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The Importance of Grandparent-Grandchild Relationships

Tuesday , August 6 , 2019

The Importance of Grandparent-Grandchild Relationships

As an adult, I still think about my grandparents on a near daily basis, even though they’ve been gone for decades.

My father’s mother, in particular, holds an almost mythological place in my mind. She ruled with an iron fist, as only the mother of a very large family can do. With 12 children and 15+ grandchildren, there was no room for nonsense.

Yet, she was still loving and kind.

Every Sunday, the entire family would gather for dinner at Grandma’s house. The door was left open, and anyone that was able could just amble in and sit down. There were always uncles playing cards, aunts telling jokes, and grandma making her famous homemade rolls. Grandchildren held a special place in her life, and she always sneaked us treats that mom and dad wouldn’t otherwise allow.

She was the glue that held the family together. As soon as she passed, those dinners stopped, and the family scattered around the country.

Much has been written about the importance of those grandparent-grandchild relationships. Although it’s not frequently discussed, a strong grandparent-grandchild bond can have a lasting impact on the happiness and wellbeing for people on both sides of the equation. Here’s why:

Why Intergenerational Bonds Matter

When a grandparent and a grandchild have a strong connection, it’s usually a sign of a close family overall – but intergenerational bonds have several distinct benefits of their own.

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  •  Emotionally close ties between grandparents and grandchildren result in fewer depressive symptoms in both groups
  • For grandparents, relationships with grandchildren provide a connection to the outside world and exposure to different ideas, which they may not otherwise get
  • For grandchildren, grandparents can offer wisdom that may help them navigate difficult times
  • Grandparents can offer first-hand historical perspective that enriches the child’s understanding of the past (for example, many of today’s grandparents likely remember first-hand the American Civil Rights Movement or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy)
  • Involvement with grandchildren can help older adults stay mentally sharp and physically active
  • Often, children will listen to their grandparents even when they won’t listen to their parents or other adults

How to Foster a Strong Grandparent-Grandchild Relationship

It may seem that grandparent-grandchild relationships just come naturally, but that isn’t necessarily so. Due to many factors, such as a large age gap, many children may find it difficult to bond with grandparents without the proper encouragement.

Several researchers, including Merril Silverstein and Vern L. Bengtson, have studied the issue and identified six factors they say lead to “intergenerational solidarity”. While some of them are beyond our control, many are not.

Knowing what these factors are can help grandparents, even if they’ve lost touch with their grandchildren, form a stronger relationship and build a lasting connection:

  • Physical Proximity: Geographic closeness is one of the strongest predictors of a close relationship between grandparents and grandchildren. For grandparents who are unable to be physically close to grandchildren due to health, mobility, or other issues, technology can mimic that feeling of proximity. Apps like FaceTime, Skype, or even Facebook Messenger have made it possible to have a “face-to-face” conversation without even leaving the home.
  • Frequent Contact: Almost as important as one-on-one interaction is how often that interaction occurs. It seems almost too obvious to state, but grandparents who have more frequent contact with their grandchildren also tend to have closer relationships.
  • Grandparents’ Function Within the Family: Many grandparents provide childcare for young grandchildren and that regular interaction can help forge a stronger connection. As an added bonus, research suggests that grandparents who babysit live longer.
  • The Concept of Normalcy: Families that expect strong relationships between generations are more likely to have them. Often, this is a cultural function, as certain societies tend to encourage more intergenerational interactions than others. In such families, tasks and duties are expected to be shared among generations, and those values are taught at a very young age.
  • Emotional Bonding: Although bonding among generations is highly important, grandparents often report feeling a closer bond than do grandchildren. This makes sense, as older adults have a shrinking circle of friends and loved ones, and their children and grandchildren often occupy a space of high importance. Children, however, tend to value their peers above all others, closely followed by parents and siblings.
  • Reaching a Consensus on Values: Grandparents and grandchildren naturally have different values, especially as the children age. The younger generation may find grandparents’ ideas “out of touch” or even downright objectionable. While older adults shouldn’t change their ideologies or values, it is important to listen to the younger crowd. The simple act of being heard can go a long way in forming a bond.

Final Thoughts

Parents, remember: Building a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship ultimately falls on you. The middle generation is the one that can bridge the gap between old and young, and help build and shape those connections.

While the six factors above can influence the strength of such bonds, parents need to help facilitate the connection. Children learn their values and ideals from you, and you must teach them that grandparents hold a place of honor within the family!

On that note, I’ll end with another story: I distinctly remember my mother once whacking me on the bottom with a wooden spoon after I stuck out my tongue to my grandmother. I never tried that again . . . and I also learned that grandma was to be respected at all times.

Tell us: What do you do to foster the grandparent/grandchild relationships within your family?

Posted in: Aging

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Summer Travel: Helpful Tips for Vacationing with Older Adults

Tuesday , July 9 , 2019

Summer Travel: Helpful Tips for Vacationing with Older Adults

It may be mid-July already, but it’s not too late to take a summer vacation! Whether you’re a beach person or mountain person, there is still plenty of fun to be had.

Many families find that the summer months are an ideal time to bond and catch-up with older loved ones. The kids are home from school and the entire family can spend some much-needed (and uninterrupted) time together.

But if you’re like the countless other families that want to include grandparents in vacation plans, there are some things you should keep in mind. Travel can be stressful for many people, but especially older adults. From hours spent in a car or plane, to climate changes, to simply walking around town – there are dozens of issues that can make vacationing difficult for elderly travelers.

Fortunately, a little forethought can make the trip easier for everyone. Before you begin planning that end-of-summer vacation, take a look at these tips for traveling with your older loved ones:

Travel at the right time of day

Whether you’re taking a plane or a car, the act of traveling from one place to another can be stressful and uncomfortable for senior citizens. One thing to keep in mind is that most older adults don’t have the same energy as younger people – and traveling very early in the morning or late at night can be exhausting for them. Try to plan your departure for mid-morning or early afternoon to make things a bit easier.

Plan frequent stops when traveling by car

Road trips can be tiring under the best of circumstances (even for young people). Hours on the road can leave you cramped up, worn-out, and longing for a restroom. For older adults, it’s even worse! Make sure you take frequent breaks for stretching, grabbing a snack, or using the loo. Bonus points if you can plan them around points of interest (just remember to keep canes, walkers, or other assistive devices easily accessible!)

Taking a plane? Book a non-stop flight.

Travel by plane may be faster than automobile, but that doesn’t mean it’s easier. Navigating the airport alone is a process – especially for older adults who may have limited mobility. To avoid an unnecessarily long layover or (worse) running through the airport to catch a connecting flight, book non-stop whenever possible. Other airport tips to keep in mind include:

  • Check with the airline to see if early boarding options are available
  • Take advantage of assistance offered at the airport, such as a courtesy wheelchair
  • Anticipate frequent restroom visits and request an aisle seat
  • Get up and stretch frequently to help avoid deep-vein thrombosis
  • Try to avoid regional airlines – many smaller airports don’t offer a jet-bridge and passengers must climb a flight of stairs

Plan a realistic itinerary

Even if your older loved one is in excellent health, it’s likely they’ve slowed down a bit since their younger years. Most seniors need a little more time to get around, especially if they have mobility issues or other health problems. Be sure to plan accordingly! Try to book activities for earlier in the day, so the afternoon can be spent resting before dinner.

It is worth noting that cruises seem to be one option that work well for both the old and young. With everything offered all in one place, there’s less effort required for older adults to take part in activities, and many cruise lines offer shore excursions for those with limited mobility.

Consult with your loved one’s doctor before booking a trip

Before a vacation, especially one that’s far from home, it’s important for seniors to check in with their doctors. A physician is the only person that can say for sure if your elderly loved one is able to manage the stress of travelling and the change in routine. In addition, it’s an opportunity to get a print-out of all current medications and pre-existing conditions in case they need to visit another doctor or hospital while away.

Ensure that you can maintain care during travel

If your senior loved one requires daily care, it is important to make sure it can be provided while travelling. This may mean taking special measures to ensure all medications, medical equipment, and medical devices can be transported. Note that if you’re travelling by plane, the TSA may need to be notified of certain equipment in advance.

If your loved one receives home care, you may want to find out if their caregiver can travel with you. Having the same person care for them that they see on a regular basis at home can help alleviate any stress. In addition, the caregiver is intimately familiar with the services required and can help make sure your older loved one enjoys their summer travel in a safe and healthy manner.

Final thoughts

No matter how you travel or where you go, enjoy your time with your senior loved one! It’s a chance to make amazing memories and maybe even learn more about someone you care about deeply. Now go have fun on your summer vacation – and be safe!

Posted in: Aging

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