Modern researchers in the field of psychology and pedagogy are unanimous that the role of grandparents is extremely important for children. Emotional warmth and unconditional love are the most necessary components of the relationship between adults and children. They give children faith in themselves and a sense of belonging. Parents are often more concerned about the material support and intellectual development of children. Conversely, grandparents often pay more attention to the emotional development of their grandchildren. This paper aims to discuss the role of grandparents and their importance in the formation of children’s identities.
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Most empirical research focuses on parent-child rather than grandparent-child relationships. Nevertheless, an increase in life expectancy contributes to a rise in the number of grandparents who are more or less involved in their grandchildren’s lives. (2) According to the theory of family systems, some substructures form relationships between generations. Each type of relationship has a different impact on family members and creates a special environment, which becomes an important determinant of the child’s development. Harmonious relationships can significantly affect the formation of individual characteristics of children.
The contribution of the older generation to raising children depends on various factors, such as age, gender, education, living conditions, types of family ties, moral norms, and many others. (2) Taking into account such parameters as direct personal communication, closeness in relationships, psychological support, assistance, and authoritarianism, several types of grandparent roles can be defined. (2) Detached and passive grandparents avoid initiative and have little interaction with children. Supportive ones share caring and daily responsibilities with parents. Authoritative grandparents in many respects take over parental functions, such as maintaining discipline, guiding the child in the right direction, and discussing problems. Influential grandparents combine several authoritative and supportive qualities. They are the guardians of family wisdom, so grandchildren often ask for their advice and support when making difficult decisions.
Several factors affect the involvement of grandparents in their relationships with grandchildren. (4) The study shows that grandmothers are more close and involved in childcare than grandfathers. They are more satisfied with their relationship with their grandchildren, while grandfathers more often pamper them. Grandfathers often play the role of the head of the family, while grandmothers provide childcare and maintain favorable emotional relationships. According to Montoro-Rodriguez J. et al., (4) grandmothers are more observant, attentive, and focused on the children’s emotional state when interacting with them. They have more life and educational experience, are more emotionally balanced and focused on the child than mothers, who are often forced to combine family relations with work and social activity.
Several types of grandmothers can be defined considering their interaction with grandchildren. (4) An ordinary grandmother emotionally warmly communicates with her grandchildren, takes an active part in raising and caring for them. (4) An active grandmother helps her grandchildren with studies, inspires, and encourages them. Such enthusiastic grandmothers support the manifestations of kindness and sympathy among grandchildren. (4) Distant or detached grandmother gives her grandchildren minimum attention and time, limiting herself only to the activities she prefers, and when it is convenient for her. Despite the various types of grandmother-grandchild relationships, communication with grandchildren gives a woman a unique chance to feel truly needed and implement the unspent potential of love and tenderness. The upbringing of grandchildren is often more responsible since the previous experience of motherhood is usually subjected to critical rethinking, previous mistakes are taken into account, possible problems are predicted and prevented.
Besides gender, the level of kinship also plays an important role in grandchildren’s upbringing. (4) Montoro-Rodriguez J. et al. reveal that maternal grandmothers are more involved in grandchild-grandparent relationships than maternal grandfathers and paternal relatives. They contribute to the formation of children’s sense of security and influence the formation of their worldview. As psychologists have found, children communicate much closer with their maternal grandparents and see them more often. (4) At an early age, maternal grandmothers and grandchildren more often interact during the care, games, and spending time together, but by adolescence, conversations, advice, and support become the predominant content of the interaction. For this reason, maternal grandmothers are emotionally closer, more affectionate, and able to provide great emotional support.
The age of grandparents and grandchildren also affects the nature of relationships. According to studies, (2) the optimal age for obtaining maximum satisfaction from the grandparenting role is a period from 50 to 66 years. Before that age, grandfathering can be perceived as a hindrance to the implementation of personal goals, and after 66, a lack of physical strength may become an obstacle. According to MaloneBeach E., (3) the relationships with ancestors are closest in early and preschool years since children get the maximum benefits from personal communication with ancestors, their physical presence, and direct expressions of love. In adolescence, a decrease in the frequency of contacts and a tendency to distance are observed, but a new rethinking of relations takes place again in early adulthood. The decrease in communication between grandparents and grandchildren is associated with a changing value system of adolescents and a natural shift for them from relations with adults to the formation of close relationships with peers
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Nevertheless, some studies show that relationships with grandparents become even closer in adolescence, (1) for example, in situations of acute conflict with parents, or serious changes in the family, such as divorce. In this case, the ancestors can either act as a buffer between conflicting parents and adolescents, or reliable support in a destabilized family situation. Adolescents from divorced families perceive relations with their grandparents as the most stable. However, in some cases, the divorce of parents creates difficulties in maintaining contact between children and grandparents. The relatives of a parent living separately from the child fall into a high-risk group for losing the possibility of close relationships with their grandparents. (1) A study provided by Albertini M. and Tosi M., using Italy as an example, shows that children under the age of 14, after their parents’ divorce, receive significantly less attention and the help of the grandparents from the side of a non-resident parent.
According to other studies, an increase in personal contacts of children with their grandparents often occurs after the divorce of their parents. (1) This tendency demonstrates the positive influence of grandparents on the adaptation of children after the divorce. Moreover, good relationships with grandparents can level the playing field for young people with social problems. Many young people distinguish their relationships with maternal grandmothers as a factor that helps them adapt to life. (1) The results show that the connection of young people with their maternal grandmothers after the divorce of their parents positively affects their psychological functioning and adaptation.
An analysis of the mechanisms of interaction between grandparents and grandchildren after the divorce of a parental couple shows the different roles of relatives in supporting grandchildren during and after divorce. (1) Empathic ancestors demonstrate emotional support and are a source for the emotional stability and comfort of grandchildren. This role allows the child to reduce the ambiguity or uncertainty of the situation of separation of parents. (1) The role of the family historian provides the child with a continuous, stable family context by maintaining the usual way of life. Grandparents, who continue the relationship between adult children and their spouses after the breakup, not only maintain relationships with their grandchildren but also expand their grandchildren’s contacts with other relatives.
In addition to the listed external factors, the nature of the child-grandparent relationship is also influenced by psychological factors. (3) They primarily include involvement in relationships and emotional closeness, that is, those aspects that make the communication with grandchildren significant. In the presence of close relationships, the importance of external factors weakens. Despite the physical distance, relations with their parents, line of kinship, age, and other factors, relatives tend to interact with their grandchildren more often if they have established close relationships with them.
Summarizing the research results, it can be noted that the quality of grandchild-grandparent relationships is determined by a combination of factors. The most significant of them is emotional closeness, as well as the involvement of grandparents in relations with grandchildren, and the educational position of the relative. The unique contribution of the grandmother cannot be underestimated since she is often a safe shelter for her grandchildren, a buffer between overly controlling or demanding parents, a special space for emotional discharge, and support. From caring, educating, sharing entertainments, and reading fairy tales at an early age, as the grandchildren grow up, the relationships then change to mentoring, emotional communication, and sharing family wisdom. The grandparents also enrich the social experience of their grandchildren with a different lifestyle and ways of interaction, contributing to the development of higher social and communication skills in children.
Albertini M, Tosi M. Grandparenting after parental divorce: The association between non-resident parent-child meetings and grandparenting in Italy. Eur J Ageing [Internet]. 2018 Sep 1;15(3):277-86. Web.
Casper LM, Florian S, Potts C, Brandon PD. Portrait of American grandparent families. Grandparenting in the United States. 2016 Dec 5:109-32.
MaloneBeach EE, Hakoyama M, Arnold S. The good grandparent: Perspectives of young adults. Marriage & Family Review [Internet]. 2018 Aug 18;54(6):582-97. Web.
Montoro-Rodriguez J, Pinazo-Hermandis S, Torregrosa-Ruiz M, Jimenez-Marti M. The impact of gender and grandparenting on psychological well-being: The purpose in life. Innovation in Aging [Internet]. 2018 Nov;2(suppl_1):121-2. Web.