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Grandparents: Less Stressed or Maxed Out?

beth-circle-headBy Beth Heller

Perhaps you didn’t realize that September is National Grandparent’s Month.  And I bet you didn’t realize that grandparenting lies at the center of an academic argument:  does grandparenting cause stress and decrease well-being or does it actually decrease stress and increase well-being?

At first blush the answer is “Duh, grandparenting definitely increases well-being.”  Kids keep the older folks active, engaged and provide purpose.  

Being a grandparent, goes the old chestnut, is “all the joy of parenting without the grind.”  At grandpa’s, the “house rules” are chucked out the window and you do get to eat cookies for breakfast.  Pops and Nani get to be good-time-Charlie without the parental burden of having to model rational and responsible adult behavior.  Grandparents achieve rock-star status simply by being the older generation , and, when the melt-down comes, they get to hand the kids back to mom and dad.  

Yet grandparents play an essential role in both the social and economic fiber of our lives, and often their childcare support is what allows families to make ends meet (or frees up disposable  income in more affluent families).  In the 1990’s a body of research surfaced suggesting that caring for grandchildren exerts considerable demands on grandparents and these demands may impact grandparents’ well-being.  Among the new trends noted was an increase in grandparents becoming primary caregiver to grandchildren, a phenomenon that continues today as a result of the economic downturn of 2008 and the current opioid epidemic.  And this is a number that continues to grow.  According to PBS Newshour, the number of children living with grandparents has increased from 2.5 million in 2005 to 2.9 million in 2015.  

Although early data from the 90’s suggested that grandparenting may be more stressful than previously suspected, more recent investigations suggest a nuanced answer.  In one group of 12,872 grandparents followed over six years that included cohabiting (living with grandchildren), skipped-generation (no parent present) and non-resident (babysitting) grandparents, there was no evidence that grandparenting caused long-term health or well-being consequences.  In fact, where health disadvantages were noted, they related to grandparents prior characteristics rather than a result of caregiving.

So what does this mean?  Grandparents can feel good about continuing to play their essential role in our families, and know that most data supports the expectation that playing an active role in the lives of grandchildren will help them stay active physically and mentally and give purpose to their lives.  That said, if we value our older generation, we need to support their well-being on the whole so that it’s easy to continue with healthy habits in the “grandparenting stage” of life.  Creating an environment that makes it easy for older individuals to stay fit and strong – through walkable and bikeable communities, great low-cost transportation, and a community vision of well-being that keeps elders in our sites.  

Community Note:  If you’re a grandparent looking for a fun activity to share with your grandkid(s) this month, check out these events hosted by Live54218 at local Farmers Markets in honor of National Grandparent’s Month:

Grandparent Appreciation Dates/Times

Military Market September 21, 3:30-5:30 p.m

Oneida Farmers Market September 28, 3:30-5:30 p.m.

Saturday Farmers Market September 30, 9:00-11:30 a.m.

Take a photo of you and your kids at the Market’s Face in the Hole Mural and share on social media and you’ll be entered into a drawing for free passes to Heritage Hill State Historical Park.  Free coloring books and caramel apple “pops”* available.  

*Caramel Apple Pops available at Military and Oneida Markets only.

Grandparents' Day at the Markets

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