Family Life, Parenting

The Grandparent Influence

October 29, 2019

The benefits of grandparent involvement can extend well past childhood.

It’s that time of year again; families gather to give thanks for being together. Maybe you’ve traveled across the country, or just across town, to bring your family to your parents or in-laws, or maybe they’ve come to you. Having different generations under one roof gives parents the opportunity to observe the relationship between grandchildren and grandparents. What are the benefits of this relationship for children, parents, and grandparents, and how can we help foster it?

All families need support, especially when children are young. Research on family resilience, which is the ability to manage and navigate life’s challenges, shows that strong social connections outside the nuclear family is important. The demands of caring for little ones is almost all-consuming, and having outside support can reduce the strain on parents (and on their own relationship as well). Grandparent involvement runs the gamut from grandparents who step in as full-time caregivers to grandparents who may have very little daily contact or involvement, with many variations in between.

Whether they’re near or far, there’s no doubt of the grandparents’ influence. In a 2010 survey from the organization Zero to Three, 8 in 10 parents said the way they were raised was the biggest influence on their own parenting. If grandparents provide childcare for parents, there is a huge financial benefit (not to mention peace of mind), whether it’s full-time care or filling in during sick days or school holidays.

The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren can be beneficial in ways that extend past childhood. A Boston University study in 2016 found that emotional closeness between adult grandchildren and grandparents helps protect against depression for both. Loving grandparents can provide a sense of unconditional acceptance, security, and belonging.

Grandparents themselves often express a sense of gratitude and enjoyment from this unique relationship, enjoying the emotional closeness with a child without the responsibilities of parenthood. But sometimes the expectations of a grandparent and their adult child are not matched.

A grandparent may not have the time, energy, or inclination to be involved at all, while other grandparents may be disappointed when their children limit their involvement. There may also be conflicts around issues such as boundaries and different generational parenting strategies. Common areas of disagreement include discipline, safety issues, and technology use.

For example, many parents try and limit young children’s screen time, which an exhausted grandparent might see as a much-needed respite after a day spent chasing a toddler. Conversely, a grandparent might feel a grandchild is too enraptured by electronics, making it difficult to engage during their time together.

Good communication can prevent small conflicts from escalating into blow-ups. Parents have the right to be clear about their values and expectations, but it’s important not to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Pick your battles about what can and can’t happen when grandparents and grandchildren are together.

If conversations are particularly difficult, it may be best for the parent to initiate the conversation, rather than leaving it to the son- or daughter-in-law. Sometimes the best conversation starter is expressing appreciation and admiration for the job a grandparent is doing. And while a parent does not need to justify their choices, sharing up-to-date knowledge can be helpful.

For example, Zero to Three ( offers information about infants’ and toddlers’ development, as well as a section with tools for establishing good communication between parents and grandparents.

Lisa Phillips, a licensed social worker and parent educator at The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, is a contributor to the award-winning “Parenting Corner” column. She can be reached at 504.896.9591;

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