Grandparents can play a significant, positive role in the lives of Grandchildren, at all stages of their development. It can be a wonderful experience but also has huge responsibilities. Involvement can be a continuum, going from no contact to full time care of grandchildren. In the 2020’s, for many reasons, grandparents are playing an increasing role in grandchildren’s lives. Today, you may spend longer being a grandparent than you did as a parent (Harper and Levin, 2005).
As a Grandparent, you can have a long-lasting influence and effect on your grandchild’s emotional and mental wellbeing. But the positive impact isn’t all one way. Grandchildren can also add significantly to the quality of your life, giving it a sense of purpose, rediscovering your zest for life and protecting against loneliness and depression.
Grandparents can be the “one good adult” that every child needs in their life through providing love, validation, acceptance and unending support. These attributes help a grandchild cope, grow up to be independent and healthy and able to detach and move away from dependence on parents and peers, to stand on their own two feet and take their place in the world. Research by Professor Ann Buchanan, Dept Social Policy and Interaction, University of Oxford, showed that a high level of Grandparent involvement increases the wellbeing of children.
Grandfathers, as well as grandmothers, can play a significant role in nurturing the life of the developing grandchild. Research shows, contrary to assumptions, that many grandfathers are very connected with their grandchildren and aim to be more caring and involved than was the norm in previous societies. (Coall et al., 2016; Leeson, 2016)
As a grandparent you can be a role model to your grandchildren, giving direction and encouragement while nurturing their strengths and talents.
- What kind of role model are you?
- What understanding of the world do they learn from your behaviour?
- What do they learn from you about boundaries and respecting their parents’ decisions?
- What does your grandchild learn from you about coping with loss, disappointment and challenges?
- What do they learn from you about growing old and retirement?
- How do you cope with knocks in life?
- What part does alcohol play in your life?
- Would you ever give your grandchild a sip of alcohol?
What your grandchild observes you doing and how you live and cope with life, can create expectancies. 50% of Irish drinkers cite “coping “ as a reason for drinking (Index 2019). Children observe behaviour and learn from it. How do you cope with stress or uncomfortable feelings in your life? You are a teacher to your grandchildren, influencing what they think and do.
If you drink to a harmful level or have a problem with alcohol and your grandchild is exposed to this on a regular basis, this can negatively influence a grandchild mentally, physically and emotionally. Capaldi et al (2018) reminds us that maladaptive behaviour, including substance abuse, can be transmitted across generations.
Research shows that the greatest influence on a teenager’s decision to drink or not to drink is their immediate community, including parents and other influential adults, (including Grandparents)! (Cairns et al., 2011)
As a key influencer in your grandchild’s life, you can assist their transition to adulthood by having open, honest conversations about the ups and downs of drinking. It is important that grandchildren understand the effect of alcohol, and your and their family’s expectancies around it.
As a Grandparent and role model it is important that:
- You know that your attitude to and behaviour around alcohol impact grandchildren and how they are going to relate to alcohol in the future
- If you drink in front of your grandchildren, that you do so responsibly
- You show you can socialise and enjoy life without alcohol
- You restrict accessibility to alcohol in your home. Maynooth University’s 3year longitudinal study (2018-2020) of Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme, found that 57% of Third year students who drank, had first consumed alcohol in their own home or someone else’s home. (MU 2021)
- You talk to your grandchildren about alcohol and influence their decision not to drink underage
- You know the facts about alcohol in order to be able to talk honestly and openly about it to your grandchildren
- You use your power and influence to delay your grandchild’s first drink.
You as a Grandparent can be a very positive influence in grandchildren’s lives as a guide and nurturer. Enjoy what can be a wonderful experience of journeying with them, while exercising flexibility, patience and commitment and never forgetting it requires huge responsibility.
At Drinkaware we believe that alcohol should have no place in childhood.
If you as a Grandparent would like more information about alcohol and its effects or resources to help you have the conversation with your grandchild, please visit drinkaware.ie or email firstname.lastname@example.org
- Harper, S., & Levin, S. (2005). Family Care, Independent Living and Ethnicity. Social Policy and Society, 4(2), 157-169.
- Professor Ann Buchanan, Centre for Parenting and Children, Dept Social Policy and Social Work, University of Oxford (Feb 2009),”They’ve always been there for me- Grandparent Involvement in Child Wellbeing. Children and Society.” 24 (3) 200 214.
- Coall, D., Hilbrand, S., Sear, R., & Hertwig, R. (2016). A new niche? The theory of grandfather involvement. In A. Buchanan & A. Rotkirch (Eds.), Grandfathers: Global perspectives (pp. 21–44). London: Palgrave Macmillan. [Crossref], [Google Scholar]
- Leeson, G. (2016). Out of the shadows: Are grandfathers defining their own roles in the modern family in Denmark? In A. Buchanan & A. Rotkirch (Eds.), Grandfathers: Global perspectives (pp. 69–88). London: Palgrave Macmillan. [Crossref], [Google Scholar]
- The Drinkware Index 2019: Analysing Hazardous Drinking in Ireland. Dublin: Drinkaware.
- Capaldi, D., Tiberio, S., & Kerr, D. (2018). Assessing associations in risk behaviours across three generations: From grandparents to sons, and from sons to their children. Contemporary Social Science. doi: 10.1080/21582041.2018.1433313 [Taylor & Francis Online], [Web of Science ®], [Google Scholar]
- Cairns, G, Purves, R, Bryce, S., McKell, J., Gordon, R., and Angus, K. (2011) Investigating the effectiveness of Education in relation to Alcohol: A Systematic Investigation of Critical Elements for Optimum Effectiveness of Promoting Approaches and Delivery Methods in School and Family Linked Alcohol Education Alcohol Insight, 83.
- Evaluation of Drinkaware’s Junior Cycle Alcohol Education Programme (JC AEP) 2018-2020 Summary Report. Authors: Professor Sinéad McGilloway and John A. Weafer. Centre for Mental Health and Community Research Maynooth University Department of Psychology and Social Sciences Institute March 2021