This past Sunday was National Grandparents Day, and this year it had an extra-special meaning for me. My daughter Daphne and her husband, John, recently announced that they are expecting a baby — my very first grandchild. My wife, Lisa, and I are absolutely thrilled, and we can’t wait to enjoy the passion of new kids in the family (especially without having to do all that diaper changing). Lisa and I are so proud to join the esteemed ranks of grandparents and watch our accomplished and beautiful daughter grow into parenthood.
Lisa and I haven’t yet settled upon what we want our future grandchild to call us, but one thing we do know is that we want to be the best grandparents we can. Whether you’re lucky enough to be a grandparent yourself, or whether you have grandparents you love, knitting a close grandparent-grandchild relationship will provide you with countless mental health benefits and could even boost longevity.
Yes, grandparents are great for hugs, stories, special treats and passing down history, but their gifts to their grandchildren don’t end there. In fact, a recent study out of Boston College showed that a close bond between grandparents and grandchildren is great for mental health — and not just for the grandparents. Both grandparents and grandchildren who supported each other had lower rates of depression, and the closer they were, the greater the benefit.
Interestingly, the researchers found that when grandparents provided “tangible support” to their grandchildren, such as help with chores, a ride to the store or financial assistance, the grandparent’s psychological well-being improved. But if grandparents received such support without giving it, they were more likely to be depressed. Over time, grandparents who both gave and received support had the lowest rates of depression. Researchers suggest that there is a substantial mental health benefit to being needed, so don’t shy away from offering or accepting a helping hand.
With nearly one in ten American children living with their grandparents and three million American children being raised primarily by grandparents, our elders are playing a huge role in shaping future generations. And it looks like grandparents are helping to make this future a strong one. A study from Oxford University found that grandparents often had more time than parents to help their grandchildren resolve problems and discuss future plans, which in turn encouraged children to be more resilient during times of stress.
According to U.S. Census data, there are more than 56 million grandparents living in the U.S. But there are also many elderly people who either don’t have grandchildren or are out of touch with their families. According to a study published this year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, these more isolated elders may have up to a 26% increased risk of death over a seven-year period, even if they don’t report feeling lonely. This suggests that preserving a close family network may help lengthen your grandparents’ lives — and eventually yours as well.
Marian McQuade, the woman who founded National Grandparents Day, hoped it would champion the cause of lonely elderly people in nursing homes. So if you don’t have a grandparent (and even if you do), reach out and build a connection with an elder. It might just make you happier, too.