Generational Love

Research is showing that love and emotional support from grandparents can be among the most important influencers in the lives of grandchildren.

Many factors can influence the lives of children, beginning, of course, with their parents. There are also their siblings if they have them, their home environment and where they live, their teachers, classmates, coaches, teammates and perhaps even religious figures they may have in their lives.

But research has shown that among the biggest and most important influences in a child’s life can be his or her grandparents. The sense of security, mentorship and emotional support provided by grandparents can be vitally important during all the various stages of a child’s life.

“If parents regularly involve grandparents in their child’s life early on, that child can develop real emotional closeness to the grandparent and begin to see the grandparent as a source of strong social support,” says Kimberly Agresta of the Agresta Psychotherapy Group in Englewood, New Jersey. “A child will feel that they have adults aside from their parents who love and care about them in the same way, and this adds to their sense of stability and security.”

Some phases of life can be difficult when a child is dealing with circumstances far beyond their control, “like if a child’s parents are divorcing or they’re being bullied at school,” says Agresta. When children have other people in their lives “who have these attachments to and support from, [such] potentially traumatic situations are less impactful,” she explains, and it is times like these when grandparents can provide invaluable support for their grandchildren.

The relative detachment of grandparents who aren’t taking on parenting roles also provides a child with a certain amount of freedom, Agresta says, “and since grandparents are generally not responsible for disciplining or raising a child, they’re able to love the child a little more freely and unconditionally than a parent.” She describes some of the roles grandparents can play. “Grandparents are a wealth of knowledge and information. Not only can they pass on valuable skills from real-life experience, but they can also share the past with their grandchildren. They can serve as historians, sharing all kinds of traditions and stories about when their own children were growing up, which creates a sense of continuity for a child.”

Some may raise an eyebrow at Agresta’s suggestion that grandparents can love a child a little more freely and unconditionally than a parent can, but she says there is a reason this is so.

— Margo Hilbrecht

“As parents, we often have expectations of our own children — some conscious, some unconscious — so we can be tougher on our children,” Agresta tells City Life. “Grandparents don’t come from that place. They love without those expectations. Grandparents often say ‘I love being a grandparent more than I loved being a parent,’ as they love their grandkids and can love in a different way. Grandparents also have more quality time they can give their grandchildren.”

Agresta also observes that grandchildren can talk more freely with their grandparents and share their feelings and emotions more openly than they can with their parents.

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“Grandparents provide an additional place of safety and support because sometimes kids don’t share their true feelings with their parents,” she says. “It’s just a different relationship, and if grandkids have good relationships with their grandparents, then they are more open with them. And it does depend on the role of the grandparent. Some grandparents are primary care-givers while others are more in the ‘daycare’ role, seeing their grandchildren socially or attending their sporting events. But in every scenario, grandparents can play a significant role. Just lending an ear can be helpful.”

We all have memories of our own grandparents and usually those memories evoke emotions of warmth, safety, stability, peace and comfort. These are perhaps the reasons we all wanted to cook as well as grandma, master her stay-a-bed stew, 10-hour pasta sauce or her baking. One taste causes those memories to come flooding back, and “just like grandma used to make” is the highest praise possible. We didn’t know it at the time or were able to put it into words when we were kids, but the feelings of safety, security and stability were palpable when we were with our grandparents. As adults we’ve all smelled a certain smell that immediately transported us back into our grandmother’s kitchen.

A recent study from the Gerontological Society of America found that a grandparent’s involvement in their grandchild’s life can have a positive impact on the child’s emotional well-being and behaviour.

“Through grandparents, children have an extra source of emotional support beyond their parents,” says Margo Hilbrecht, executive director of the Vanier Institute of the Family, a national independent charitable organization headquartered in Ottawa, who spoke recently with City Life. “The grandparent may have more time to spend with the child and take a special interest. They can also be there to listen to the grandchild and even counsel them. They can play a key role in mentoring and nurturing and provide that extra support a child may need.”

The Vanier Institute conducts, facilitates and publishes research on the diversity and complexity of family life in Canada. Founded in 1965 by then-Governor General Georges P. Vanier and his wife Pauline Vanier, the institute, through its publications, research initiatives, presentations and social media content, works to deepen the national understanding of how families affect and are affected by social, economic, environmental and cultural forces. In today’s world with so many pressures impacting families, its mission has never been more important.

Growing up, especially during adolescence, can be fraught with emotional turmoil. “What if he doesn’t call me?” “I wonder if she likes me?” “What if I don’t make the team?” Such worries may seem trivial looking back, but they were all-important concerns through those formative developmental years. This is a time when grandparents can really have a deep impact on their grandchildren.

“A lot of research shows that a close emotional bond between a grandparent and grandchild can lead to very good outcomes,” says Hilbrecht. “Emotional closeness can be helped by geography, so having a shorter distance so they can see each other does help. But today’s technology has also helped tremendously. You can keep in touch through phone calls, and apps and social media have made a huge difference in keeping grandparents connected to their grandkids.”

Beyond the emotional impact, studies have also shown that a close grandparent-grandchild relationship can also benefit the grandchild in practical ways in his or her day-to- day life.

“Grandparents can teach grandchildren how to work through different situations they may encounter in life,” says Hilbrecht. “The research also shows that having a close relationship with grandparents can help a child with better social and coping skills and reduces hyperactivity. Grandparents can provide the emotional, physical and sometimes financial support for their grandchildren that sometimes the parents cannot provide.”

The question of how involved grandparents should be in the upbringing of a grandchild can often cause problems between the children’s grandparents and parents. It can often be tough for the grandparents to just bite their lip and stay out of the way when they disagree with the parents’ way of raising their children. It’s a grey area where everyone needs to tread lightly, or not venture into at all.

“That can be very challenging,” says Hilbrecht.“If grandparents make certain observations about the raising of the kids, the parents may often push back and say that’s the way things are done now. Regarding advice on parenting, people today seem less inclined to rely on traditional methods. They look very much to scientific studies and what may be promoted online by reliable websites. Generally speaking, things change, so offering advice probably varies from family to family. The bottom line is that grandparents have to remember that, at the end of the day, it’s their child’s children.”

While for any grandparent their grandchildren’s safety is of paramount importance, they should adopt a somewhat historical perspective and remember that they themselves most likely grew up in an era when cars didn’t have seatbelts and bicycle helmets were an oddity.

— Kimberly Agresta

Another important aspect of grandparenting is cultural, such as handing down traditions and passing along family stories from years gone by. Perhaps nothing strengthens the bond between a grandchild and their grandparent more than hearing stories about what a dweeb their dad was as a kid or how outspoken their mom was as a little girl.

“I think that the grandparent’s role in sharing family stories and other narratives is a really important part of a child developing a sense of their family and of themselves,” says Hilbrecht. “This also extends to family recreational activities the grandparent can do with the grandchild. Parents may not always have the time to go skating or do other cultural activities such as attend a play or go to the library. Those are special times and activities a grandparent and grandchild can do together. They contribute to an intergenerational translation of family and an extension of our cultural values as well, and also contribute to a sense of self for the grandchild and a feeling of belonging in the grandchild.”

Agresta points out that the benefits of a closer grandparent-grandchild relationship are mutual. Research has shown that strong bonds between a grandparent and grandchild can vastly improve the emotional well- being of the grandparent, even as the grandchild grows older. When young adult grandchildren still reach out to their grandparents, it demonstrates the strength and importance of that relationship for both parties. As the lockdown phase early in the pandemic wore on, grandparents experienced feelings of stress, anxiety and deep isolation that resulted from being cut off so abruptly from their families and their grandkids, whatever their ages may have been.

“Studies have shown that grandparents who are involved in their grandkids’ lives are healthier, happier and live longer,” says Agresta, who has seen this positive influence in her own life. “My mom didn’t have grandparents. Today she has ten grandchildren and is the best grandparent I’ve ever seen. She once told me her interactions with her grandchildren were based solely upon her fantasies of what a grandparent should be and she made that fantasy come to life. She’s over 80 and is absolutely thriving!”

“There are definitely benefits for both the grandparents and the grandchildren,” says Hilbrecht. “Grandkids can provide a sense of meaning and purpose to the lives of grandparents — I really think that’s what it comes down to. When you hold a little baby or a toddler in your arms, I don’t know how to describe it — there is just this sense of acceptance and love, along with a sense of wonder and imagination.”

Hilbrecht also says research shows that grandparents can continue to have a long-term influence on their grandkids long after they themselves are gone.

“The quality of the grandparent-grandchild relationship during childhood is bound to shape the importance of the relationship across the grandchild’s lifespan,” she observes. “So, if you have a good relationship with your grandparents, you’re likely to have a positive view of the grandparent-grandchild relationship and are more likely to look forward to becoming a grandparent.”

The bottom line of these revelations is that grandparents have more power than they realize in the emotional and developmental growth of their grandchildren. It just takes an investment of time to have that emotional and physical presence in their lives. Putting down the newspaper or turning off the television to call your grandchild, perhaps to arrange a library visit so that you can experiment with reading a book together, or taking them for an ice cream, or introducing them to pickleball, may produce returns beyond measure for their development. (And as an added bonus, grandkids provide excellent tech support!)

As the research shows, a closer relationship with grandchildren is good for grandparents as well. The chances are excellent that you will get back much more than you give.


Canadian singer and songwriter Francesco Muoio (known professionally as Frank Moyo) says the summer days he spent with his Nonna Rita after the school year ended are the accumulation of the best memories he has of growing up. As he sat at her kitchen table eating a plate of pasta, he would listen to all the stories she would tell of her time back home in Cosenza, Calabria.

Nonna Rita, a forward-thinker, Italian music fanatic and, most of all, a role model, spends her days caring for her family and her beautiful garden in Toronto. Because of her honesty, beautiful soul and devotion to her family, Frank learned from her early on what the true meaning of family is — one that is united, cared for and growing with love.

“Two peas in a pod” is how Frank describes their relationship. The incredible bond Frank shares with his Nonna has positively impacted every facet of his life. She taught him to be kind to and accepting of everyone. Most importantly, she taught him to do what is best for him and not worry about what other people think. Frank learned early on that happiness triumphs all at the end of the day. That means doing what he loves — music. Being the best version of himself and pursuing his passion for music went hand in hand.

Today, he graciously gives credit to their bond as the source of his inspiration but also as a main catalyst for writing Italian music. “Listening to the radio all the time, all the songs we listened to together, is one of the most important things I’ve gotten from her. I found my passion by just being with her all the time,” says Frank.

Today, you can see Frank and his Nonna Rita’s close bond on Frank’s Instagram account (@frankmoyomusic) along with his music. Here you will discover the true spirit of his Italian upbringing and all the values that come with it.

Arianna Skoloudik is fortunate enough to have grown up with all four of her grandparents and to look back on all the beautiful memories she shared with them. But her favourite memories took place on her grandparents’ farm in Schomberg, Ont., where she spent many summers and weekends. For her, the farm was her escape. The property was quaint and peaceful. As a child who struggled to make friends at school, the sheep, cattle, chickens, rabbits and cats that roamed the farmland became her friends.

More than anything, her Nonno Francesco adored seeing the family get together and enjoy everything the farm had to offer — tranquillity, fresh air and scenic views. Once he brought back twin goats and taught her how to care for them. Her Nonno, knowing how much Arianna enjoyed it, would release the entire herd of goats to roam the property to trim the grass. While the goats munched on the grass, her job would be to ensure none escaped.

They spent many hours together caring for the animals and their sleeping quarters and the garden. As they worked her Nonno would tell stories of his life back in Italy and the funny moments he recalled. Arianna remembers many evenings the family splitting the beans from the garden and laughing together as they watched the sun paint the sky pink as it sank below the horizon. By the end of the day, delicious dinners had been prepared and cooked by her Nonna Anna. The aromas would soar with the farm breeze as the family gathered around the table. At the end of the summer, the family would make tomato sauce from dusk till dawn.

Arianna’s Nonno was a true family man who put everyone above himself. He emigrated to Canada from Italy to provide a better life for his family. In Arianna’s heart she knows he would be very proud of her devotion to getting a post-secondary education, an opportunity that was far from possible for him because he’d had to leave school at a very young age. Nevertheless, her memories of his humility, work ethic and sense of humour have survived beyond his passing and continue to add grace and warmth to Arianna’s life.

Nonno Francesco passed away a year ago. She will forever cherish the opportunity she had to learn as much as she could from him and the beautiful memories of her time on the farm. He taught her that friends and boyfriends come and go, but the family always comes first. Family is forever.


One man in Vaida Urmuleviciute’s life that she has always looked up to, never been disappointed by, learned continuously from and felt protected by has always been her grandfather Medardas. Even he was undoubtedly the most serious one in the family, he ensured that his (at that time) only granddaughter would have a magical childhood.


Winter was her favourite season. Every year, her grandfather would build snowmen, take her around on sleds and even take her ice fishing. But “Looking for Elves” was her all-time favourite activity. For years, she had been convinced that the little steps in the snow (which were probably from one of their cats) were Santa’s elves snooping around the town for the naughty and nice. On Christmas Day, she excitedly checked the Christmas tree repeatedly until all the presents would magically appear. Deep down, she believed that the elves had just left. She hoped she would be lucky enough to see them next year.

Vaida and her grandfather closely bonded through their mutual love for nature. Besides being dedicated cat enthusiasts, they were an inseparable duo anywhere in nature. Whether it was fishing, berry-picking, gathering mushrooms or their endless forest walks, she never had enough of her grandfather’s company and wisdom. She loved to follow him everywhere so much that it led her as a 5-year-old to get stuck on a branch of an apple tree. Eventually, her grandfather had to climb up the ladder to rescue his little granddaughter.

Vaida will always be inspired, motivated and fascinated by her grandfather’s life. The most incredible honour in her life is being his granddaughter.


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Rick Muller

Rick Muller