I have been reading and writing about the importance of grandparents in the lives of kids. Most of it has focused on the simple joys of having extra pairs of loving hands in their lives, as well as helping mom when she needs a break. But the University of Utah just published some research that suggests that grandmothers actually increased the longevity of humans way back when.
The article explains:
“…as human ancestors evolved in Africa during the past 2 million years, the environment changed, growing drier with more open grasslands and fewer forests – forests where newly weaned infants could collect and eat fleshy fruits on their own.‘So moms had two choices,’ Hawkes [professor of anthropology at the University of Utah] says. ‘They could either follow the retreating forests, where foods were available that weaned infants could collect, or continue to feed the kids after the kids are weaned. That is a problem for mothers because it means you can’t have the next kid while you are occupied with this one.
That opened a window for the few females whose childbearing years were ending – grandmothers – to step in and help, digging up potato-like tubers and cracking hard-shelled nuts in the increasingly arid environment. Those are tasks newly weaned apes and human ancestors couldn’t handle as infants. The primates who stayed near food sources that newly weaned offspring could collect “are our great ape cousins,” says Hawkes. “The ones that began to exploit resources little kids couldn’t handle, opened this window for grandmothering and eventually evolved into humans.”
Apparently, theories like this have been around for a while. But this new study provided mathematical evidence that involved grandmothers were a primary factor in increasing human lifespans.“Grandmothering gave us the kind of upbringing that made us more dependent on each other socially and prone to engage each other’s attention,” she adds. That, says Hawkes, gave rise to “a whole array of social capacities that are then the foundation for the evolution of other distinctly human traits, including pair bonding, bigger brains, learning new skills and our tendency for cooperation.”
So if you are debating how much time and effort you should invest in strengthening the relationship between the kids and grandparents in your life, you might want to be conservative and make sure there is a strong bond. Who knows what the research community will find out next?
There are so many reasons why I wish my parents lived closer to our family: last-minute babysitting, weekly dinners, tutoring, beautiful hand-stitched Halloween costumes (I wish. I saw some on Pinterest by a Grandma that made me envious). But what’s really getting to us now is adjusting back to everyday life after a visit from the grandparents.Our grandparents were just here. The anticipation of the visit was phenomenal, especially for my 5-yr old. Every day for a week before their arrival, she would wake up, run down the stairs, and make sure she knew how many days until they showed up. “Is it 3 days after this day, or 2 days after this day?”, she would ask? Her excitement wore off on all of us, and we planned and had a wonderful visit. (Except for the wee little stomach virus I shared with my mom. Oops.)

After such a big build up and a cookie-filled, totally indulgent visit, we should have predicted that the grandparents’ going home may not go over so well. One night, my parents just went back to the hotel rather than to our house to tuck in the wee ones, and our 5 year old bawled for 20 minutes. But when they left the state, she really surprised us. Our normally mellow, tantrum-lite child had about 3 major breakdowns in one day.

Margaret Mead, the anthropologist, researched families and communities, including inter-generational relationships. She authored the popular quote: ‘Everyone needs to have access both to grandparents and grandchildren in order to be a full human being.’ My suspicion is that my daughter simply is trying to be a full human being, and is struggling when her grandparents are not around. I truly believe that she is complete when surrounded by her whole family, including both sets of grandparents, and that their departure is much more than less ice cream. I think there is a biological need that takes over, and she feels less ‘whole’ as a person when her family is limited to two busy parents and a nasty older sister.

That being said, we will do our best to keep our kids and grandparents in touch between visits. But I do wish we lived near all of her grandparents, and I know she does too.

When my grandmother was alive and I lived far away, I quickly learned that all she really wanted was a phone call or a visit. I could skip the holiday or birthday scarf, book or other gift. Instead, we had a regular phone schedule that we both enjoyed. (I am particularly missing her this election since she closely watched politics and always had something interesting to say).It turns out that this was a very healthy habit. AARP recently published an article and infographic, Alone and At Risk, that suggests that social isolation is a major risk factor for aging adults. The article comments, ”Research shows that social detachment — having few close relationships — is as bad for you as smoking and worse than obesity.”

The article then explored why seniors are experiencing social isolation by conducting a survey. The two top reasons by far were “Family and friends live too far away” (48% of respondents) and “Family and friends are too busy” (42%). I was surprised that so many seniors felt disconnected from their families, especially given all the technologies available today.

However, it made me wonder if the problem somehow had it’s roots in the response ‘Family and friends too busy.’ When I think about all the activities I do with my kids, both during the week and the weekend, it really is challenging to find time to make a call or set up Facetime or Skype. One possible way to help seniors and their families become more connected is to focus on asynchronous communication. For example, DoubleScoop, Facebook, and even plain old email don’t require both grandparents and their families to be available at the same time. This might in part explain the growth of seniors using Facebook. For grandparents with grandkids too young for Facebook or email, DoubleScoop and BloggleBeans are fun, new ways to connect them when they have a free moment.

On Becoming a Grandparent

October 5, 2012

I read an interesting piece in the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal about the impact of becoming a grandparent to a person. While I am pretty far from being a grandparent, there were some insightful comments the writer made. Here are a few things that struck me:

  • “When you become a grandparent, it suddenly hits you that time is precious and you need to make the most of it.” 
  • “Now my wife and I get to transition from the serious parents to the fun grandparents.  What sucks for my son is that he will always get the serious parent routine from us. We care way too much about our boy and his wife to stop being his parents. But we will probably spoil the hell out of the little one.”
  • “The point at which you become a grandparent is when you finally get to see if you were a good parent or not.”

The last one was the most interesting and I am going to ask my mom whether she agrees. Are they finally seeing whether they think they did a good job raising me? Does she think she messed up with me every time I make a mistake with my kids, which is frighteningly frequent? Some things to think about.

And why haven't I deleted it yet?

And why did I take a photo of zucchini corn cakes? And why haven’t I deleted it yet? 

Scrapbooking does not come naturally to me. My family scrapbook growing up was a big drawer under the TV where we dumped the occasional photos we felt were worth keeping. A couple of moves and the photos were duly placed into a new drawer somewhere else. Perhaps a photo would be removed from time to time at a milestone birthday or graduation. But usually not. Not to paint too dim a picture, our best photos were tastefully framed and placed somewhere in the house to enjoy. I suppose if you put them all in a row, we would have a timeline.

So, not surprisingly, when I had my own family, I started out with a large drawer in my coffee table where I placed any photos I remembered to print. I finally did organize quite a few into various scrapbooks when there was a wildfire near our house and it seemed easier to haul a couple of books than 1000 loose pictures. But soon after, the drawer filled up again.

Then we got a new coffee table. And there were no empty drawers in our house. Another round of shoving photos into some photo albums came to pass. And then things got really ugly. My husband and I each got iPhones, our 8-year old took possession of an old digital camera, we got a new digital camera, and my husband and I each got new computers, one Mac and one PC. Within 3 months, I had 1000s of photos on 6 different devices, nothing was getting printed, every memory card was full, and about 1% of all the photos were worth looking at again.

The solution? No idea. But for now the digital cameras are off limits, since we aren’t completely sure where the download cables are, and we have reactivated an account at an online photo-printer to encourage us to print and ‘scrapbook’ more. Facebook and its timeline are beyond my skill set. Of course we are using DoubleScoop with the grandparents and uncle so at least their photos are all in one place, rather than in separate emails. If you have any great ideas to help with organizing photos, please share them.

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