Why science says maternal grandmothers are especially important to children
"Being a grandparent is life's dessert," my parents always say.
And boy, do they enjoy it, soaking up every second with their (by now) five grandchildren when they are around them, and pretty much trying to Facetime or Skype us anytime they are not.
And I can understand what they mean. Being a grandparent is all of the joy, and none of the stress. It is having come out the other side and realising how fast time really does go by and being so much better at just soaking them in, enjoying the stage they are at right this minute. It is being allowed to have all the snuggles and love and fun and joy – and so much less of the responsibility than when it was your own children. It is a youth elixir. A time-travel machine. A blessing.
And the beauty is that all these benefits, this joy, it doesn't just benefit the grandparents. No, children too benefit so hugely from having grandparents in their lives.
In fact, studies clearly show that the more involved grandparents are in the lives of their grandchildren, the better it is for everybody – themselves, the grandkids and the parents in the middle too, having someone to turn to for help and questions and just general support and care.
Of particular importance, research proves, is the maternal grandmothers. Mum's mum. According to this study, in most urban societies, grandmothers typically invest more in grandchildren than grandfathers, and maternal grandparents invest typically more than paternal – putting the maternal granny on top when it comes to help and support in raising children.
Interestingly, according to Science Daily, this has an evolutionary explanation, as family members related through their mothers (matrilineal kin) are predicted to matter more than those related through their fathers (patrilineal kin).
"Throughout human evolution, women were always related by certain maternity, and maternal grandparents were always more certain than paternal grandparents that a grandchildren was related to them. Thus, maternal grandparents, especially maternal grandmothers, may go the extra mile to visit their grandchildren."
Other studies have pointed to the reason women usually live longer than men as being because grandmothers are needed around to help with the upbringing of her grandchildren, a theory reseachers often refer to as the "Grandmother Hypothesis."
There is no denying that an involved and present family and especially grandparents can make a huge difference to a child's life. Personally, I was lucky enough to have had both my grandmothers not only live nearby when I grew up, but also (one of them) live long enough to become a great grandmother, to see myself and my sister have children of our own.
I think grandparents, and other older relatives, bring aspects to a child's life that are different from the experiences parents provide for them, and for that, and for all those cuddles, let's just celebrate all the amazing grandparents out there.