Affection between grandparents and their grandchildren is one thing. But it can be hard for grown grandchildren and their grandparents to relate to one another. We know how important familial bonds are for a person’s mental health and sense of social support. So how, family researchers wondered, do we find common ground across generations? In a recent study published in Family Relations and funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada, authors looked at grandparent-grown grandchild relationships to find what, exactly, helps these two groups come together.
Their conclusion, put simply, is that generations bond by doing fun things together. The original article refers to this as “playtime,” and lists leisure activities including cooking, baking, gardening, and shopping, The grandchildren were ages 18-24, so these activities weren’t “play” in the childlike sense. But the freedom and spontaneity that comes with play, the element of doing things that are simply fun to do—and to do together—is what makes it so effective. “Finding common interests between generations can pose a challenge,” write the studies authors, since pastimes, interests, and cultural preferences aren’t likely to overlap. But by simply doing fun things together, adult grandchildren and their grandparents can both learn about the others’ personality, interests, and outlook while working together on shared ground.
What has this to do with psychotherapy? Strong relationships across generations of a family go a long way in securing a positive mental health baseline for those involved. Elderly people are prone to depression if they’re left alone and lack interaction with their loved ones. And young adults can learn much about empathy, wisdom, decision-making, and life lessons simply by listening to more seasoned relatives’ experiences. Just like people from different cultural or religious backgrounds, people from different age groups can learn and grow through one another. And when it’s done by growing closer to a close family member, it’s all the more valuable.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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