What’s So Great About Grandchildren?

What’s So Great About Grandchildren?

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The answer is simple: EVERYTHING! You know the saying, “If I’d known grandchildren were so great, I’d have had them first.” Of course it doesn’t work that way. But I understand why people say it. Grandchildren are pure joy, without the mixture of love, anxiety and expectation we have for our own children.

One thing that makes the grandparent/grandchild relationship so special is the quality of the time together. Because most grandparents don’t see their grandchildren every day, their time together is special. Unlike parents who have to do fifty other things while taking care of their children, grandparents can totally dedicate the time to them. They can play 50 hands of Go Fish or Crazy Eights. They can read endless books, watch Disney movies, hit baseballs to young fielders, color and draw for hours, and listen to child conversation all day without going crazy. They are not trying to do laundry or work or drive from one activity to another or take phone calls or do any of the chores parents have to do during the balancing act that is their life with young kids. So the time is special on both ends of the relationship. We know that undivided time and attention is what young children adore and grandparents are positioned to give it.

Grandparents can spoil their grandchildren a little without terrible consequences. They know they’re not going to be asked for ice cream with chocolate sauce every day, so they can afford to give in to the treat. It will not become a constant demand, as it would very soon if parents allowed it. They can indulge grandchildren without the obligation of really teaching them tough life lessons. I remember trying to show my young son the value of saving money for something he really wanted, like a new baseball glove or a bike. Then my father would visit, and my boy would say, “Gramp, I’m saving money for a new glove.” “How much more do you need?” my father would ask, taking out his wallet, and my lesson of waiting and saving would go right out the window. Parents get annoyed when their lessons are tossed aside, but that special grand-bond is cemented even stronger.

The grandparent/grandchild relationship is more relaxed than the parent/child relationship. Grandparents know, from experience, that most of the fears and worries they had about their own children did not come true. They feel less need to correct, to guide, to manage, thus making this relationship with their grandchildren uniformly happy and positive.

For grandparents there is an additional benefit. That adorable child you had so many years ago grew up and became independent, resisting your attempts to help manage his or her life. Snuggles were replaced with quick hugs or a pat on the back. Then you catch a glimpse of that long ago child in his or her own little one and marvel to see an expression, a smile, a face you thought you’d never see again. And you are back to snuggling and holding hands, and delighting in everything that little person has to say. If only we could keep them small a little longer.

Marianne Riess is the former head of the Putnam Indian Field School in Greenwich, CT. She has 40 years of experience in working with young children.