or providing aftercare after school, most grandparents welcome an opportunity to see their growing families.

It is important that parents respect a grandparent’s time. This means not arriving without warning and dumping the kids before jetting off to do your own thing. Always ask beforehand and be prepared to accept that sometimes the answer will be ‘not today’. Respect their schedules as you expect them to respect yours.

That said, grandparents will often welcome their grandchildren regardless of their plans. This time is important to them, so it is up to the parent to provide opportunities for visiting while taking care to see that their parents do not neglect their own lives.

The Benefits To Grandparents

Being emotionally close to their grandchildren has a positive impact on grandparents. It protects them against depression, improves cognitive brain function, and extends their life span through a sense of renewed purpose.

Grandparents are the keepers of the family history, and as such, love to pass down the stories from previous generations. This gives children a wonderful sense of their culture. It also allows grandparents to share and experience belongingness.

A grandparent provides a moral compass for youth, teaches the wisdom (and folly) of the elders, passes down secret family recipes, and can be a non-judgmental listener for problems their grandkids are reluctant to tell their parents about.

A special bond forms between grandchildren and grandparents and the former are assured of a door that is always open.

The Financial Implications Of Looking After Grandchildren

A grandmother who is available to provide free baby and toddler care so that the mother can work is a great boon for parents. However, this is often at the expense of the financial well-being of the grandparent.

In these situations, it is grandparents who end up having to balance family and childcare while their daughters go to work and return to collect a bathed and fed baby who is ready for a short playtime before bed.

Often, these grandparents are required to reduce their own working hours and retirement savings to make space for the care of their grandchildren. If they are left with the costs of buying food and nappies, paying for school outings, or getting new uniforms, this is a further drain on their finances.

Parents should not relinquish their financial responsibility towards their children. Even when grandparents offer to pay for school fees or other expenses, there should be a clear line between help they truly need and taking advantage.

A Grandparent’s Changing Role

Nothing in life is static and this applies equally to the roles a grandparent plays in the lives of their grandchildren.

When the first baby comes, nervous parents appreciate the advice on pregnancy, breastfeeding, and colic. When a baby won’t stop crying, all it takes is for grandma to pick the infant up for the peace to return. Grandpa is there to help with math homework at a later stage.

But grandparents age and their health decline. This may mean them moving to a senior care facility and a big change in their roles as they become less independent and need more help. They might have a stroke or surgery and need the services of carers such as McKnight Place extended care to recuperate. Such events affect their ability to interact actively in their grandchildren’s lives.

It is vital that the children of grandparents in these circumstances do not deprive them of the company of their grandchildren and make special plans for regular visits.

Appreciate your children’s grandparents while you have them.

Emily Rose

Wife. Mom. Blogger. Actress. Friend. I got married to Dariek in 2009. Now I am the mother of three cute and naughty children who keep me busy always. As a lifelong learner, I find inspiration from the everyday experiences of motherhood. When I learn a new thing, I share it on my blog

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