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penny

Dear Nadine,
I think it’s important my spirited kids spend time with their grandparents.
Thoughts? — Irene, Coon Rapids

If you’re wondering what to do with your spirited kids this summer, send them to grandma/pa’s and watch your kids (and your parents) bloom — heart, mind and soul!

According to the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau, grandparents represent one-third of the U.S. population, with 1.7 million newly minted grandparents added to the ranks each year. Grandparents.com notes that although today’s grandparents lead busy, fulfilled lives with sports and exercise (43%), volunteering (28%), reading (71%) and work (60%), 72 percent of all grandparents regard being a grandparent as the single-most important and satisfying part of their life.

As Lois Wyse says, “If I had known how wonderful it would be to have grandchildren, I’d have had them first.”

And for kids, having just one wonderful (sit-on-her/his-lap, read-me-a-story, s/he-thinks-I’m-the-best-thing-since-sliced-bread) grandparent is a gift. Why? That love, appreciation and security that a “great” grandparent represents for a child is powerful medicine. It’s what encourages kids to open up to grandma and reach out for those pearls of wisdom that grandpa has sewn into his belt, in a way they may not open up in quite the same way to mom or dad. And grandparents are willing and able to listen from the heart, without flickering so much as an aged eyebrow!

Research concurs. A 2011 AARP survey reports that 80 percent of grandparents chat with their grandchildren at least once a month (whether by phone, e-mail, Skype or text) and those heart-to-hearts covered a range of meaningful kid topics from spirituality to drugs, to bullying, sex and drinking to hopes and dreams for their future. Simply put, a call from grandma is good for our kid’s soul!

Iris says, “When my oldest grandchild turned 11, she didn’t just share those regular stories and jokes, but began confiding in me about personal topics like friendship, body changes and boys. I think she saw me as a neutral party (not her parents) and as someone who had her best interests at heart, combined with the wisdom of (much older!) age. I felt honored she wanted to share her innermost secrets and I like to think that I was able to help. After all, grandma does know best!”

If loving grandparents are the go-to source of kid wisdom, they also are the keepers of the holy grail of a family’s history, spirituality and culture — a history, spirituality and culture that they want to pass on to their grandkids.

That’s why a visit to grandpa’s often entails a walk down memory lane. And though kids might prefer an afternoon playing Mindcraft, at grandpa’s there’s a chance to scan old family photos, listen to golden-oldie family stories, learn how to make grandma’s famous ravioli recipe and practice grampie’s famous fishing knots. Kids blossom under a grandparent’s watchful eye, and those family history lessons provide kids with a sense of continuity, family pride and identity. And that’s meaningful.

As a 2001 research study by Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robin Fivush of Emory University found, the more children learned about their family’s history, the more confident they were, the more in control of their lives they felt and the more positively they viewed their families. As Bruce Feiler stated in the International New York Times, “The single most-important thing (grandparents)…do for their family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”

Heather says, “When my sister and I moved away from our mom at age 11, we missed her. But my grandparents would tell us funny stories about my mother growing up. It made me laugh, helped me understand more about her and them and made our move more manageable.”

Of course, in some families a dedicated grandparent’s role extends far beyond providing a warm lap and warmer heart, to the provision of daily grandchild care or even raising a grandchild themselves. Though grandparents may question whether they are “too old” to help raise a grandchild, they shouldn’t. As a 2008 research study by Oxford University reveals, all kids need to deal with life changes is a grandparent’s love. Dr. Eirini Flouri notes, “We found that close relationships between grandparents and grandchildren buffered the effects of adverse life events, such as parental separation, because it calmed the children down (and helped to) develop resilience in young people.”

Todd agrees. “I was 17 when my family split up and I went to live with grandma. I felt stressed and disoriented. But grandma stepped in. She cooked me breakfast and dinner every day. She’d beat me at cards each evening and we’d listen to the radio together. She was a rock. I also had my other grandma to visit, too. Between the pair of them, they provided a consistent, loving support network that was always there and never judged. That’s what helped me heal and get through.”

Doting grandparents will say they shower a great deal of time, attention, energy, love and money onto their grandchildren, but grandparenting is not a one-way spiritual street. As any good grandparent will tell you — they’re blessed! Why? Grandparents visit the circus, the zoo and the children’s museum. They run in the park, sit on the swings and play in the pool. They read fairy stories, sing songs, blow bubbles and dig in the sand. They feed the ducks, watch Disney princess movies and build with Legos. They receive pictures, kisses and hugs. They burst with pride at school plays, basketball games and music recitals. And they are taught to be cool and use the iPad, the iPod and the internet by their big-spirited grandkids.

Not surprisingly, grandparents who “do lots” also receive lots, and they report having more direction and purpose, suffer less depression and enjoy greater happiness than their less interested-in-grandparenting peers. Literally, an involved grandparent is an inspired grandparent — mind, body and wise spirit.

Margaret Mead said, “Everyone needs access to grandparents and grandchildren to be a full human being,” and she’s right. So if your kids have a fab grannie or super grandpa in their lives, bridge the grandparent gap often this summer and watch your spirited kids (and your parents) learn, laugh and love together, for a summer vacation that will be treasured by all generations, for generations to come!

A grandchild’s tale
I was living in the coastal city of Plymouth — home to those Pilgrim Mothers and Fathers — when her letter arrived. I recognized my grandmother’s handwriting immediately, but since it was neither Christmas nor my birthday, I was surprised to hear from her. When I opened the envelope there was a short note in her curling hand, telling me to enjoy myself “dear” and buy some new clothes for a trip I had planned to celebrate my impending graduation as a newly qualified high school English teacher, as well as for the new teaching job I’d landed for fall.

Carefully wrapped up inside her note was 100 English pounds! Although I’d lived frugally on my grant, there was certainly no spare cash for clothes, so that bundle of notes felt like a cool million in my trembling hand.

Yet, even then, bursting with delight, I couldn’t help but think of all the months it must have taken my 80-year old grandmother to scrimp and save that gift from her meager pension. And I couldn’t help but reflect on her often-repeated words: “My principal wanted me to stay on at school and become a teacher, but my guardian refused.”

How often had my talented, top-of-her-grade grandmother — who lost her mother as a young child and was raised by a person who was unloving and cruel; who lived through the blitz in London, and who raised four children on a shoestring — comforted herself with those words by her principal that affirmed her, whispered of her potential and reminded her that she was special?

I’d learned many important lessons about how to be an effective teacher that year at college, but it took my grandmother to instill the most valuable lesson of all: that while subject matter may be studied and forgotten, the care of a teacher — like the love of a grandmother — is remembered and treasured for years to come.

Resources

Grandparents’ Today!

Grandparent Facts

10 Things Grandchildren Can Learn From Their Grandparents

Great Grandparents! Your child learns from your parents – so help them stay close.

Bonding Benefits

The Stories that Bind Us!

Oxford University Media – Grandparents

Celebrating Grandparents

Grandparents Generation Gap

Speaking for Children

Have you Bonded with Your Grandchild

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Nadine Penny attained her M.A. from the University of Denver in Counseling Psychology. Nadine lives in Minnetonka where she works as a medium, life issues reader and Reiki master. Contact her at nadine.penny@gmail.com and visit www.nadinepenny.com.

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