The Importance of Grandparents

Originally published by Mercedes-Benz // She’s Mercedes Lounge 2018

A few weeks ago, my father’s mother died. She was 95 and had a full, interesting life with a loving family.

Living on the other side of the world meant I was unable to say goodbye, but I am grateful that the last day I spent with my grandmother was a beautiful one. Reflecting on this day and the fact that I was fortunate to have both sets of grandparents as well as both great – grandmothers around me when I was a child, made me acutely aware of what an important role they play in our family. Disclaimer: sadly, not everyone grows up with grandparents (or even parents) but fortunately others can take on this role – relatives, friends or even neighbours.

In the past, before we became a more mobile society, grandparents often lived with the family or close by so all the benefits we discuss here were a normal part of life. These days it’s not something we can take for granted, but as our world becomes more complex, and often scary, their role has not diminished – it’s more important than ever.

Before my granddad died, I made him write down his life story. While he did not finish it, the neatly typed up pages (with grandma’s handwritten comments in the margin, no less) are among some of my most valued possessions. There are stories in there that none of us ever knew and that he would have taken to the grave with him.

Storytelling is an important part of connecting children to their heritage and passing on lessons and values. Whether it is bedtime stories or sitting around the campfire or going through old photo albums, which is what my grandmother loved to do. There may be stories of overcoming hardships, of love and loss and hope. We get to know our grandparents as young people and we learn how they overcame challenges and why our parents are the way they are. It can help to provide a sense of belonging and security and a depth of understanding that will help children not feel isolated or disconnected, and hopefully contribute to good decision-making early on in life.

While a grandparent may not expect to love a grandchild as unconditionally as their own, a parent’s love often comes with hopes and expectations and sometimes even ambitions.

A grandparent’s love is less complicated. While they are often accused of spoiling their grandchildren, they can also provide an extra layer of comfort, protection and stability, which is so needed in our modern lives. It is believed that the core character and confidence of a child forms within the first four or five years of life, so the psychological benefits of having an extra person or two around to provide love and affection early on in life is priceless.

On a more practical level, grandparents may have the time and patience to teach their grandchildren additional skills that parents, who either have to work full time or have other children to care for, may not get around to. They can also fill the gaps when parents are very young or go through difficult phases in life. There may be outdoor activities, hikes or DIY and art sessions at home that are fun, educational and promote mental and physical wellbeing.

My father’s parents were very outdoorsy, hard-working, adventure loving people, while my mum’s side of the family is more creative and loves the arts and are great communicators. I am grateful for having had such a great mix of influences in my life. While this may be special or lucky, I know many others who have had the role of grandparents filled by other relatives or friends and people in their community – so it’s good to remember that we can all make a positive impact on a young person’s life, whether we’re related or not.