Webster’s tells us that to be “grand” is to be magnificent, the most important of its kind. And picture the visual for someone making a “grand” entrance: dramatic, majestic, stunning.
If I could try to put into words what it means to be a “grand” parent, however, I’d portray it much more humbly. It’s comprised of a reawakening of imagination, a rediscovered appreciation for the heavy warmth of a little person sleeping in my arms, of crawling into quilt hideaway secret rooms with storybooks and miniature tea sets, of playing a make believe game outside where we transform into all powerfuls and nothing can get in our way.
The utter joy that comes from being a grandparent is beyond anything I could ever have imagined while raising my own children. I’m finally able to feel a calmness that allows me to savor these moments and the countless others I’m blessed to spend with these precious young lives. But in addition to these intangible benefits, there are some real and surprising health benefits to spending time with the grandkids. For instance, did you know…?
- Our risk of developing Alzheimer’s decreases. Those of us who devote time to taking care of grandchildren reduce their risk of dementia and other cognitive disorders – provided we’re not getting too much of a good thing! Research showed the most positive results in grandparents who spent at least once a week – but not more than four days a week – babysitting grandkids.
- Our immune system is strengthened. There’s just nothing better than a big bear hug from your grandchild, or holding that little hand as you explore the world around you. Touching others has been shown to boost white blood cells while lowering inflammatory cells. And, according to geriatrician Walter Nieri, “A kiss or holding hands gives a sense of calmness, peacefulness, and security if you’re under stress. Relieving stress delays the shortening of telomeres [an essential part of human cells that affect the aging of cells] associated with aging.”
- Our activity level gets a boost. Have you spent a day out with the grandkids lately? I mean, actually engaging with them on their level – not just watching from a park bench? Their boundless energy, if we share in it, can do wonders for our own joint mobility, strength and energy level. And oh, the deep, refreshing night of sleep that comes after such an exhausting day!
And the benefits go both ways. Children who are lucky enough to grow up in a family circle that includes involved grandparents experience a boosted sense of safety and security, deeper emotional connections, and even a lessened likelihood of developing depression in adulthood. Roma Hanks, PhD, goes so far as to say, “It is my belief that grandparenting is the most important family role of the new century.”
Pretty magnificent, er, pretty grand; wouldn’t you agree?