"Grandparents and grandchildren are kind of hard-wired to connect in ways very different from parents and children," says Dr. Arthur Kornhaber, founder and president of the Foundation for Grandparenting, a nonprofit organization committed to promoting the importance of grandparenthood. "They have this adoration and unconditional love and joy in one another's existence."
Grandparents are not burdened by the inherent judgment that parents face: namely, that a child's behavior reflects their effectiveness as parents. In essence, grandparents are freer to enjoy their grandchildren. Although today's grandparents may have busy lives, they aren't as likely to be overscheduled as their sons and daughters. "They have time to spend with their grandchildren, and their grandchildren know this," says Carleton Kendrick, family therapist.
Both Kornhaber and Kendrick acknowledge that when the grandparent-grandchild relationship has been nurtured, it provides the child with a strong sense of emotional security. Kornhaber says, "If for some reason their parents falter, children know they can rely on Grandma and Grandpa to catch them." Today, when millions of children are being raised by their grandparents, this has never been more important.
Keepers of History
Grandparents also provide children with a connection to the family's past. They give kids a sense of where they came from, a defining element in their identity. "Grandparents are the keepers of the family history," says Kendrick. "They are the talking photo albums of what the family is like." Because kids have a natural curiosity about the "old days," they like hearing stories, for example, about a grandfather's journey from Ireland in which he endured a week or more of sea travel in the bowels of a ship.
Children also like to hear stories about when their parents were little, especially with the parent present. "These stories humanize the parent," explains Kendrick. "In the child's eyes, the 30-, 40-, or 50-year-old parent is transformed into a child of 6, or 10, or 14."