Disclosure: This post about aging well is part of a sponsored campaign with Aetna but all opinions about the importance of grandparents expressed are my own.
What do you think the roles of grandparents are in the lives of grandchildren? Are they figureheads who buy them too much candy and spoil them rotten or are they something much more? Or are grandparents supersized parents who can teach your kids from a wealth of wisdom that you’ve not even had the opportunity to amass yet?
When I was growing up, I didn’t know my grandparents very well. I knew who they were, I loved them because that’s what you’re supposed to do but I only saw them once a year and on special occasions. Mostly, I knew about them through stories, cards and photos. I always knew that I wanted more than that for my children. I wanted real connections, bonds.
Back then my parents lived in Mexico and the other set lived in Tennessee. We lived in Chicago. There were six kids so to go anywhere, we had to drive and anyone who has ever road tripped with six children know that it’s not something you want to do every other month. It’s a big, chaotic, crazy deal so we’d go spend time with our grandparents once a year. In fact, I never met my grandfather in Mexico until I was 10 and he was already in his late 80’s. I loved these four elderly people but really, they were nearly strangers to me. Strangers who I knew I was supposed to love and respect.
Today, more than 7 million grandparents live in the same house with their grandchildren. The sandwich generation is a real thing and I think in many ways it is amazing. In the Latino culture, having grandparents live in the same house as their grandchildren has always been a very common thing. It fosters a great sense of bonding and makes it possible to really get to know one another, which I think is so important.
Before we had children, the Big Guy and I traveled and moved around a lot. But the minute I gave birth, I knew we had to move back to the Midwest because having my parents and my husband’s parents be an involved part of my children’s lives was very important. It was non- negotiable so we relocated back to the Midwest and have never regretted the decision.
There is a bond that forms when a child spends real day-to-day time with their grandparents that can’t happen when they only see them on special occasions. Life happens in the minutia. Not only does the help the children grow up close to their grandparents, it’s good for the grandparents. Playing with the little people you love, keeps you young and happy. The same way, having a grandparent to turn to for advice and a little extra attention is good for the soul of a child.
When you stop moving, you stop living. I’ve learned this first hand with my recent leg injury. These days less than half of grandparents are fully retired and almost 40% still work. They want to keep moving and living fully for as long as possible and feeling needed and appreciated by family members, especially adoring grandchildren is the perfect recipe for that.
The more family members talk to one another, the more you learn about one another. We know things about my parents and my husband’s parents than ever before because in our regular daily conversations, things come up that would not otherwise. We know all of our parents’ health issues, meds they take and what their plans and wishes are in case anything tragic ever happens. I never knew these things before but by being more involved in one another’s lives, these things come up in normal conversation and this is good because we won’t be left scrambling in the case of an emergency. There is a casual comfort that comes with being with loved ones every day.
All of this also does one more very important thing; it opens up conversations about genetic health issues or just health in general. My girls know that my dad has always led a predominantly healthy and active lifestyle and it shows. They also know that being Latinos, we have family members who have died from diabetes and high cholesterol and that they need to be aware of that. They know that 3 of their 4 grandparents have heart issues but they also know that with a healthy, active lifestyle they can help prevent that.
Moving so that our children could be closer to their grandparents, figuratively and literally, was one of the best decisions we ever made for our daughters, our parents and ourselves. In my opinion, family is the most important thing we can give our children.
For more information about Aetna’s open enrollment October 15, 2015- January 31, 2015 visit Grandparents.com/Aetna for more information about how you can help your parents and aging family members get the most of their health in the year ahead.
Grandparents have a wealth of wisdom to teach our children and us, let’s help keep them healthy so they can be around to do so.