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National Grandparents Day is September 9th. Since August 3, 1978, the day has been set aside “to honor grandparents… and help children become aware of the strength, information, and guidance older people can offer.”  Grandparents can offer all of these things and typically when we think of grandparents’ day we think of those celebrating the grandparents. This month I want to think about it from both points of view as a reciprocal relationship. Relationships take time, effort, and we need to be intentional. This is true for all relationships, whether they be friendships or familial. 

I spent my first 13 years out of college more than two hours away from home, but as my grandparents were aging, I realized that I wanted to be closer to home.  I moved to Champaign in the fall of 2012, and I was so blessed to still have three of my grandparents alive and to only live a little over an hour from where I grew up.  Over these past two years, I have lost two of three, but I will never regret the time I was able to spend with them.  There are so many important gifts that my grandparents have given me, such as being examples of wonderful human beings, teaching me skills that have served me well into adulthood, fond memories, and so many wonderful laughs.

In today’s fast-paced world, it is a challenge for grandparents to search for ways to show their special kind of love. It is well worth taking the time to think creatively and find ways to enrich the lives of grandchildren. Before we go further, let’s look at some statistics on grandparents today:

•Grandparents can range in age from 30 to over 100.

•Parents typically become grandparents between the ages of 49 and 53, and many can spend up to 40years in that role.

•Because people are living longer, grandparents have the opportunity to know their grandchildren from infancy to middle age.

•Almost half of the grandparents in North America live at least 200 miles from their grandchildren.

•There are nearly 8 million children under the age of 18 living with their grandparent or relative (2.5 million grandparents).

Because of longer life expectancies, families today have the potential for having long term relationships with multiple generations. A majority of Americans 35 years and older are part of a three-generation families and some even a four-generation family.

Intergenerational relationships within the family context are typically between adult children, their parents (grandparents), and their children (grandchildren). The relationship grandparents have with their adult children directly impacts the relationship with their grandchildren. More often than not, parents support their children in developing ongoing and communicative relationships with their grandparents. However, if the parent/adult child relationship conflicts, the grandparent/grandchild relationship may be at risk.

Research identifies various roles that an older person has in a young person’s life.

Some of these roles include:

  • Family historian
  • Mentor
  • Nurturer
  • Role model
  • Playmate

Grandparents do not typically want to be disciplinarians or full-time caregivers. They want to play with and enjoy the grandchildren.

There are numerous factors that can affect the involvement of a grandparent in a child’s life. Some of the factors that can lead to distant or less engaged grandparenting include:

  • Family diversity
  • Differing beliefs
  • Divorce
  • Distance
  • Health
  • Schedules

To build connections, both grandparents and grandchildren need to make an effort and view the relationship as important. One way to build connections is through healthy communication. The words we choose, the tone of voice we use when we speak, the assumptions we make, body language, and behavior all affect the listener. It is important to listen attentively without judgment.

To connect with grandchildren, try using different forms of communication:

  • In-person
  • Phone calls
  • Emails/letters/cards
  • Text messages
  • Social media (Facebook)
  • Skype/FaceTime

Spend purposeful time together

  • Show interest in their interests and activities
  • Ask for their help       
    •  Learn to use technology
    • Be open to new ways of doing things
  • Use the phone & computer
  • Invite them over for visits and don’t wait for them to invite you– even at a distance
  • Have fun together

Positive relationships are mutually beneficial to young and older adults. Grandchildren who report having close relationships with their grandparents are more likely to engage in activities with them and see benefits of spending time with their grandparents, and they are more likely to be influenced by their values and beliefs. In turn, grandparents may function as a source of social support and family history. Older adults can enrich the lives of younger people by providing continuity between the past, present, and future as they share memories.

To all of the grandparents or pseudo grandparents to a child – thank you for being a role model for the children. Your support is so important to the children and their parents