Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Going the Distance: The Importance of Grandparents in Children’s Lives

Sometimes it’s hard to keep kids and their grandparents in touch.  But it’s worth it.

Tina Marquis

When distance separates kids from their grandparents

It was a great idea at the time. Tired of the crowded streets of Manhattan where my husband grew up, we opted to move out of New York. We also decided against my native Los Angeles, with its own traffic issues. So we chose Colorado, an in-between place with enough urban and outdoor life to satisfy us both. Of course, we didn’t have any kids, nor did we have many friends with kids, who might have suggested to us that we might want family close by when we had children. So when our two angels finally did come along, we wished we had a set of grandparents or two next door, and we were saddened that our kids would have less interaction with their grandparents. 

Grandparents do make a difference

My husband and I have no interest in moving. But we both agree that we wouldn’t be the same people if it weren’t for our relationships with our grandparents. My grandmother was a major figure in my life, even though she lived in a different state. During my visits with her as a kid, we would do a lot of ‘typical’ grandmother/granddaughter activities, like baking cakes or playing with dolls. But I especially loved hearing about her life growing up. She and her sister, my great-aunt, told me how they used to dress, including how they wore real silk stockings, buying a new pair each week and wearing them every day. And little stories about how they used margarine that came in a bag when butter was limited during World War II were fascinating to me. As I became older, she reminisced about how dating worked when she was young, and wished I was able to go to a dance hall and just mingle, rather than committing to relationships while still a teenager. 

Bridging the distance between kids and their grandparents

Building a strong relationship between my kids and their grandparents takes a lot of effort, but my instinct tells me it’s worth it. In the first two years of my older daughter’s life, we made 14 trips by plane and car to visit grandparents, and great-grandparents, on both coasts. We have not yet experienced a moment when my children were shy or reticent with either set of grandparents. Now, both kids are in elementary school, and are just as eager to see their grandparents whenever they can, or at least talk on the phone. Also, the girls love to keep up with them using some of the new technologies available to kids.

How kids benefit from the unique relationship with their grandparents

There is interesting research about the beneficial role grandparents play in a child’s life. Relationships with people from different generations appear to have positive effects on kids, including building empathy and self-esteem. I personally notice how interacting with older people helps my kids communicate better, as well as learn respect and patience. And it makes sense that an extra person or two in a child’s life willing to give ‘unconditional love’ is a wonderful thing for a child to experience. 

In addition, our kids realize they are part of a larger story - the history of our family. They understand their unique role, and enjoy discovering where they fit in this evolving narrative. And grandparents continue to build their own legacy by educating their grandkids of their history, their challenges, and their joy. From books, I know there were shortages of butter in WWII, but I had no idea that margarine came in a plastic bag that you kneaded before using. 

Younger generations can use their grandparents’ experiences to make better choices in their lives, and handle difficult situations. It helps to know people that have successfully navigated bumpy roads before them. As parents, we are committed to encouraging and strengthening the relationship between kids and grandparents. Our busy schedules and distance can make it a challenge, but our kids, and our parents, benefit deeply from this unique bond.

How have you nurtured this relationship between kids and grandparents? What benefits have you seen? Let us know!

by Tina Marquis

About the Author

Tina Marquis is the Vice President of Marketing for DoubleScoop, a startup that creates technology to bring kids and grandparents together. Her goal is to create fun and exciting ways to bridge the generation gap through technology. She lives in Colorado with her two girls and husband, and enjoys traveling to both coasts to visit grandparents. 

1 comment:

Mary O' said...

I think it's equally important for grandparents to visit their grandchildren in their grandchildren's homes. Extended visits allow them to be part of the daily rhythm of family life, letting everyone experience the day to day together and building great memories.