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As Stress on Families Rises, Grandparents Give Grandchildren a Boost

Voices of experience can help teens and tweens through hard times

Shawn respects her grandmother's life experience. Because of this, Peggy can play a role Shawn doesn't want her mother to play her best friend.

"I can relate to my grandma a lot more," Shawn says. "She does not talk down to me. She talks to me like I am her friend, more than like her granddaughter, like I'm more mature."

Relationships and sex are topics Shawn says she could never imagine discussing with her mother and father. "My parents are very awkward about that kind of thing," she says. When Shawn did tell her parents about her friend's pregnancy, her mother erupted, something Brenna now regrets.

"I was judgmental, and thinking back on it, I probably overreacted," Brenna says. "But I want to raise very strong girls." When she learned how Peggy handled Shawn's news, Brenna sighed. "That's what I should have said."

Stories and sanctuary                                           

Part of Shawn's faith in her grandmother's advice may be due to the many stories she can tell. A grandparent's role as family historian provides adolescents with needed stability, says Marsha Temlock, author of Your Child's Divorce: What to Expect ? What You Can Do.

"Grandparents are the repository of family lore, customs, language and stories," Temlock says. "They are the trunk of the tree. Children need a sense of place, and grandparents can provide that."

Grandparents also provide a break from what is going on at home. Now that she has a car, Shawn makes the 40-minute drive to her grandparents' house once a week. It's a relaxing place for her, and she often brings her friends along. Grandma's house can be neutral ground and therefore provide peace and security, Temlock says.

And as grandchildren move through their teens and begin to transition to adulthood, they still maintain a specific expectation of their grandparents' roles in their lives. "They want to be indulged," Temlock says. "They also want to feel safe with their grandparents. They want to feel as if they can tell them things and it would be held in confidence."

Bridge the divide

"Grandparents also take some of the burden off the parents and help make them less stressed, which in turn benefits the child," says Attar-Schwartz of Hebrew University.

Brenna Harrington is thrilled that Shawn is close to her paternal grandparents. She acknowledges that she and Shawn have reached a point in their mother-daughter relationship where they have trouble communicating something Shawn readily agrees with: "With my grandma saying it, I listen more." Asked if she has a knee-jerk need to disagree with her mother, Shawn replied, "Yes, that's it exactly."

This tension between mother and daughter, while very normal, still distresses Brenna. But knowing Peggy is there to bridge the divide helps her sleep at night.

"I am constantly obsessing about what I can do and how I can talk to her," Brenna says. "I feel better knowing that Shawn is talking to Peggy. I don't care that she's not getting the messages, the information and support that I want her to get from me; I just want her to get it."

Shawn isn't the only one benefiting from this multigenerational relationship. "Peggy reminds me that this is normal behavior" Brenna says. "She assures me that Shawn is going to be fine."

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