Talking to a grandparent I recently learned a very interesting lesson: Grandparents love the kids more than the parents at least for a season. I should point out my definition of love is the traditional idea that love is patient, kind, and self controlled. In this case you can also throw in grandparents can enjoy and appreciate the kids more because that’s also true. Please know, this isn’t an insult to parents (and not a rule), but simply the result of how people are programmed and ultimately a sign of how much the grandparents love their own kids who are now parents. I should also point out this is a qualitative finding and not quantitative (nerds will appreciate that reference). I want to be clear that I love being a parent. I I currently have an almost three year old and a 10 month old, and there are some wonderful moments… and then they’re awake. Of course, that’s a joke… kind of. Your kids always look so precious when they’re asleep; plus, there’s no fear they’ll hurt themselves, have a tantrum, or have an accident that you have to clean up while they scream in your face – the fun times. When you’re a parent, you’re typically in a difficult space balancing bills and schedules, and trying to keep up with quality family time. There’s a constant underlying level of chaos with a messier house than you’d prefer (unless you’re happy being a slob) and a fight to get the kids to do anything you want. A quick get shoes and coat on turns into a half hour adventure of tears and often forgetting something. All the while there’s a potential for a late night hospital visit that’s bound to happen at some point. Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy what you have or to be patient and kind because your mind is so busy trying to keep up with everything. I know my wife has said she wishes she could laugh more with the kids, but it’s limited as a parent because there isn’t the time, energy, or sense of freedom where you can. A little bit of crazy makes life more interesting, but being a parent, the crazy can be overwhelming and feel never ending as you struggle for a minute to yourself or for you as a couple. My idea of grandparents loving the kids more, however, goes deeper than that.
Parenting is connected to the Benjamin Franklin Effect as it teaches we grow attachments to those we help. According to this effect, if you want to make a friend and you have a choice of doing a favor or asking for a favor, you want to ask for the favor even though this seems counter-intuitive. Doing a favor, however, can be forgotten or brushed off. It can even make the person feel awkward or shame for needing help. Meanwhile, if you get to help someone else, you feel trusted and empowered. You get to feel good, and you will then associate this positive feeling to the other person who asked. This is the brilliance of parenting. God made babies completely useless to the point they can’t even burp on their own – that’s useless. But the more the parent serves the baby, the greater the attachments that grow. Moms have more attachment than dads when the baby is born because they’ve already sacrificed so much for the little one, but this connection grows for both parents and equals out (or should) as the history develops. For me, my love and attachment to my daughter at one year was far greater than at her first month, and I’d say they’re even greater for her now that I’ve had almost three years of helping her and watching her grow.
On top of the Benjamin Franklin Effect, there’s transference, which is used to describe when we transfer feelings from one thing to another, which is easy to do when it reminds us of something else. This can cause us to instantly like or dislike a person or place when there is no other reason for such strong feelings. From my guess, my wife’s increased immediate attachment to our second daughter was affected by transference because everything my second daughter did was something my wife had already experienced with our first. The combination of familiarity and transferring the happy feelings she has with our first helped her be more immediately attached to the second. If there was a third, I’m sure the connection would be even greater right from the beginning because there’s even more familiarity and happy feelings that can transfer. On top of this, first time parents are much more cautious with the first born, but by the third, as long as the child doesn’t need stitches or a cast, whatever, it’ll all work out. First time parents don’t have this experience-earned-confidence and are naturally more uptight adding to conflict and being short with the children (and possibly each other) while they tend to be more relaxed with each subsequent child they have.
These two ideas, the Benjamin Franklin Effect and transference go one step further with grandparents who have all of these memories and good feelings attached to their own children (if they were good parents), which now transfer to the grandkids. This is especially true for those who reminisce and remember all the great times of being a parent and forget about the bad. Grandkids are a second chance to relive the best moments you had and look forward to again. As the parents grow their bond to their kids, the grandparents already have a full attachment because of their experiences and love for their own kids. This is on top of the grandkids being their own kids’ accomplishments, which bring excited feelings. All of this adds up to the fact that despite spending less time and not having to serve the babies as much, grandparents already have a strong connection to the grandchildren because of the positive feelings they transfer over. Throw in the fact grandparents don’t have the late night feedings or overwhelming-all-the-time care giving and they are better rested, which naturally encourages more patience. They also don’t have the same pressure for disciplining and providing. Plus, as a grandparent there seems to be less pressure to feel perfect or reason to feel guilty for not being good enough like a lot of parents can face.
I should point out being almost 40 when I had my first daughter it’s like a middle ground between a normal younger aged parent and a grandparent as I’m much more relaxed about having kids than if I was 25. I’m more grown up, my life is in better order, and I really don’t care about parent shaming or social media, which means my patience is better. At the same time, I’m not as free as a grandparent because I have to discipline and provide.
The downside of being 40 and having kids is there’s a good chance I won’t see my own grandkids because men in my family don’t live past 65. With a little luck and the all the time I exercise and deal with my negative emotions that can lead to heart attacks, I will hopefully live long enough to get dementia in my 80s (another family trait), and then I’ll get the joy of grandkids, which will bring a little crazy into my life to make it fun, but not so much that it’ll overwhelm me. But whatever happens my kids are experiencing the best possible version of me they could have experienced; there’s good and bad in all situations.
This week may you consider the good in your own situation to better appreciate what you have.
Rev. Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)