Effective Grandparents Practice Quality Over Quantity

By Lauren Hall
March 22, 2024
grandmother and granddaughter

My grandmother passed away last week. She was 85, and her health had been slowly declining for a few years. But it didn’t make the news any easier to hear when she passed.

When I was growing up, my grandmother and I spent a lot of time together.

Some of the time was regularly scheduled, as she cared for me a few days a week while my parents worked. But the majority of the time we spent together was prompted by me. I loved being with her. We played, shopped, watched movies, and talked about life for hours. She made me feel seen, heard, and cared for. Nurturing was her superpower.

I know I’m lucky to have lived within 15 minutes of my grandparents for most of my life, which provided ample opportunities to see and spend time with them.

But research shows quality time between grandparents and their grandchildren matters more than quantity.

A longitudinal study recently published in The Journal of Family Issues found that grandparent relationship quality, but not grandparent contact, was linked to multiple late adolescent outcomes, such as mental health and relationship skills. The study also found positive associations between a high-quality grandparent relationship and their grandchild(ren)’s self-worth and perceived competence in close friendships throughout their life.

In other words, grandparents can influence their grandchildren for a lifetime.

However, their influence is built through the depth of their presence rather than frequency. Similar to research on family dynamics within a household, the relationship between married grandparents also bears weight on grandchildren. A healthy, kind, and connected relationship between grandma/grandpa creates a stable environment for a child to establish a sense of belonging and confidence within their family.

What does quality time between grandparents and grandchildren look like? Here are four things to consider.

1: Stay connected with Mom and Dad first.

Parents are (and should be) the gatekeeper to their children. If grandparents do not have a solid relationship with their own son/daughter or son/daughter-in-law, it will be difficult to create a firm foundation with their grandchildren. Also, when grandparents are spending time with their grandchildren, they must follow the rules, boundaries, and cadence of Mom and Dad. This will build trust between the whole family.

2: Let the grandchildren have a voice.

It can be easy for grandparents to have expectations about what their grandchildren should do or how they should act, but it’s more important to connect with them than to control them. Grandparents should ask questions and invest in what their grandchildren are already interested in, rather than trying to sway them in a certain direction out of self-interest or a desire to pass down a specific hobby or pastime.

3: Make the family legacy known, but only when it matters.

Grandparents can certainly share stories and insights about great-grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, but it’s important to do so in a way that expresses family values and connection, not drama, apathy, or disdain. Children are more confident and feel supported when they know they are part of something bigger than themselves, especially when that “something bigger” is positive and life-giving. If those examples don’t exist, grandparents can consider waiting until the child is developmentally prepared to discuss some of the lessons learned from past generations.

4: Do communicate between time spent together.

While quality matters more than quantity, sending a card, making a phone call, or scheduling a quick Facetime between visits will help everyone stay connected and cared for. Grandchildren need to know that their grandparents are still there for them even when they’re not physically present.

I spent the night with my grandmother well into my late twenties, before my son was born, and before she moved into an assisted living facility. She wasn’t perfect, and she knew that, but she was wholly present and interested in our lives. I’m grateful for her, as I know all grandchildren are for caring, loving grandparents.

Lauren Hall is the President and CEO of First Things First. Contact her at [email protected].

Photo by Ekaterina Shakharova on Unsplash

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