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Bulletin #4185, Grandparenting

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Grandparenting

grandfather with two boysPrepared by Louise Franck Cyr, Extension human development specialist.

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“A grandparent gives a special kind of love. You can see it in all the little things they do for their families. No problem is too big or too small. They can turn a frown upside down or a grumble into a smile or giggle. You can tell them anything and they always have time to listen. A grandparent is a good confidante. Even their voices are full of love and laughter in the whispers and stories that they tell. Grandparents give the best hugs — bear hugs, goodbye hugs, “don’t cry” hugs, and hugs for no reason at all except that they love you. Grandparents have the gift of making people happy — especially when you need a little extra love and attention.”

This quote from the Foster Grandparent Program in Montana describes the important role that grandparents play in the lives of their grandchildren.

One of the pleasures in life is being a grandparent. To a large extent, this is because older adults can enjoy grandchildren on their own terms without feeling responsible for them. This fact sheet highlights the special gifts grandparents and grandchildren give to each other.

Grandparents can help children feel secure and loved. Grandparents can give love and attention within the rules and limits of parents. They can enjoy their grandchildren without going outside the boundaries the family has established.

Children can never have too much of the right kind of love, love that helps them grow and develop, that reduces anxiety, tension and hurt. Love that adds security, trust, acceptance and understanding is always needed. However, if grandparents spoil and pamper or try to possess, their love is harmful rather than helpful.

The love the grandchild experiences with his grandparents will depend upon the role the grandparents play in the relationship. With fun-seeking grandparents, the grandchild will establish a mutually joyous relationship. These grandparents are informal and playful, joining the child for the purpose of having fun. Authority lines are not a part of this grandparenting style.

Grandparents with a formal style take an interest in the child, give treats and indulgences and occasionally help the parents, but see their role in more defined terms. These grandparents do not offer advice and leave parenting to the parents. From the formal grandparents, the grandchild will derive a certain satisfaction, knowing that nurturing and some contact are forthcoming.

Grandparents who are distant may feel remote from the grandchild and acknowledge little effect of the grandchild on their own life. Although these grandparents maintain a benevolent attitude, give gifts an go through certain motions, there is little feeling or interaction.

Grandparents help children to know, trust and understand other people. If the child’s contact with adults is limited just to parents, he or she is likely to have a narrower view of the world and other people.

In turn, grandchildren may find grandparents good listeners, helpers and close friends. Grandparents know the world isn’t going to end because a child doesn’t do everything perfectly.

Children can learn that grandma’s and grandpa’s arms can be just as comforting as mother’s and father’s. They discover their grandparents’ house to be a safe and happy home away from home. They learn how to be flexible and to adjust to the ways grandmother and grandfather think, feel and behave, which are different from the way their parents do. Visits to grandparents can be an enlivening experience for the children and grandchildren.

Grandparents can help children bridge the gap between the past and present. Grandparents who have leisure time to discuss problems with their grandchildren can contribute a sense of history and perspective to family discussions.

Many see today’s grandparents as experts in change who have much to offer children. Grandparents can communicate a sense of wonder to children. They have seen the first airplanes, talking movies, televisions, computers and satellites. They can inspire in their grandchild a future in which almost anything can be accomplished.

Most children enjoy hearing grandparents tell about life when they were growing up. Grandparents who are able to share the rich heritage of the past with children give them a deeper, broader foundation upon which to base their own lives and to build new knowledge. Sharing the past in person is best, but it can also be shared through letters and tape recordings.

One of the main roles of grandparents is to serve as the focal point of the wider family of aunts, uncles and cousins. Even when families live apart, grandparents bind them together emotionally. They help family members remember all they have in common.

Grandparents can provide children with experiences and supervision their own parents do not have time or money for. A grandparent who has the time and money to take his grandchild to the fair, circus, museum or on vacation is greatly enriching the life of the grandchild.

In addition, grandparents can give children a sense of values and a philosophy of life which is the result of years of living. Valuable experiences and lessons learned by living need to be shared. Look closely at your everyday life. What could you share with a child?

Grandparents can give children a wholesome attitude toward old age, especially in western culture where youth is favored. Children need to learn to respect their elders. Older people who live rich, fruitful, meaningful lives are a good example for children.

Best Gifts for Grandparents

Grandchildren can give grandparents their affection. Their love and company are probably the best gifts they can give to their grandparents. They love them anyway, but it may be that there are more and new ways that they can show their love.

If the grandchildren live with or near their grandparents, they might visit them occasionally. Even a few minutes of their time will make life happier for themselves as well as for their grandparents.

Grandchildren can learn from their grandparents. When grandchildren learn from grandparents, they are doing more than just developing their own understanding. They are also helping their grandparents satisfy their need to feel adequate. It is good for the grandchildren, as well as for the grandparents.

Grandchildren can let their grandparents enjoy them. Sometimes, grandchildren can satisfy grandparents in ways that their own children did not. Parents enjoy watching their own children grow up, but because parenthood is often hectic, they cannot sit off and watch their children’s growth in a peaceful, unhurried sort of way. Grandparents can.

Grandchildren can let grandparents live their own lives. Older people like to do things in their own ways just as younger people like to do things in their ways. They have spent years developing habits and preferences. They like to do the same things in the same ways even if they seem old-fashioned to the grandchildren.

Grandparents play an important role in a family. A sense of continuity as a family, a tie with the past, ongoing affection, personal interest and help in a crisis make grandparents invaluable. With the birth of children, grandparents come into their own, and can greatly enrich the lives of the children as well as parents. We are not always smart about these widening relationships. All of us, grandparents, parents and children, have much to learn about valuing these important relationships.

There are many joys of grandparenting. The grandparenting experience is the foundation for establishing positive family relationships.

Adapted from “Joys of Grandparenting“, Cooperative Extension Service, University of Arkansas, prepared by Dr. Irene K. Lee.


Information in this publication is provided purely for educational purposes. No responsibility is assumed for any problems associated with the use of products or services mentioned. No endorsement of products or companies is intended, nor is criticism of unnamed products or companies implied.

© 1994

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