A small portion of children are raised by their grandparents, but most grandparents are a grand add-on, providing extra eyes and hugs and positive reinforcement. Experts credit them with being a significant resource for children, contributing money, time and more to supplement parents who are often busy with everyday tasks.
Both children and grandparents describe it as “eating dessert first.” Since parents have the primary responsibility to raise children, guide their moral development and see that they get the fundamentals they need, grandparents can leave that to the parents and have the freedom to simply enjoy the youngsters — and be enjoyed in return.
The way Vern L Bengtson, research professor in the Edward C. Roybal Institute on Aging at the University of Southern California, sees it, grandmothers and grandfathers have a distinctive job: “Be affirming. That's different than just being loving. Make them feel they are special, good, important. Be available. Show up at their events, and if you don't live close or can't make it, telephone or email or Facebook.” And, finally: “Be cool. Don't try too hard; don't preach or push; stay in the background, let them set the pace.”
When the Deseret News asked several children what they get from their relationship with their grandparents, stories of unconditional love, great fun, undivided attention and sage advice followed.
Bonding over hobbies
Dave Capson and his grandson Dayton, 15, like tinkering with machinery together. Today it's an old chain saw that belonged to Dave's dad before he died. The plastic is broken where it joins metal, and the senior Capson is showing the junior version how to fix it.
Dayton stopped by to see his grandma and grandpa in the Millcreek area of Salt Lake City, Utah, on his way from Skyline High School, where he's a sophomore. Their necks are bent, heads nearly touching as they study the device.
“Dayt's always been a mechanical kid. He'd drive you nuts with questions,” said Capson of his grandson, who plans to be an engineer and likes math and science and playing the alto saxophone.
In a few minutes, the teen's grandma, Rosalie Capson, will offer him milk and cookies before sending him off to his job as a custodian at a grade school a few miles away.
Taylor Thomas, 12, lives several states away from the Capsons but turns to her grandparents for similar reasons. She likes to cross just over the Idaho border from her Adrian, Oregon, home to go fishing with her grandfather, “Papa” Mike Dondero. Usually they sit on the shore and chat while they wait for a sometimes-elusive bite.
She's in seventh grade, and one of her other big joys is gardening with her grandmother, Kathy Thomas.
Taylor has eight grandparents, all in Idaho, including step-grandparents, but the Donderos live pretty close, so she sees them a bit more often than some. Each grandparent teaches her skills, like making things or cooking. As a bonus, there's not a bad listener in the whole bunch, she said.
“I love them all,” said Taylor. “I like to go shopping with them. They give me advice. They're always supportive and loving. Honestly, grandmas and grandpas rule.”
Time to teach
That's exactly how Carter Bullock, 11 and in sixth grade in Salt Lake, feels. His grandparents not only love him, but contribute to his development as a well-rounded individual.
His family, which includes three brothers, visits his grandmother Nancy McCormick, “Nana,” every Sunday for dinner and conversation. Often, his cousins are there and they'll make up a play to perform after dinner. McCormick takes some of her grandkids to California each year for a fun vacation.
“My mom is one more person who gives unconditional love and security to my son,” said Anna Bullock, Carter's mom. “When he was 3, she started 'Nana School' — he and two other grandkids would go to her house once a week where they would learn about something like bumblebees. They would search the garden with magnifying glasses, play games, sing songs, make cookies and read books.”
Carter's maternal grandfather, John McCormick, always takes him to lunch on his birthday. Carter learned to play piano from his dad's parents, Doris and Kent Bullock. They like to cook and drop off gifts, too. His pursuits with each grandparent are different — and worthwhile, he said.
Treyton Ned, 10, is in the fifth grade in Los Angeles. His voice rang with enthusiasm as he described a grandparent's role: “They’re an extra pair of parents, and besides that, they spoil you.”
His Grandpa Doug Harding — actually a step-grandfather he adores — “knows cool facts about everything.” He’s taught the boy to handle the tools he uses himself as a carpenter. He and Treyton companionably work with wood on projects, like building and finishing a desk.
Harding and his wife, Donna Chin, who Treyton calls “Por Por” (Chinese for grandma) live in Salt Lake City. She’s one of the boy’s favorite rambling partners; they cook and bake and go to the park, work and goof off in the yard and always have fun.
He learned his love of candied yams from making them with his father’s mom, Terra Ned, of Riverside, California. He talks about going to the fair with her and his cousins and how they like cooking together, too.
He misses his mom’s dad, James Kirk, his beloved “Gramps.” “We liked to fly kites and we used to play with balloons or go to the park and then get ice cream and eat it before dinner.”
The world and more
He cannot imagine his life without grandparents, Treyton said seriously.
The other children echoed similar sentiments about their own grandparents, those close and those farther away.
“All my grandparents mean everything to me,” said Dayton Capson. “They're always there for me. We go camping and they show me things. They set an example for me. And I ask them advice, all the time.”
The Capsons have 32 grandkids and are well-seasoned in the role. Ask grandma Rosalie Capson what kids want from grandparents, and she describes relationships as individual as the children themselves. Dayton is perfectly happy to just hang out. Sometimes Rosalie teaches their granddaughters to make french bread; all the grandkids do puzzles and play games with her.
Mostly, she says, “they bring joy, hugs and kisses. We don't have to discipline them. If they have questions, we answer them. With our own kids, we were too busy doing everyday things, like meals, laundry and discipline. There was not as much time just to have fun as we do with our grandkids.”
Because the grandkids don't all live nearby, they provide a dandy excuse to travel as well, she said.
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