The word “grand” comes from the Latin “grandis,” meaning of large size or extent. When applied to the word parent, it’s little wonder that grandparents – be they grandma and grandpa, memaw and pepaw, or mom-mom and pop-pop – are considered a vital part of many thriving families. Supporters, caregivers and providers of advice and assistance, they make life easier and more enjoyable for their adult children and grandchildren alike. Here are a few interesting facts about grandparents across the nation:

  • There are more than 70 million grandparents in the US, and that number continues to climb every day.
  • 72% of grandparents regularly care for their grandchildren.
  • Grandparents spend over 52 billion dollars each year on their grandchildren.
  • 60% of grandparents live near their grandchildren.

Types of Grandparents

Grandparent and daughter

Naturally, much as each family is different in their beliefs and approaches to child rearing, the style of grandparenting varies depending on factors ranging from distance to custody.

In all permutations of grandparent-grandchild relationships, the goal of the grandparent is the same: to connect with and care for their children’s children. There are many roads to that destination and for each grandparent, the route to becoming and living as a grandparent likely falls into one of these categories:

Neighbor Grandparent – These grandparents live close to their adult child or children, enabling them to assist with issues such as pediatrician appointments, spur-of-the-moment babysitting, and keeping children safe and entertained on family trips. They are likely the emergency contact for their adult children, and an active, enduring part of their grandchildren’s daily lives. They may live close to their adult children by happy circumstance or they may have taken advantage of retirement to move closer to their family. These neighborly grandparents may be around the block or across town but are generally no more than 15 or 20 minutes away from the home in which their grandchildren reside.

Long-distance Grandparent – Whether their adult children chose to move away from home or they themselves did the moving, these grandparents have a significant amount of miles between their home and that of their grandchildren. The phone and Internet play a big role in their interactions with their grandchildren and photos of their grandchildren’s milestones are typically shared in a digital format. Grandchildren may fly or otherwise travel to spend a few weeks with these grandparents, often during summer vacations, both for the purposes of reconnecting with their grandparents and giving their parents a break.

Caregiver Grandparent – These grandparents are responsible for the full-time care of their grandchildren, essentially acting as their parents. This situation occurs for a variety of reasons, including voluntary custody relinquishment from unfit parents, assignment by the state or a request from the grandchildren themselves. They find themselves in the unusual place of raising young children for the second time in their lives but are often better prepared for the task due to experience and maturity. Caregiver grandparents can be responsible for grandchildren of every age, from newborns to high-school-aged young adults.

Surprise Grandparent – With advances in technology and searches online, situations such as rediscovering long-lost family members or adoptive children finding their biological parents are becoming more common. Those in this category have received a phone call, email or letter that suddenly reveals the existence of a grandchild, and in some cases, a child that they didn’t previously know about. These grandparents are slowly but surely finding their way, often coming into the picture after the pregnancy and birth that eases other grandparents into the idea of grandchildren. In addition, some grandparents in this category are “adopted” into families that are not biologically their own.

Parental Link Grandparent – These grandparents particularly treasure the bond they share with their grandchild, due to the fact that their adult child has passed away. Connections are carefully made and happy memories are important, as they don’t want to serve as a constant reminder of a missing parent. They take pride in watching their grandchild grow up to look or act like their departed adult child and celebrate life alongside the vibrant young spirit a grandchild embodies.

How to Connect with Your Grandchildren

Connect with Grandchildren

For some grandparents, the challenge of being presented with an active, hyper young mind to entertain can be a little intimidating. This concern is quickly alleviated through chatting with a grandchild, listening to their likes and dislikes, and prompting them accordingly for more information. However, not all grandchildren, especially young adults, are very forthcoming at certain stages of their development.

Here are a few activities that work well to help build connections and open up the lines of communication between a grandparent and grandchild:

Start a tradition – If an expected event is due to happen, it injects some normalcy into the situation for both the grandchild and his or her grandparent. This tradition can be as simple as a drive up the street to a favorite diner for breakfast on a certain day, or as complex as a ten-mile hike to a specific spot for a picnic each year. Repetition builds familiarity, and as a grandchild grows and matures, they will begin to take comfort in this ritual, however small, and let their guard down a little. A grandparent should be receptive and willing to compromise if a grandchild has an idea for their own new tradition, as well.

Take a trip – Covering many miles by car gives ample chances for discussion and observation, and, barring that, mutual enjoyment of a radio program or music genre. If both the grandchild and grandparent are new to traveling together, they should start small. A several-hour day trip should be attempted before a cross-country trek to allow them to ease into the company of one another.

Build something together – The choice of project should reflect the skills of both grandparent and grandchild, and can take the shape of a dog house, macaroni picture, or more advanced undertakings such as car repair. The focus of a project enables both individuals to connect and work together toward a common goal, promoting emotional cooperation along the way. This is also a great way for a grandparent to pass down knowledge – e.g. how to change car oil – to their grandchild.

Get snap happy – A grandparent and grandchild can go on a photo scavenger hunt together, either using traditional cameras or cell phone cameras, to see how many different types of an object they can find in an afternoon. Grandparents that live in the country might opt for wildlife sightings, while city-dwelling grandparents might use street signs as their target. Long-distance grandparents can join in on the fun by instructing their grandchild to upload their hunt photos into a shared online album for counting and comparison.

Being an Active Grandparent

Much like parenting, grandparenting is a job that requires a lot of effort and a lot of love. When a grandparent makes an effort to be an active part of their grandchild’s life, it has a very real and meaningful impact on their grandchildren’s well being.

While some children may hesitate to tell a parent about a school bully, hopeless crush or trouble with studies, they may be more likely to reveal these troubles to a grandparent: a fairly neutral, supportive third party who has the wisdom of age to their credit. A grandparent can ensure they are making the biggest difference by listening closely to the stories their grandchildren tell, as well as holding their secrets and confessions in confidence – provided they aren’t harmful, of course.

Long-distance grandparents can still be a daily or weekly part of their grandchild’s life through the use of Internet programs like Skype, which offers free video and voice chatting through a computer. If a grandparent isn’t technologically savvy, a timed weekly phone call can accomplish much of the same benefits, along with an “open-door” policy if a grandchild ever needs support or advice for a problem.

If a grandparent doesn’t already have a cell phone, they should consider getting a no-frills model for the sake of continual availability–a benefit both their adult children and grandchildren are sure to enjoy.

Grandparenting: The Best Job Ever

The joy of watching not one, but two generations grow under their careful guidance is the reason that a whopping 90% of grandparents involved in one study confessed to talking about their grandchildren to anyone who would listen. The lessons learned from raising the previous generation make grandparents wise, trustworthy caregivers and companions to the next generation.

Their job is difficult but intensely rewarding, and grandparents typically enjoy a position of both respect and affection in their families, making the title of grandparent one worthy of envy. As culture grows and changes, the coveted role of grandparent continues to shape the future, offering both the roots and wings that are so vital to success in their children’s children.

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