“Young people need something stable to hang on to — a culture connection, a sense of their own past, a hope for their own future. Most of all, they need what grandparents can give them.”
– Jay Kesler, author of Emotionally Healthy Teenagers.
With the holiday season upon us, the ties that bind us are never more pronounced than they are at this most wonderful time of the year. Steeped in family tradition, the holidays give us a reason to connect with the ones who matter most. Some of my fondest holiday memories are of my grandparents and our trips to the small prairie town they called home. A pot of tea was always ready for our arrival and the smell of fresh baking drifted into the opening of the doorway when we stepped into their old Victorian house.
My grandparents were generous with both their time and affection, especially during the tumultuous teenage years. They became my lighthouse, guiding me through the pain and sadness after the death of my mother when I was 17. My grandfather taught me invaluable lessons about living through the Great Depression and what it meant to have character. My Nana believed that a little side of gravy and a dose of love made everything better and I still make her mouthwatering recipes every holiday season.
The love between a grandparent and grandchild is one of the most treasured in our shared human experience. It’s also one of the most beneficial. Research studies have confirmed the importance of this inter-generational relationship to the mental health and well-being of both parties.
In a study published in The Gerontologist, researchers from the Institute of Aging at Boston College found that the closer the relationship between the grandparent and grandchild, the less likely either were to experience symptoms of depression. The study followed 716 grandparents and their grandchildren for 19 years. As life expectancy increases, more grandchildren are able to have relationships with their grandparents well into adulthood. In fact, the average age of the grandchildren in the study was 31. Associate professor Sara Moorman, lead author of the study, noted that, “The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health.”
A close grandparent-grandchild bond can also help combat social isolation for seniors. According to Statistics Canada, almost 1.4 million seniors reported feeling lonely in a national survey. As we age, our network of family and friends starts to shrink, leaving us vulnerable to social isolation. Children grow up and have families of their own, loved ones and friends eventually pass away, leaving behind a void in a once-full life. Grandchildren can fill that void and provide a connection to a younger generation. Feeling connected makes us feel loved and valued and this in turn has a positive effect on our health.
Taking care of grandchildren can also help older adults stay mentally sharp. An Australian study published by the Women’s Healthy Aging Project found that grandmothers who watched their grandchildren once a week had a lower risk of Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive disorders. However, it’s important to note that watching the grandkids as much as five days a week did not provide the same cognitive benefits – the strain of full-time care can detract from any benefits gained.
A close bond between the two parties can also help children navigate through painful emotional experiences like a divorce or bullying at school. A study from Oxford University found that children between the ages of 11 to 16 who were close with their grandparents had fewer emotional and behavioral issues. Dr. E. Flouri, a co-investigator on the study, remarked, “We found that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren buffered the effects of adverse life events, such as parental separation, because it calmed the children down. This suggests future investigations should pay more attention to the role of grandparents in developing resilience in young people.”
While my own grandparents have long since passed away, I watch my four-year-old daughter with her grandparents, my in-laws, and marvel at the connection and bond between them. Unconditional love is an amazing, beautiful gift to share, and it is my wish for all of you this holiday season.
If you live far away from your own grandchildren, an excellent online article on how to stay connected can be found at: https://www.grandparents.com/grandkids/stayiing-connected-with-grandkids
Krystal Simpson is a communications officer with Victoria Lifeline, a community service of the Victoria General Hospital Foundation.