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Importance of Grandparents to Their Grandchildren
My four-year-old daughter asks about her deceased grandparents almost daily.
Her question to me or her mother usually goes something like this: "Will we see
Grandma and Grandpa again someday?" Her words help us and her siblings keep in
our minds and hearts these vital figures in our family's history.
Grandparents play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren, though
it is often indirect. Most of their significance to children is seen through
the support and help they give to their parents. Grandparents are often seen as
"stress buffers," family "watchdogs," "roots," "arbitrators," and "supporters."
Research suggests that children find unique acceptance in their relationships
with grandparents, which benefits them emotionally and mentally. Grandparents
can be a major support during family disruptions. Sometimes they're playmates
for their grandchildren. They're very often role models and mentors for younger
generations. They are also historians -- teaching values, instilling ethnic
heritage, and passing on family traditions.
Increasing numbers of grandparents care for their grandchildren during the day
or have legal full custody of their grandchildren, making them surrogate
parents. These grandparents have a particularly strong influence.
For example, when my father died, my Grandpa Belnap took on an active role in
my life. He was a retired junior high school math teacher with twinkling blue
eyes. Grandpa Belnap cared for me while my mother, a single parent, worked hard
to build a successful home-based business.
Grandpa provided me with some of my fondest and earliest memories. I remember
he let me push the button to start his old Oldsmobile coupe, often at some risk
to the starter motor. He was fond of saying "Whoa, Nellie" as he came to an
intersection. He taught me and my siblings a nonsensical song called "Little
Blue-Haired Boy," which he recorded for future generations just before he died.
He always encouraged me, loved me, and supported me. When I became a teenager,
Grandpa Belnap persisted in playing a part in my life even though at the time I
was pretty dull of hearing the voices of older adults.
Wise parents foster strong relationships between grandparents and
grandchildren. Letters, phone calls, videos, audiocassettes, sharing of school
work, and personal contact where possible all build bonds of love and
friendship between the generations.
Grandparents need their children and grandchildren as well. The movie "The
Mailbox" conveys how important these relationships are to the elderly. It tells
the story of an old widow named Leethe who loved her children, all living some
distance from her, and longed to receive letters from them. She made daily
walks from her house down a long pathway to her mailbox, anxiously anticipating
a letter. But repeatedly she was disappointed.
On rare occasions one of Leethe's children would call her. But Leethe was hard
of hearing and preferred letters. She pleaded with her them and her
grandchildren to write to her because she couldn't "read phone conversations
over and over." Still, the letters didn't come.
Finally one day a letter was waiting when Leethe made her daily trek to check
the mailbox. She was so excited, she rushed back to the house to get her
glasses so she could read it. She had barely opened the envelope when she
suffered a fatal heart attack. As it turned out, the letter was from her
daughter and said only that she wanted Leethe's consent to be placed in a
It benefits each generation to be cradled in the arms of one another's love,
and Leethe's children missed those benefits - as well as deprived their mother
A tender children's story reminds us of the deep satisfaction we experience
when we make sure love and care flows between generations.
I'll Love You
by Robert Munsch depicts a mother cradling her newborn infant
son in her arms, and she pens the words, "I'll love you forever." By the end of
the tale the roles are reversed. The son, now grown, cradles his frail, aged
mother in his arms and pens the words, "I'll love you forever."
Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, and Marissa Beebe, Research Assistant,
School of Family Life, Brigham Young University
Olsen, S. F., Taylor, A. C., & Taylor, K. D. (2000). Intergenerational ties, grandparenting, and extended family support. In David C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family
(pp. 135-141). Salt Lake City: Bookcraft.