Grandparents as Positive Role Models

By Georgia Smith-Lyle, MA, LPC-S

I’m writing this article not only from a psychological perspective, but also as a personal perspective. I am grandmother to four grandchildren and five step-grandchildren, all unique and special. I can honestly say the changing of the guard (going from parenting to grandparenting) takes on a new perspective.

I thought it would be interesting to ask my husband what his thoughts are concerning the influence of a grandparent as a positive role model. His response: “A grandparent’s role is to help grandchildren create new mischief and have fun doing it!”

This approach is an actual psychological style of grandparenting. If you’re that kind of grandparent, you are what is called the “fun-seeking” grandparent. The fun grandparent only wants to make sure grandchildren have fun. Reinforcing parental structure and teachable moments is not top priority with the fun-seeking style of grandparenting.

When grandparents keep a balance between being the fun grandparent and the formal grandparent, they are an extension of the parental structure. These two approaches, when combined, enhance greater emotional support and cohesiveness for the family. The “formal approach” occurs when a grandparent shows strong interest in their grandchildren and leaves parenting to the grandchildren’s parents.

Key to being a grandparent who reinforces the structure of the family unit is communication with parents, and mutual respect. Parents should initiate the communication with grandparents, letting them know what their expectations are while grandchildren are in the care of their grandparent. The expectation of a grandparent is then out in the open and grandparents can openly say what they are comfortable doing or not doing. This initial open communication with respect is a way to avoid misunderstandings on expectations.  

Grandparents are observed and watched by little ones, making the influence tremendous and rewarding in the life of a grandparent. Grandparents teach just by spending time with their grandchildren, not ever having to verbally teach anything. Grandparents influence the way grandchildren view the world around them, so much so there are times children want to grow up to be more like their grandparent than anyone else.

Grandparents can provide support emotionally or physically for grandchildren and children. In today’s society, both parents typically work and the ability to rely upon a grandparent for help in caring for the physical and emotional needs of grandchildren is a stress release for the parents. At the same time, it is rewarding for the grandparent.

Studies have shown grandparents that see their grandchildren frequently and interact with their lives seem happier with life in their older age and have less depression. They feel needed, wanted, and a part of the family unit. One of the strong benefits of being an interactive and available grandparent is building relationships with grandchildren who someday may need the loving wisdom of a grandparent, as opposed to talking with a parent. When those special moments occur, the years of interaction as grandparent will pay off.

How important is it in today’s society to have someone who you know loves you and wants the best for you give you sound advice and who has wisdom beyond your youth? I would say extremely valuable. Parents, make time for grandchildren to know their grandparents. Grandparents, don’t be too busy or unavailable. This is your legacy and grandchildren need your input. Their parents need your support. Warm and cohesive family environments promote secure children who then turn around and offer a secure and safe environment to their own children.

Georgia Smith-Lyle, MA, LPC-S, is in private practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas providing counseling for children, adolescents, adults, marriage and family. She has authored two books and is a public speaker. Georgia may be reached at 469-855-0256 or via email