… and why parents shouldn’t let family drama get in the way.

By Thomas R. Verny M.D.


  • The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren provides valuable life lessons for children.

  • A study shows grandparents connected via the internet with family enjoy greater life satisfaction and health.

  • Strong co-parenting relationships between parents and grandparents lead to greater family well-being.

When I was very young, before age 6, I spent many weekends with my grandparents. At bedtime, my grandmother would sit beside my bed and read to me from a book of fairy tales. I still remember, after all these years, listening intently to Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Puss and Boots, and many others.

Just thinking about these magical times brings tears to my eyes. I felt safe, warm, and loved. As I write this, it occurs to me that my interest in the human psyche was very likely sparked by these early experiences with my grandmother. In this youth-oriented culture, we often fail to appreciate the significant contributions that grandparents make to the lives of their grandchildren and vice versa.

Yet, in the wake of the COVID epidemic and the recent inflationary financial pressures, more children are living with their grandparents in multigenerational households. As a result, more children are spending time with their grandparents. How has this impacted grandparents and grandchildren?

It is not easy for a parent to transition to the role of a grandparent. Becoming a grandparent requires adapting to a new social role, usually during late midlife. It is associated with adopting new beliefs and behaviors that may interfere with long-established practices, such as having a tidy home or watching TV after dinner. It requires what may be perceived as “sacrifices.”

However, in contrast to earlier American findings that implied that childcare was burdensome, a 2018 Flinders University, Australia, study of 262 female and 168 male grandparents across the first two years of their transition to grandparenthood found more time spent babysitting the grandchild was associated with improvement in mental health.

In this respect, research focusing on the association between grandparents’ use of the internet and grandchild care is instructive. The authors of the study observe that using the internet to maintain ties with families and friends helps older adults foster family cohesion, which in turn enhances senior Chinese women’s life satisfaction and health to a greater extent than men’s.

This avenue of communication is especially important for grandmothers in rural areas whose adult children have migrated to work in cities. Thus, parent-child contact through the internet is likely stronger among females than males, and females benefit more from internet use than males. Of course, these findings are as relevant here as they are to China.

Other studies from China, where parent-grandparent co-parenting is very common, have found that when parents and grandparents get along, the benefits for all involved are considerable. The majority of families in this study lived in three-generational households, and 80 percent of families had only one child. Mothers who maintained strong co-parenting bonds with their children’s grandparents, primarily grandmothers, often experienced a greater sense of effectiveness in their parental roles.

The study’s authors elucidate that grandparents, drawing upon their wealth of parenting experience, can offer valuable support, set positive examples, and provide encouragement when they engage in child-rearing collaborations. This, in turn, can impact the level of confidence that mothers feel in their parenting responsibilities.

When mothers exude greater self-assurance, they tend to approach parenting with increased positivity and perseverance, ultimately contributing to their children’s improved social development. These enriching interactions can remove some of the guilt parents may feel for being absent all day or sometimes for longer periods.

Interacting with grandchildren can help keep them both physically and mentally active. Looking after grandchildren often involves physical activities like dressing, playing, walking, or doing more laundry. Grandparents can benefit from increased socialization as they engage with their grandchildren’s friends, teachers, and other parents. This will serve as an antidote to loneliness or isolation, a frequent occurrence among older people.

Grandparents often have the opportunity to share their knowledge, wisdom, and family traditions with their grandchildren. Such early experiences strengthen a grandchild’s self-esteem and reinforce beliefs, norms, and values while creating opportunities to explore identity in the context of one’s family.

Recent research suggests that grandparent involvement during childhood, conceptualized as the amount of contact and emotional closeness, is positively linked to emotional development, cognitive functioning, and social adjustment in early adulthood. The lessons learned from grandparent-grandchild relationships in childhood, especially those related to spirituality and moral development, persist into early adulthood.

A study from the Institute for Engaged Aging, Clemson University, South Carolina, concluded that past and present grandparent relationships remain salient in early adulthood. These results echo previous research in which gratitude, respect, and appreciation were found to be significant factors in the well-being of young adults. This finding holds across all types of grandparents. In the face of challenging family dynamics, these participants cited lessons learned from their grandparents as significant building blocks in their current perspectives on life.

With this study being conducted amid a global pandemic, many grandchildren discussed the emotional difficulty of being physically separated from grandparents, especially those with progressing illnesses (e.g., dementia, cancer). The majority of participants maintained regular, and at times even increased, contact with their grandparents as a result of the pandemic.
Sometimes, family issues can get in the way of harmonious transgenerational relationships, whether initiated by one or the other side. If arguments, in-law drama, or any other challenges have prevented your children or grandchildren from enjoying a healthy grandparent relationship, for everyone’s sake, it may be time to bury the old battleaxe and make peace now.

This article was originally published on Psychology Today. Content may be edited for style and length.

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