Grandfathers are Different from Grandmothers  

Your Uncle with his Grandpa in Nanaimo, BC

Brian with his Grandfather Hawkes

Grandfathers are different from grandmothers, according to conventional wisdom. Grandmothers dote; grandfathers complain. Grandmothers nurture; grandfathers instruct. Grandmothers hand out compliments and cookies. Grandfathers hand out quarters and advice. As usual, conventional wisdom contains some truth. Grandfathers and grandmothers often have different priorities and grand-parenting styles, but three points are worth pondering.
First, the differing roles played by grandfathers and grandmothers mean more diversity and thus extra value for grandchildren. Second, the emergence of the nurturing father means that nurturing grandfathers can't be far behind, especially considering that grand-parenting is by its very nature more laid-back than parenting. Third, generalizations about gender are inherently tricky, as humans display much behavior that is not gender-typical. Still, looking at typical patterns can be instructive.


Grandfathers May Focus on the Future

While many grandmothers remark that with their grandchildren they gain the ability to live in the moment, grandfathers have a different experience. Often when they look at their grandchildren, they focus on what lies in their future. This is what psychologist Erik Erikson called "generativity" -- the desire to produce something that will outlive the individual.
Bates, a professor specializing in grandfather-grandchild relationships, has identified seven expressions generative grandfathering can take, including these four:   
  • Family identity work promotes strong, resilient family relationships.  
  • Mentoring work refers to passing on knowledge and skills.  
  • Character work concentrates on nurturing ethics and responsibility
  • Investment work refers to helping young people become financially independent

Male Strengths
We know that gender differences exist, even in babies and toddlers. Scientists are still debating how many of those differences are due to nature and how many to nurture, but in most human relationships, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that most grandfathers have certain strengths that make them good additions to their grandchildren's lives.

From an early age, males tend to be more active and physical, which makes them well-suited for sharing sports and outdoor activities with their grandchildren. In addition, males have better spatial skills and greater mechanical abilities, which makes them perfect for chess playing, carpentry and basic mechanics. When it comes to interpersonal relationships, men tend to be less empathetic and more competitive, also more likely to engage in teasing and horseplay. As long as grandfathers don't veer into cruelty, grandchildren will benefit from these differing patterns of socialization.
Another effect that has been observed is that relationships with grandfathers tend to grow stronger as children age. One British study of maternal grandparents showed that children prefer grandmothers over grandfathers until they near the teen years, at which time the preference begins to even out. Among teen boys, grandfathers are named as the ones with whom they
"get on best."

This brings us to the end of Knudsenís research. Before I read this study I always assumed that Grandfathers were identical to Grandmothers. itís now very clear to me that Grandfathers are indeed very different and play a very unique role in the development of grandchildren.



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