“Grandparents are a positive force for all families but play a significant role in families undergoing difficulties,” said Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz, PhD, of The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. “They can reduce the negative influence of parents separating and be a resource for children who are going through these family changes.”
The study appears in the February Journal of Family Psychology, published by the American Psychological Association (APA). The researchers found that children and adolescents whose parents have separated or divorced see their grandparents as confidants and sources of comfort. Spending time with a grandparent was found to equip adolescents with better social skills and fewer behavior problems, especially among those children living in single-parent or stepfamily households.
As in previous studies, this research found that grandchildren are closer to their maternal grandparents and closest to their maternal grandmothers.
I have found this to be true in my own family. I grew up in a “traditional” two-parent home with two sets of grandparents and always felt very close to all four of my grandparents. My children grew up without much contact with their grandparents and struggled through adolescence. Now, I’m a grandparent and can see how our older grandchildren, who are just now coming into adolescence, tend to stay in touch – asking advice, talking about their “love lives” and much more – as though my wife and I were their closest confidants.
As my wife and I are new to this phenomenon, I can’t tell you the outcome. I can, however, tell you that the influence my own grandparents had in my life was profound and substantial. The last of my grandparents died in 2007 at the age of 97. And although I miss them terribly, my life feels steady and secure because of the influence of my grandparents.
As a grandparent, I can attest to the monumental influence grandparents have in the lives of their grandchildren. Even when there is little or no physical contact – a letter, email, or phone call can significantly change the direction of an adolescent. And it’s not the advice given that makes the difference – although good advice can make a difference – rather, it’s the care and concern that matters most to the adolescent. Grandparents can touch deep resources within the adolescent – genetic resources of which the adolescent and the grandparent are mostly likely unaware – yet are profoundly powerful.
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I like to think there is something “magical” in grandparents. They’re just people – like everyone else. But for whatever reason nature endowed us with a supernatural reverence for our grandparents that makes them more than “just people” - they’re fantastic people. We can’t help but want to love and respect our grandparents – even when they do everything they can to dissuade us. We WANT our grandparents to be special for us. And that want, I believe, gives us access, through imagination, to some of our most powerful psychological assets.
If you are a grandparent, I hope you will take the opportunity today to make some magic in the life of one or more of your grandchildren. Especially maternal grandmothers (mothers of mothers) have a special “in” to the hearts and minds of their daughters’ children. A letter; postcard; phone call; text message; IM; email; whatever means you choose – do it today. You don’t have to “teach” or “share wisdom” or “be wise” – just let them know you care. That’s all. Everything else is just “how” you let them know.
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Parenting is for parents. Grandparenting is for the angels. May we grandparents spread our angel wings of care and support around our grandchildren and create a generation of caring, loving, compassionate young people who will carry on the tradition to their own grandchildren.
“Grandparenting and Adolescent Adjustment in Two-Parent Biological, Lone-Parent, and Step-Families,” Shalhevet Attar-Schwartz, PhD, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem; Jo-Pei Tan, PhD, University of Putra; Ann Buchanan, PhD, and Julia Griggs, PhD, University of Oxford; Eirini Flouri, PhD, University of London; Journal of Family Psychology, Vol. 23, No. 1.