The Value of Grandparents

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My youngest grandson, Andrew, arrived on Thursday to spend a week with me in Vieques. He’s the handsome guy in the center.

As much fun as I hope we’ll have in the coming week, playing the role of a grandparent poses its own kind of pressure.

Andrew has his friend, Kyle, with him, a very nice young man. Our relationship is fleeting, as host-guest.

The relationship between grandchild and grandparent, however, between Andrew and me, is unique and never-ending.

I must be role model, mentor, uber-parent. I care about growing this relationship and strengthening it.

Human evolution itself recognizes the value of grandparents, according to a new theory of aging from the University of California at Berkeley.

The classic view is that a species outlives its usefulness after ceasing to be fertile. Once an individual can no longer pass on its genes, natural selection no longer acts to keep it alive. Aging and death follow rapidly.

But the UC Berkeley study suggests an alternative theory—that in some species, including humans, post-reproductive individuals continue to provide a valuable survival service by caring for offspring.

Post-reproductive bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales, for instance, baby-sit, guard, and even breastfeed their grandchildren.

In other words, if a species has relatively few offspring but invests in their care, the species is likely to live well beyond its reproductive years.

In addition to caregiving, human grandparents serve a more important intellectual and emotional function.

A study done in the early nineties in Poland reported this: Because they are close but do not have a parental authority role, grandparents can act as confidants in situations where a grandchild might not wish to confide in a parent.

To quote: “When we go fishing with Grandpa, we talk. We tell each other about ourselves. With Grandma I can talk about my problems.”

According to one blogging grandmother:

Genetics is more than just the color of eyes, shape of hands, or facial structure. It is also personality, wit, love of art, quietness of spirit that passes through threads of generations connecting family traits through the ages.

Just as the personalities of my two daughters are worlds apart, my three grandsons are very different. Yet, there are common denominators that I can detect among them:

  • Gentle—These are three boys who never had fights with one another, even as rambunctious youngsters
  • Serious—Each is focused, studious, and ambitious to make a difference
  • Caring—Each is involved in health care fields where they can be of service

I could go on, but you’d think I was bragging.

Still, I catch myself surreptitiously staring at them once in awhile, trying to detect some shimmering reflection of myself.


If you enjoyed reading this, you will like my new novel, Billy of the Tulips, a sensitive boy’s grim engagement with innocence and iniquity, now available in both print and Kindle from Amazon.


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