Grandparents can play a very important role in the lives of their grandchildren, for better or for worse. But some people aren't able to develop or maintain close relationships with their grandparents for a number of reasons: perhaps their grandparents died before they were born or when they were very young, maybe their parents don't have a good relationship with them and so the family isn't close, or maybe the grandparents don't make a relationship with their grandchildren a priority. There are some surprising, long-term side effects of not having a close relationship with your grandparents that you may never have considered before, particularly if you do have a close relationship with your grandparents.
Grandparents can play a lot of roles in the lives of their grandchildren. They can be caregivers, mentors, confidants, teachers, coaches, and friends. "Grandparents have a great deal to offer to their grandchildren through the engagement of a close relationship, including wisdom, multigenerational understanding, and knowledge, as well as a strong emotional connection that differs to the emotional connection with parents, though is equally important for the continued emotional development of both the grandchildren and grandparents," Dr. Carol Atkinson, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist, tells Romper by email.
Without this close relationship, there can potentially be some real and long-lasting effects. From difficult relationships with parents to lowered self-esteem and more, there are multiple ways in which not having a close relationship with your grandparents can affect you down the road.
1. More Difficulties With Parents Breaking Up
The Boston Globe reported that a study by researchers at University of Oxford in the UK found that having a close relationship with grandparents can help minimize the difficulties associated with your parents breaking up. Though that's not an easy situation for any child, having close, supportive relationships with their grandparents might help them get through a number of different difficult situations, including bullying.
2. More Emotional & Behavioral Issues
The aforementioned study by researchers at University of Oxford found that kids who have a lot of contact with their grandparents have lower instances of emotional and behavioral issues than kids who don't have much contact with their grandparents. It might be surprising to some, but grandparents really can affect you in a number of different ways.
3. A Potentially-Greater Risk Of Depression
A 2007 study published in the Journal of Social Issues found that young adults with stronger ties to their grandparents had fewer "depressive symptoms" than those who didn't, particularly if they were also close with their own parents. More family support might mean a lessened risk of the symptoms related to depression and, in fact, CBS News reported that the lower risk of depression might go both ways — good for grandchildren, good for grandparents.
4. Lower Self-Esteem Or Self-Confidence
"In the long-term, the absence of a close relationship between grandparents and their grandchildren carries the risk of being transmitted through the generations, and may perpetuate a cycle of negativity through interactions, self-talk, and other relational connections, particularly when children are in close proximity with their peers who experience close relationships with their grandparents," Atkinson says.
It's not something that just affects you at the time, but actually something that can linger for quite awhile and even effect your other relationships later on in life.
5. More Difficult Relationships With Parents
The New York Times News Service (via the Chicago Tribune) reported that kids who aren't close to any of their grandparents might actually have a more difficult relationship with their own parents. Grandparents can act as a buffer, give you advice, and help you (and your parents) see things in a way that you might not have otherwise considered. If you don't have a relationship with them, however, that might make things a bit more difficult to navigate.
6. Potentially More Negative View About Elderly People
Kids that don't really spend time around their grandparents or other older people, or have close relationships with them, might not have as many positive experiences (or experiences in general) with older people, which might affect the way they view that population. Reuters reported that researchers from Belgium found that kids who spend more time around their grandparents have more positive views about older people than kids who don't. So spending time with your grandparents could also help you feel more comfortable around older people — and the aging process — in general.
7. You Miss Out On Family History & Other Information & Experiences
Grandparents have all kinds of stories about family history, what your parents and their siblings were like growing up, what it was like growing up in the time in history that they did, and much more that, if you don't have a close relationship with them, you might miss out on. Not only that, but if you're close with your grandparents, you make memories with them, which you also miss out on if you don't have a relationship with them.
"Family of origin values, traditions and narratives that reside only in the lives and minds of grandparents are rich, and anchored in experiences which cannot be replicated," Atkinson says. If you don't — or can't — spend much time with them, that's information you might never know.
Not all grandparents are good grandparents and relationships are complicated, but not having a close relationship with your grandparents — by choice or not — might actually affect you later on more than you might have realized.