URBANA – The bond between grandparents and their grandchildren can be very meaningful, but sometimes neither side makes the effort to build that relationship, either because of distance, because they don’t view the relationship as important, or because of conflict in the grandparents’ relationship with their adult children, said Molly Hofer, a University of Illinois Extension family life educator.
“Because of today’s longer life expectancies, many grandparents will have the chance to know their grandchildren from infancy to mid-life and beyond. Some will be lucky enough to become great-grandparents.
“But, because grandparents are so different—some as young as 30, others as old as 110; some working, others long retired; some living next door to their grandkids, other across the country or world; some present daily in the their grandchildren’s lives, others communicating only from a distance— there’s no one-size-fits-all prescription for making the grandparent relationship work,” Hofer said.
There are reasons that the amount of contact between grandparents and grandchildren may be limited. Some of these include:
- Busy schedules of both grandparents and grandchildren
- Health problems
- Working grandparents
- Geographic distance
Hofer suggests that grandparents and grandchildren work at developing closer ties by maintaining contact through email, Facebook, texting, phone calls, and meaningful, if not frequent, interactions.
Among the important roles grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren are nurturer, playmate, historian, mentor, and role model. Those roles may change depending on the age or stage of development of the child and the grandparent, she said.
“For instance, a grandmother may always see herself as a role model and mentor to a granddaughter, but the role of playmate may be more prominent when the child is a toddler than when she enters college,” Hofer noted.
Most grandparents agree that they don’t want to be full-time disciplinarians or caregivers, yet the U.S. Census Bureau indicates that seven million grandparents had grandchildren younger than 18 years of age living with them in 2010. For these grandparents, the role of parent and provider takes precedence over other, more traditional roles, she said.
"Many grandparents grieve the loss of the role of doting, fun-loving grandparent when they take on the charge of parenting their children’s children. Yet, in spite of the challenges of raising their grandchildren, many are quick to highlight the joys they experience in being there every day for them and making a difference in their lives," she said.
Whether connections are spontaneous or intentional, ongoing interactions can increase closeness between the generations and the emotional well-being of those in both generations, Hofer noted.