The Joy and Peril of Grandparenting

The Joy and Peril of Grandparenting

Not too long ago the grandparent’s role in the family was seen with great respect as the carrier of spiritual and moral value, whose wisdom could be respected, trusted and even sought out. Some even believed that grandparents were the backbone of the family, to whom the grandchildren and even the parents could go to for counsel and advise because of what life had taught them. However, in this age of great technological advances where computers and cell phones seems to have replaced people, texting has replace face-to-face conversation, Instagram and Facebook have become the way of establishing relationships and ordering your medication is done by talking to an unknown voice on the other side of the phone who tells you what bottom to push; the importance of the grandparents role has been reduced to a trip to the mall or as an economical resource. Stories about the family, conversation about the child’s dreams, school or for the grandparents to share something of value that life has taught them, are a thing of the past. Today, a visit with the grandchildren is reduced to “just hanging out with them” meaning they spend all of their time with their new IPhone searching the Web for the latest technology, the latest movie or game, the latest scandal of a famous wrapper, athlete, or movie star and of course resolving a problem with their peers by texting. Conversations are rare and difficult since their attention is on the keyboard or their IPhone or IPad.

This is not to say that technology is a bad thing when used as a tool to enhance our lives; but when it replaces face-to face conversation, something of great importance is lost—the comfort offered by the sound of another human voice when life hurts. While technology offers us a myriad of advantages, the value of our connection with the people who loved us can never be replace with a text or a Facebook message. However, the grandparent concerns over some of these things is considered irrelevant and old fashion.

While technology offers us great benefits, like in medicine, education, communication, it is hard to balance the speed with which it assails us, but especially its impact in the mind of young children and youth.  Regardless of the advances of technology, there are very few things that can replace the value offered by the warmth and strength of a relationship with a loving, respectful and sensitive grandparent.

At a time when children’s struggle with their value as a person or their identity on the basis of how they compare to their peer in the material and popularity scale, when they are bombarded by the media with what makes you famous, important, lovable, or significant, when the lure of a credit card can take you anywhere or get you anything you desire; the influence, love and support of grandparents can become a child secure place where they learned that their self-image is not based on what they have or what others think of them, but on the person they were meant to be. A relationship with a grandparent can nurture these qualities in a child’s life like perhaps no other relationship would. However, geographical distance, the parent’s view of grandparents as irrelevant or possibly having a negative influence on the child, can make or even void the impact of such a vital relationship.

There was a time when grandparents could correct grandchildren and such corrections were supported by the parents. Today too many grandchildren can ignore a grandparent’s correction or even tell them “I don’t want to talk to you” as instructed by a parent. When grandchildren are allowed by the parents themselves to be disrespectful to grandparents, the influence of the grandparent in the life of their grandchildren is nullified. Being in the field of counseling I’m concerned and appalled at the disregard with which some grandparents are treated.

In an article by by Allan G. Hedberg, Ph.D. about the role of grandparents he writes:

“Grandparents serve as the backbone of a family. They provide wisdom and perspective on life as it unfolds within their families and communities. Age brings experience, and experience brings stories embedded in valuable life lessons. In short, grandparents have a whole lot to teach us about life, because they’ve lived longest!

On the other hand, without grandparents, a family may flounder and feel disassociated. Feelings of loss or loneliness might prevail, especially at times of stress or turmoil. These are the times when it would be helpful to have perspective on an issue; when we need advice or guidance, but there is no one to turn to for the direction, support and wisdom gained during the grandparent’s lifetime. The person we wanted to call should have been grandma or grandpa. Unfortunately, many of us never had a grandparent to consult, lean on, learn from, or look up to.”[1]

If the family is the nucleus of society, what then is society’s future when families disregard the value and contribution, of its older members and their wisdom and experience is replace by Google?  Unfortunately, for the grandparents, but especially for the children who are the future of society, such disregard, only breeds disrespect and disrespect leads to chaos.

The role of the grandparents can be a joy, but it is also very risky. It can be thought of as very valuable. When this is the case, the child learns to trust the grandparents’ wisdom and view the relationship with grandparents as a safe haven when life feels confusing and scary. But when the role of grandparents is often seen as irrelevant by the parent, the child cannot benefit from the many important life lessons and emotional support a grandparent can offer.

“Grandchildren welcome, parents by appointment only”

[1] Hedberg, Allan G., Ph.D.


Elodia Flynn L.C.S.W.

Founder, Walking Worthy