Being a grandparent? It’s wonderful. And I just learned about a benefit of spending time with my grandkids that I never knew. What’s more, you don’t even have to be a grandparent to share this benefit with me.
If you’re lucky and you already have a grandchild, congrats! Grandparenthood is an extraordinarily good thing. Free of the challenges of parenthood, you’ve plunged into a whole new shimmering world. And unless you’ve had to assume parent-like responsibility for your grandchild, you’ll relish the many rewards you’re now entitled to enjoy.
Spending a day with my grandchildren is my idea of a perfectly splendid day.
(By the way, I don’t call it “babysitting”! I view babysitting as a paid job—a job I did to earn money in my younger days. By contrast, spending time with my grandkids is a joyful pursuit I welcome doing.)
It’s not always easy to become a grandparent. We all know you can’t make a grandchild appear with the wave of a magic wand.
First, you need to have a grown child or two. Next, that child must want to have a child or two of his or her own. (Let’s just say her.)
That child must be able to produce her own child. Several routes now make that possible: the old-fashioned way; new ways to conceive and give birth, thanks to medical science; adoption; or becoming a step-parent. (If you know of any other ways to produce a child, please let me know.)
Sometimes you can wait a long time. A savvy parent doesn’t ask questions and doesn’t offer advice. You need to be patient and let your child achieve parenthood whenever and however it works for her.
If, at last, your child has a child of her own, you are now officially a grandparent.
I’ve been lucky to have two exceptional daughters who both have children of their own. And I delight in their company.
But even though I’ve always reveled in my role as a granny, empirical research has now uncovered a wonderful bonus: It seems that spending time with your grandkids can significantly lower your risk of dying sooner rather than later.
A research study, published in May 2017 in Evolution & Human Behavior, concluded that caregiving both within and beyond the family is associated with lower mortality for the caregiver. This heartening conclusion seems to apply to every caregiver, grandparent or not.
The researchers from Switzerland, Germany, and Australia looked at data collected over two decades and focused specifically on grandparents. They concluded that “mortality hazards” for grandparents who provided childcare were 37% lower than for grandparents who did not.
Half of the caregiving grandparents lived for about 10 years after they were first interviewed for the highly-respected Berlin Aging Study, while half of those grandparents who did not provide childcare died within 5 years. These results held true even when the researchers controlled for such factors as physical health, age, and socioeconomic status.
What about non-grandparents and childless older adults? The positive effects of caregiving also extended to them–if they acted as caregivers in some way. For example, older parents who had no grandchildren but provided practical help to their adult children also lived longer than those who didn’t.
The results of this study are even more significant than they might have been in the past. According to the federal government’s latest scorecard on aging, there’s been a drop in overall life expectancy. If your goal is to stick around as long as possible, you might want to think about providing care to others, even if they aren’t your own kids or grandkids.
No kids? No grandkids? Here’s my suggestion: Enhance your longevity by becoming a grandparent-surrogate. Even if you think you might have a child or grandchild of your own someday, why not offer to spend time with other people’s kids or grandkids right now?
If you do, you can expect to see little faces light up when you arrive on the scene. Parents will be forever grateful, and you’ll probably have lots of fun.
How long will each of us live? Who the heck knows! But you might as well do what you can to prolong your life. Spending time with children and grandchildren, your own or others’, is a jim-dandy way to do it.