In Defense of Grandparents

By on December 4, 2013
mature couple walking on beach with child

By Guest Blogger Lucille Zimmerman –

In the last few days I’ve heard from five people who told me the spouses of their adult children have limited access to their grandchildren.

I don’t know all the circumstances…one said she gave pasta to the child. Now the mom won’t let the child be at grandma and grandpa’s house.

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I asked, “Is the child allergic to gluten?” “No,” she said, “his mom didn’t want him to have pasta and I forgot.”

Now let me give you a bit of background on myself: I did not have deep, warm, and safe attachments with my grandparents. I did have a grandma I loved, but we only saw her once a year when my parents packed up the Suburban with seven children and we drove 24 hours to Chicago. Grandma smelled like cantaloupe, coffee, and tomato soup all rolled up into one. Her husband scared me: smooching on you one minute but then smacking you the next. They were my dad’s parents; I didn’t know my mother’s parents.

In addition, I don’t know what it is like to be a grandparent. I have two grown children, one of whom just got married. But I can tell you the ache to nurture and love a baby is almost overwhelming these days.

I don’t think I need to be a grandparent to know that being one is a thousand times better than being a parent.


Because when you get to this stage of life,  you have perspective. You’ve raised children and you don’t have to freak out about whether or not you’re doing it right. You don’t have to balance your time and energy with what it takes to survive in this crazy expensive world.  You understand at a deep level that the more access your child has to safe and loving people, the more likely your child will grow up happy and whole.

So why am I writing a post about the importance of grandparents to grandchildren if I didn’t have a deep relationship with grandparents, and I have no experience as a grandparent?

Because I’m mad!

The five people I mentioned are good people. They are compassionate, sweet, healthy, caring, and whole.

And yes, my friends are imperfect, but everyone is.

They are suffering, while their adult children, or spouses of their adult children, are acting like spoiled bratty prime donnas. They would rather use their children as a weapons to inflict pain, than allow their children to love and be loved in a setting broader than their immediate family. I wonder how they will feel if their grown children limit access to their grandchildren.

What goes around has a funny way of coming around.

These adult children are immature. Rather than using grown up means of communication, they yank their children from what could be an immensely beneficial situation. There is no consideration for the childrens’ benefit and certainly none for the hurting grandparents.

Most grandparents can’t even protest—they know their rights are limited. They tippy toe, hoping for a crumb of compassion—15 minutes of supervised visits with a grandchild—which will be tossed their way, if they behave.

Talk about a power imbalance. Grown children have all the leverage while grandparents and grandchildren get trampled in the wake.

Yet, here’s the sad thing: both grandchildren and grandparents are the losers.

According to a study presented at the American Sociological Associations 108th annual meeting, grandparents and older grandchildren who have good relationships with each other are less likely to suffer from depression.

Studies find:

“The greater emotional support grandparents and adult grandchildren received from one another, the better their psychological health.”

Sara M. Moorman, an assistant professor in the department of sociology and the Institute on Aging at Boston College. Moorman said she thinks the study resonated with people because of its positive message”

“It’s a good story about family relationships,” she said. “Grandparents and adult grandchildren contribute to each other significantly. That grandparents still continue to be a resource and affect the well-being of their grandchildren into adulthood is meaningful.

Other studies have shown that older men and women who do not have close contact with their family and friends had a 26 percent higher death risk over a seven-year period compared to those who were more social. The increased risk was still observed even if the person did not consider themselves to be lonely.

I am so grateful my own children got to spend a lot of time with their grandparents. Yes, we have horror stories (the time the rooster pecked one of the grandchildren’s foreheads), but my kids have a truckload of memories that will help them be more successful and more resilient. My kids are loaded with fun stories (hiking up Bears Ears), exciting stories (catching that first fish), loving stories (both grandmas arranging flowers at my daughter’s wedding), and sad memories (my grown boy carrying his grandpa’s casket).

So you see where I’m going . . . parents who limit their children’s exposure to the love of a grandparent remind me of the two mothers brought before King Solomon. Each claimed to be the child’s real mother. Solomon declared, “Let’s cut the baby in two!” The real mother—the thoughtful mother—pointed to the pretend mother and declared, “It’s her baby.” (I Kings 3:16-28)

She cared more for her child than for her own needs.

Grandparents play an important role in the lives of their grandchildren, though it is often indirect. Most of their significance to children is seen through the support and help they give to their parents.

Grandparents are often seen as “stress buffers,” family “watchdogs,” “roots,” “arbitrators,” and “supporters.”

Research suggests that children find unique acceptance in their relationships with grandparents, which benefits them emotionally and mentally. Grandparents can be a major support during family disruptions. Sometimes they’re playmates for their grandchildren. They’re very often role models and mentors for younger generations. They are also historians — teaching values, instilling ethnic heritage, and passing on family traditions.

And so I write this article for my hurting grandparent friends whose hands are tied and mouths are clamped shut.

I have nothing to lose. Their grandchildren have everything to lose!


Do you think grandparents are critical to the emotional health and happiness of grandchildren?

Why or why not?

*A disclaimer: Anyone who knows me, knows I’m the first to say boundaries must be set with a grandparent who is physically, sexually, or emotionally abusive.


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In Defense of Grandparents