Grandparents Make the World Go Round

What role do grandparents play in parenting?

My family is visiting from Israel, and are staying with us. My childless friends look at me in horror when I tell them that I asked my dad to extend his 3-weeks stay to a 6-weeks stay. My parents-friends nod in agreement, and ask why I didn’t ask him to stay longer.

Especially since my son was born, my family has been an incredible source of support for me. My parents come visit and for a couple of weeks I don’t have to worry about dishes, cooking dinner, or picking up the kids from daycare. Got stuck in a late afternoon meeting? No problem – call grandma and she’s on her way to the daycare, and from there to the park. Have a crazy-busy week at work? Grandpa will make dinners this week and help out with the dishes. Haven’t seen my husband in a week? Date night it is.

Of course it’s not just the practical, day-to-day stuff. My parents are also great to ask child-rearing advice (you did what?? I’m going to do the exact opposite!), and they understand parenting in many ways I have no chance of understanding, seeing as they have over 30 years of experience and have raised 4 kids. They are also the people who love my kids almost as much as I do. They are the ones I can trust with my kids’ best interests every single time.

Grandparents as Social Support

From a research point of view, social support, and particularly extended family support, is vital for parents. For instance, a study done a few years ago on parents of children with disabilities found that the more support grandparents provided, the better the parents’ adjustment was. Quoting from the article, “Grandparents' most frequent forms of assistance were babysitting and buying clothing.” In other words, the day-to-day relief from daily chores is the best help grandparents can give their children and grandchildren.

Grandparents’ effect on the economy

Most research is done on grandparents who are actually raising the children for various reasons. I’m not aware of a lot of research looking at grandparents’ role in supporting parents. That said, I read a column a while ago (I’m linking to it, but it’s in Hebrew) talking about the effect grandparents have on the economy. This is an interesting angle. The author argues that grandparents allow parents to work by providing support around the daycare solution (that is, picking up the kids from school or daycare and staying with them until the work day is done). In Israel, almost all daycare solutions are available until 3 or 4 pm, while workers are expected to put in at least 8-9 hours a day, which creates a discrepancy of a few hours in which parents are left on their own to find a solution. It is quite customary in Israel for people to live close to their parents when they have kids of their own, and so grandparents come into the picture by being a part of the routine of work/school/home.

What about you? Do you get help from your parents or your partner’s parents?

@2015 - Gal Podjarny