Connections Between Grandmothers And Their Granddaughters

Family Caregiving September 23, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

When it comes to the relationship you have with your adult granddaughter, how do your hopes and expectations match your current experiences as a grandmother? For grandmothers and adult granddaughters, there seems to be a correct “prescription” or “good fit” for building a strong relationship. This intergenerational relationship – done right – can be both powerful and meaningful for many years.

If you are a grandmother you might ask yourself:

  • Do you think your relationship with your granddaughter is similar to other grandmother-granddaughter relationships?
  • Do you want more from the relationship with your granddaughter?
  • How are you cared for by your adult granddaughter?

If you are an adult granddaughter you might ask yourself:

  • Do you think your relationship with your grandmother is similar to other granddaughter-grandmother relationships?
  • Do you want more from the relationship with your grandmother?
  • How are you caring for your grandmother?

Popular media culture may create stereotypes about the lives of older women and younger women in our culture. But it is a dangerous notion to underestimate the diversity of the human and relational experience.

We may be underestimating the diversity and importance of family relationships if we view them as being all equal and close as well. Even intergenerational relationships between grandparents and their grandchildren are quite diverse. They vary in quality and closeness depending on the sex of the grandparent and grandchild, with the grandmother-granddaughter connection being the closest.

Today, grandparenthood generally begins sometime during middle age for the grandparent and therefore grandchildren are young adults, in many cases, when the grandparents reach older adulthood. Grandparents and their grandchildren could find themselves in these roles for as many as 50 or more years. These relationships may become more complex and important during the later years for the grandparent and adult years for the grandchild.

The Support Relationships Provide for Us

In our relationships with others, we often get and give different kinds of support. We care for each other and receive care differently depending on our sense of connection to the person with whom we are interacting. We may look to a certain sibling for a particular kind of advice or spend time with an adult child to help them to grow in a certain area of their life. There are specific kinds of support that family relationships provide for us:

  • sharing of affection - loving and feeling loved
  • feelings of intimacy – sharing vulnerable thoughts and feelings
  • a source of companionship – spending time together
  • opportunity for nurturance – a sense of feeling needed by another person
  • reassurance of worth – affirming your own competence
  • a sense of reliable alliance – a lasting, dependable bond
  • the obtaining of guidance – access to needed help
  • satisfaction – a general feeling of overall satisfaction in the relationship

Not all of these forms of support are found in equal amounts in all relationships, but certainly family relationships, and more specifically grandparent - grandchild relationships, provide important quantities of many or all of these at some time during the course of their existence.

The Special Connection

While the family and developmental tasks of caregiver and romantic partner are prevalent in women’s lives at various stages of their life course, they do not exclusively define women’s relationships in either grandparenthood or young adulthood. Women most often engage in the role of nurturer and are typically more actively involved in family relationships throughout their lives than men. Even with all of the growth and change in our society, women are still socialized as "experts" in relationships. Young women as well as old are expected to be caregivers, kin-keepers, and the glue that holds relationships together. This pattern is especially prevalent in intergenerational relationships as grandmothers tend to share in more activities with their grandchildren than do grandfathers, and ,as a result, grandmothers are more often considered the "closest" grandparent for most grandchildren. Further, grandmothers' relationships with their grandchildren are characterized as being more intimate as well. Therefore, understanding the grandmother-granddaughter relationship could be especially important when trying to understand family dynamics and potential resources.

The “Convenient” Truth

For the most part, young adult grandchildren perceive their relationships with their grandparents as emotionally close. Grandmothers and their adult granddaughters tend to admire and rely on each other, show love and affection toward each other, and are generally satisfied in the reciprocity of their relationship.

Indeed, one of the best and most remarkable components of a grandmother’s relationship with her adult granddaughter is the mutual give-and-take. What gives them the most individual satisfaction, what they are each seeking out in this relationship, the individual and different needs of both grandmothers and adult granddaughters – are the very things that the other member of the relationship is most happy to provide.


Grandmothers love to feel especially close to their adult granddaughters and play the role of confidant. When a granddaughter shares her secret dreams and fears with her grandmother, the grandmother is especially happy and satisfied in the relationship. Adult granddaughters actually value a relationship with their grandmother that is intimate, as it provides a degree of separation from more immediate family members (siblings or parents, for example). A new perspective might develop and a special feeling of confidentiality often forms from these kinds of conversations. Do you suppose sharing secrets with your “girlfriends” never gets old?

Guidance & Nurturance

Many grandmothers like to help out. Granddaughters often want help. Maybe one of the best things about a relationship a person might have later in life is to feel like she is contributing something useful and meaningful to another person. You are still valued for your years of wisdom and experience. Maybe adult granddaughters feel like if they receive help from their grandmother there may be fewer “strings” attached than getting that same help from a parent (whether it is real or not). Nonetheless, granddaughters feel better about their relationships with their grandmothers when they receive help from them. It all boils down to a great combination.


Humans are social creatures. We crave time together. Being with people we love gives us rest, hope, energy, laughter, a needed shoulder, joy, peace, among many other gifts. Adult granddaughters value spending time with their grandmothers. Going on walks, spending time playing card or board games, having lunch, planting a garden, going shopping, or just talking to each other sitting on a park bench are some of the top things adult granddaughters enjoy doing with their grandmothers. It gives them great satisfaction. Satisfaction for whom you might ask? Well, one of the best things about this relationship is that when grandmothers see that their granddaughters enjoy spending time with them, it gives them (the grandmother) a great deal of satisfaction too! A grandmother takes great joy in knowing that her granddaughter wants to spend time with her and takes great pleasure in doing so. Does it get any better than this?


Grandmothers and adult granddaughters care for each other in a number of different ways. One of the most basic yet significant ways is in the area of affection. Sitting with each other, holding hands, putting an arm around a waist or shoulder, and maybe most importantly saying, “I love you”, are all meaningful ways to show affection in a relationship. Whatever the motivating factor, time and/or distance between visits, a current health concern, or simply a lifetime of high quality interactions, an adult granddaughter simply takes great pleasure in expressing affection and love to her grandmother. It would be difficult to find a grandmother that is not interested in being on the receiving end of her granddaughter’s warmth and adoration. A pretty simple way to care for your adult granddaughter is to actually reserve some time where she can show you how much she cares for you. This is a pretty good way to care for someone else because you get to share in the benefits. In this case, the old saying ‘what goes around comes around’ is actually a pretty good thing!


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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.