5 Ways Strengthening Relationships with Older Family Members Can Boost Your Well-Being
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It is no secret that the bonds between parents and children can have a positive effect on physical and emotional health. But often we fail to consider the impact that similar bonds with other older family members can have on our lives and well-being.
From a young age, we may be told to respect our elders and spend quality time with extended family. But what are the real benefits of strengthening these relationships? Is there more to the picture? According to research, the answer is yes.
The Benefits of Strong Relationships With Older Family Members
A recent study on children and teens in England showed that those who had strong relationships with their grandparents were less likely to exhibit emotional and behavioral problems. This influence is most evident when the grandparent/grandchild relationship complements a close relationship between parents and children.
But the benefits of these relationships are two-fold. For an older family relative, a connection to younger generations exposes them to new ideas and activities. This physical and mental stimulation can slow the rate of cognitive decline, improve physical health, and increase longevity.
An Australian study found that grandmothers who watched their grandchildren on a regular basis performed better on cognitive tests than those who did not have regular contact with grandchildren.
It appears that the benefits of close relationships with older family members even extend to adult grandchildren. One study even found that grandparents and adult grandchildren who were emotionally close were each less likely to experience depressive symptoms.
Now that you know some of the more tangible benefits, here are five reasons why you should consider devoting extra attention to strengthening your relationship with your older family members.
1. Older Family Members Are a Resource for Life Wisdom
Most of us seek advice from friends when we face an uncertain situation. All too often, we fail to think about getting advice from our older family members whose lives are comprised of successes and failures woven into a rich tapestry of life lessons.
Whatever circumstance you may be facing, there is a good chance that your older family member has lived through something similar and can offer first-hand advice to help you navigate the road ahead.
2. Understanding Our Roots Gives Us a Sense of Belonging
Strong family bonds that span multiple generations strengthen our core identity and feed our innate desire for connectedness and belonging. Studies show that young children who have a strong sense of social grounding are better able to withstand challenging experiences, such as bullying or the breakup of their parents’ marriage.
Finding out more about who you are and where you come from can provide you with a sense of control over your life when things might otherwise seem hopeless.
3. Learning About the Resilience of Our Ancestors Can Help Us Face Our Own Challenges
Stories of triumph over adversity can be found in every generation. These stories of survival through war, overcoming racial and religious persecution, and other hardships can be a source of comfort and inspiration as you face your own challenges. When you talk to your loved one about the defining events in their lives, be sure to delve beyond the basic names, dates, and places by asking them what they learned from the event or how it impacted the course of their life.
4. Close Ties With Older Family Members Can Increase Our Sense of Compassion
Getting to know an older family member on a deeper level provides you with insight into their quirks and flaws as well as the challenges that they have faced at various points in their life, which can deepen your compassion and make you a more effective caregiver.
5. Strong Relationships With Other Generations Make Us Better Members of Society
The skills of compassion, empathy, and resilience that we learn and cultivate through our relationships with our grandparents and other older family members translate to other aspects of our lives.
Here are some examples of how these strong relationships with older family members are beneficial:
Ways to Strengthen Your Bond With Your Older Family Member
It can be easy to neglect relationships with our grandparents as we become adults. Work, other family obligations, and geography can make regular contact difficult; however, there are some steps that you can take to ensure that the bond remains strong.
Fostering a relationship with an older family member is like tending a garden. It takes time, patience, and planning. In the end, however, your efforts will provide you with what may be the most dependable and rewarding relationship that you can ever hope to have.
About Dr. Tchiki Davis
Dr. Davis is the founder of The Berkeley Well-Being Institute. After getting her PhD in psychology at UC Berkeley, she started building online courses, apps, and products to boost well-being—products that have reached more than a million people. Now an author at Psychology Today, The Greater Good Science Center, and Shine Text, Dr. Davis's expertise on how to boost well-being reaches people all across the world.