It’s easy to forget how much we rely on our kids’ grandparents. Most of us – about 60 percent of parents, to be exact – rely on them regularly to help raise our children. Plenty of us call on our folks as babysitters when we want a night out, or send our kids to see grandma and grandpa after school while we finish up at work. Our lives just wouldn’t be possible without them.
It’s something we all realize, in a way – but it’s not always how we think about our parents. When my wife and I pick up our son from one of those long stays at his grandparents, we tend to focus on the negative. We’ll notice all the little ways he’s changed: how they’ve spoiled him again, or how he’s picked up some of those traits our parents have that drive us wild.
Sometimes, on the way home, we talk about how much better things could be. One day soon, we promise ourselves, we’ll get our finances worked out, and then we won’t need to drop him off at the grandparents anymore. It’ll be better, we tell each other, when we don’t need to have them around all the time.
It’s our own frustration about not having more time, but if we could think about it clearly, we’d realize how lucky we are. We tend to write off our son’s grandparents as nothing more than discount nannies who help make our schedules work – but they do so much more than that.
Grandparents don’t just make life easier – they make our kids happier. They make us better parents and they help in ways we often don’t consider.
Grandparents connect kids to their family
My wife and I often imagine what our lives would be like if we could afford a live-in nanny. Or a governess, perhaps. Or, at the very least, to send our son to a half-decent nursery. How much would he learn, we wonder, if he could spend his time with professional educators instead of being plopped off with his extended family?
But that’s just the problem: nurseries aren’t family. It might be true that a professional caretaker can teach kids a few more things than their grandparents can – although it might not be. The jury’s out on that one. Some studies say that grandparent are better teachers and some say that nurseries are.
Either way, grandparents offer something no nursery can. Grandparents connect kids to their families. When our kids are spending time with grandma and grandpa, they know they’re with someone connected to their parents. They’re developing a bond with their family and with someone who is going to stick around for the rest of their lives. That’s a much deeper connection than they can make with a paid caregiver – and it keeps them connected to you, too.
We evolved to be raised with the help of grandparents
We’re supposed to be getting help from grandparents – from an evolutionary perspective, at least.
It’s a relatively new idea that two grown-ups are supposed to move out of town and off into a distant city, far away from everyone they know, to tackle raising kids all by themselves. This new idea was brought to us by a new world, and we’ve lived with it so long that we almost think it’s natural now to only see the grandparents at Christmas. But it’s not.
Parents aren’t supposed to raise kids on their own. We usually get help, and it makes such a big difference that there’s actually a theory that we wouldn’t have evolved without grandparents. Early humans, some researchers think, were only able to take care of their kids because their grandparents chipped in and helped. Were they not there, the human species wouldn’t exist today.
Grandparents help kids learn better
When parents accept help from other people, their kids learn better. Those helpers back up the things we teach our kids, and that makes them take the lessons more seriously. The idea that manners or reading are important stops being just something mom and dad like to go on about. When grandma and grandpa back it up, the kids realize every adult believes this and they start taking it more seriously.
They also see things in our kids that we miss. We spend so much time around our kids that we get locked into one idea of who they are. We see them fail at something, and we think they’re just not ready, even after they are. But when grandparents show up, they can break through that stagnation.
It’s happened to me. When I started teaching my son to ride a bike, I saw him go down hard so many times that I started to think he just wasn’t ready. We’d wait another year, I decided. Then his grandfather came over and insisted he hop on one more time. This time, I let go and he kept those pedals moving. It would never have happened if his grandpa hadn’t forced me into it.
Grandparents need their grandkids
It’s not just that our kids need their grandparents. Grandma and grandpa need their grandkids, too.
Grandparents thrive on doting on their grandkids. It’s not just that it makes them happy to see their grandkids run around and to spoil them with treats – it actually affects their entire quality of life. Grandparents who spend time with their grandkids have better mental health, physical health, less depression, and a better overall quality of life.
Our parents need their grandkids as much our children need them, and there’s no way to do that without bringing them together. There’s a chemical reaction that happens when our parents touch and play with our kids that brings them together and makes them happier, and it just can’t happen over Skype.
That’s what we forget: It’s not just about us and how much time and money we have. Our parents are a part of our children’s identities. They’re a part of our family. We need them for more than just daycare – we need them for our kids.