For anyone with kids, it doesn’t take long to understand why they say it takes a village to raise a child. Parenting can be a challenging and overwhelming experience, but it’s also one of the most rewarding journeys. As we navigate the ups and downs of parenthood, we need a strong, loving support system to help us along the way. For many families, this includes intergenerational relationships like grandparents involved in raising children.
As an only child, I was incredibly blessed to have my parents move from upstate New York to Cleveland just a few weeks after our first daughter was born. My mother was adamant she would never move—she loved her community, her independence, and considered herself set in her ways. Jokes on her. Just two weeks after holding her granddaughter for the first time, they hired a moving truck and found a place five minutes from our home. My parents have become an incredible support system for me and my husband as we navigate the challenges of parenthood and focus on our careers, and I am so grateful and thankful to have them close. This intergenerational relationship has been a key part of my support system. Read on for why intergenerational relationships can be so important in parenting.
Intergenerational relationships used to be a big part of “the village”
While traditionally the ‘village’ was the foundation of parenting, modern challenges such as distance, financial constraints, and increased responsibilities have left both generations missing out on deeper relationships. Grandparents are working longer than ever and young families are moving to new cities to pursue job opportunities where having family nearby isn’t possible.
A staggering 67% of grandparents say distance is a barrier to seeing grandchildren more often, and 52% have a grandchild that lives 200 or more miles away. As a result, it’s more important than ever for families to find new and innovative ways to stay connected and nurture these essential relationships—even when physical distance presents a challenge.
Multigenerational U.S. households are on the rise
In many countries, it is not uncommon for multiple generations of families to live together under the same roof, and for grandparents to provide significant support raising their grandchildren.
Now, a similar trend is gaining momentum in the United States. A study published in 2022 by Pew Research Center found that 18% of American households are multigenerational, which is four times larger than it was in the 1970s. A 2021 report by Generations United had similar findings with the number of Americans living with three or more generations in the same household has nearly quadrupled over the past decade.
As families battle the rising costs of living and caregiving needs, as well as the desire for stronger family connections, some families are finding multigenerational living to be a solution that benefits everyone involved.
The rise in multigenerational living represents a significant shift in American family dynamics, highlighting the importance of intergenerational relationships today. At the very least, it underscores the importance of maintaining strong connections with older generations and creating a supportive environment for all members of the family.
The importance of fostering intergenerational relationships
I understand not everyone has a good relationship with the older generation in their family. I also know I am incredibly fortunate to have my parents healthy, close, and willing to help. But even if they don’t live nearby, relationships with family elders like grandparents or grandparent figures can have a plenty of benefits.
Experience, wisdom, and advice
Parenting doesn’t come with a manual—we were never meant to do this alone. Traditionally, we learned to mother through the guidance of our mothers or extended family members. Wisdom was passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter while also establishing the norms and values of the family.
When I get concerned about my child reaching developmental milestones or find myself in the comparison trap with other moms, my mother is a constant reminder that everything is OK. She reminds me that every child is on their own journey and to not be so hard on myself. Sometimes we need that reassurance when our thoughts get clouded.
Passing on cultural and family traditions and values
My childhood memories are filled with the aroma of homemade gnocchi, Sunday sauce, decorating holiday cut-out cookies, and playing Scrabble. As a parent now, I can’t wait to share those memories with my daughter and continue these family traditions. I’m grateful that my parents are nearby to help keep these traditions alive for generations to come.
Grandparents can enrich our children’s lives by acting as historians for the family. They play a crucial role in teaching values, passing on culutral heritage, and sharing family traditions, like holiday celebrations and cooking. These intergenerational connections not only foster a deeper sense of family identity and history but also provide a source of comfort, support, and guidance for grandchildren.
Creating a stronger family bond
There’s something magical about seeing your parents grow close to your children, but what you get is closer to your parents in return. Seeing your own parents develop a bond with your children can be deeply rewarding. It’s heartwarming to see your child laugh, play, and learn from their grandparents, and to witness the strong emotional connections that develop between them.
In our home, Grandpa (“Papa”) is the favorite, or as we like to call “the chosen one.” My father is a musician, and they bond on music, dancing, and singing. Our daughter will run and push everyone out of the way to get a hug from Papa as he walks through the door. It’s truly amazing to witness their deep bond, and it gives me a new appreciation for him and all that he means to our family.
Grandparents’ health can benefit, too
At the same time, grandchildren can provide grandparents with a sense of purpose and joy, as well as helping them stay active and engaged in life. Grandparents have the opportunity to see the world through fresh eyes, and they can relive the joys of parenting without the stresses or challenges that come with raising children.
This deep bond can combat feelings of loneliness and social isolation, which are increasingly prevalent in our society. Research has shown that grandparents experience extra vitality, uplifts in mood for longer periods and a great sense of purpose when they play an active role in their children and grandchildren’s life.
The benefits of the intergenerational relationship between grandparents and grandchildren extend beyond just emotional and mental benefits—it keeps grandparents physically active, too. Keeping up with a busy toddler or picking up a young child can encourage grandparents to stay active, promoting their physical health and well-being, and reduce the risk of age-related health issues like osteoporosis and cardiovascular disease.
Finding intergenerational relationships in chosen family
While not every family will have the luxury of fostering a relationship with their parents or elders, the importance of building a solid, dependable support system is undeniable. Parents need people they can lean on and depend on for support. This strong social network will help all involved cope with the curve balls life is sure to throw their way.
You don’t necessarily need bloodlines to create this strong bond. Whether it’s because of distance or indifference, redefining the concept of family is more than OK. Families are made of love, not DNA and chosen families are becoming more and more common. Building your village and making the effort to stay connected and involved with others in your community will pay dividends in the long run.