A Grand Relationship

By Shannon Dean

We’ve all seen giddy grandparents in the park eagerly complying with a grandchild’s excited pleas of “higher grandpa.” The bond between a child and his grandparents is entirely obvious, heartwarming, and universal. “It’s the only relationship in which people are crazy about one another simply because they’re breathing,” says Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, author of The Grandparent Guide and founder of The Foundation For Grandparents. He says that grandchildren and their grandparents usually “have an adoration and unconditional love and joy in one another’s existence.”

Benefits for Grandchildren

Experts say that the physical, spiritual, and emotional benefits of a healthy grandparent and child relationship are significant for all parties. Grandparents help children gain a sense of history, heritage, and identity and provide a vital connection to the past. Like no one else, grandparents can pass on important family traditions and life stories that a grandchild will not only relish when young, but will grow to appreciate even more over time. Children with involved grandparents learn that they can love and depend upon someone other than their parents.

Susan Bosak, the author of How To Build The Grandma Connection, says that children who have strong ties with involved, caring grandparents develop higher self-esteem, better emotional and social skills (including an ability to withstand peer pressure,) and enhanced academic performance. Since grandparents’ parenting and intense work commitments have usually passed, they have the time to offer the undivided attention that tired, busy parents sometimes can’t. Bosak often hears children explain that grandparents are always happy to give them the “real scoop” on family stories that their parents would rather they not hear, like the time that Dad hit a baseball through the kitchen window.

Benefits for Grandparents

Likewise, grandparents also reap numerous benefits from a close relationship with their grandchildren. The desire to be present as a child grows has encouraged many grandparents to remain active, to educate themselves on current events and issues important to children, and to fiercely protect their own health.

Cindy Giallombardo was struggling with painful multiple myeloma (plasma cell cancer) when her first grandchild was born. She was devastated by the fear that she wouldn’t have much time to spend with him, but when he wrapped his tiny fingers around hers, she vowed that she would never give up on treatment. Because she wanted to see her grandson reach major milestones, she explored every treatment option available, even those that were painful or experimental, a road she may not have taken without the motivation of a grandchild.

Her grandson, now 7, has no idea that he’s been such a huge motivation for his grandmother. He only knows that “she loves me more than anything” and that he takes great pleasure in riding on her scooter and swinging on her tire swing. He also loves hearing about the time his mom lost control of a golf cart, ran it into a ditch, and took the family’s mailbox with it.

Staying in Touch

Not all grandparents are able to be as hands-on as they might like, but even those who live far away can still have a huge impact on a child’s life. With a little effort and some help from modern technology, the relationship can still grow and endure. Allan Zullo, a grandfather who co-wrote the book A Boomer’s Guide to Grandparenting, says, “Being a grandparent is not an honorary position. We have a strong role to play even if we’re not living in the same town. We can still have a great impact on someone’s life and we want to share the good things we have learned to make someone’s life better.”

He encourages long-distance grandparents to share any hobbies that interest their grandchildren and to then schedule the time to work on mutual projects. That could mean that you both complete quilt squares while apart and then get together to complete the quilt, or work on separate cars for one model train that you’ll connect during spring break. Some other ideas to keep ties strong: Consider allowing children to spend part of school breaks or summers with their grandparents. Use the internet or cell phones to play games together and to chat. Send texts, emails, and photos. (If grandparents aren’t logged on, children also love to receive snail mail.) Ask grandparents to video or audio record themselves reading a favorite book or sharing their stories and memories. Finally, allow and encourage grandchildren to ask lots of questions. Grandparents love to share stories and children love to hear them.

Benefits for Parents

Experts say that a smart parent will make every effort to forge strong bonds between their children and a grandparent (or even a grandparent figure.) Who else truly understands, loves, and values your child in the same way that you do? Better yet, grandparents are usually more than happy to give parents a break from child-rearing every now and then. By showing your children that you greatly value their grandparents, you’re teaching them the importance of maintaining close family ties, a skill that you will certainly want them to master by the time they have their own children—your grandchildren. Zullo says that encouraging a loving relationship with grandparents is a special advantage that parents can easily provide: “What a gift,” he says, “a family history, a sense of family, and their roots.”

Here are 20 questions to spark intimate conversations between grandparents and grandchildren:

What was the best birthday you ever had? Why?

Did you get an allowance? How much?

Tell me about your parents. Were they strict?

What did your house look like? Was your favorite memory in it?

How did you do in school? What were your favorite subjects? Why?

What time was your curfew when you were a teenager? Where did everyone hang out?

What was your first car?

What was your first job?

What makes you proud of my mom or dad?

Did you have any pets growing up?

What attribute do you think is most important in life? Why?

Is there anything that I can teach you?

What is your greatest wish for me?

What advice would you most want me to remember?

What is the worst thing my mom/dad ever did?

What is the best meal you ever had?

What was your favorite vacation?

Do you have any talents? Can you teach me?

What is your favorite book or movie? Why is it meaningful to you?

What is your proudest accomplishment?

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