Being Close to Grandparents Improves Teenage Adjustment

How your kids' connection to your parents srengthens your own.

Posted Oct 11, 2019

A study of over a thousand Israeli teenagers informed by family systems theory and intergenerational solidity found a robust link between intergenerational relationships and adolescent adjustment. The research indicated that emotional closeness between grandparents and grandchildren has a mediating role between parents and their children, especially the offspring of the closest grandparent, reducing friction and bringing the two younger generations closer together.

Marla, who hasn’t spoken to her mother in several years, made an effort to patch things up between them when her children neared adolescence. “It was Grandparents Day at their school, and they expressed sadness because theirs weren’t there,” she said. “My daughter said, Is there something wrong with them or you?” she reported, “That brought me up short – I stopped speaking to them years ago because of reasons that have nothing to do with my kids, it was more about their disapproval of me, but that’s not reason enough to stand in the way of their relationship.” 

Since she suggested that her young teenagers reach out to her parents on their own, there’s been a softening in Marla’s own interchanges with them. “I wouldn’t say it’s all water under the bridge, especially my mother and me, but we are able to be together without letting it affect the kids. And in many ways, it’s been a boon for them. My father takes my son fishing and to ball games – since my divorce, he hasn’t had a man to do those things with. And my daughter loves shopping for vintage clothes with her grandmother, who tells her stories of what it was like to be young 50 years ago.” In fact, she adds, "My mother often tells me that my kids are the best thing I've ever done, forgetting that if it weren't for their father, who they urged me not to marry, they wouldn't even exist!"

Says Alexander, an articulate 15-year-old, “My Dad and his father are so much alike it slays me. . . mostly in good ways, but when there’s tension between them, I can tease my father about it and say, 'How you feel when Gramps does that to you is how I feel when you do it to me,' and he catches on right away. So yeah, I’d say it makes me feel closer to him. In fact, the last time my grandfather did it, I said, 'Gramps, you shouldn’t talk down to my father that way; you don’t get a pass on showing him respect because you’re a geezer.” Asked what happened next, Alexander replied, “I wasn’t sure if they were going to kiss me or kick me – either one of them! But my Dad gave me a wink and a thumbs up and Gramps said, 'The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, does it?' But he smiled, too, and it was fine after that."

When my children were very young they spent a month every summer on the other side of the country with my parents, and although it seemed from their behavior on their return that they hadn’t heard the word “No” in weeks, I was grateful. I didn't worry about them the way I did with baby-sitters; no one other than a parent has the same emotional investment in children as their grandparents. They're the only ones who love them unconditionally; as parents, we may think we do, but often parental love is contingent on a number of factors, including their behavior, performance, and cooperation in fulfilling our expectations for them.

Today, more grandparents are raising grandchildren than any time in history, often due to parental neglect, desertion, addiction. or inability to fulfill their responsibilities. The closer the bonds children form with their grandparents, the closer the relationship will be between them and their parents when what separated them in the first place is finally resolved.

References

Emotional Closeness to Parents and Grqandparents, Attar=Schwartz Shalhevet. Amercan Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 9/15