There are some special and unique characteristics about the stage of life that we grandparents are in. As a researcher, I call this stage “generativity.” As a grandparent, I just call it a great time.

But thinking about generativity, I recall many trips with my kids to see my friend Norm. He was an older man who was administrator at a nearby nursing home. He’d herd all the kids into his office and close the door so he could have them all to himself. The kids didn’t mind because he kept a jar of chocolate candy kisses on his desk. Norm wouldn’t keep them waiting long. “Would you like some candy?”

Now, I’d be thinking, “Okay kids, just take one.” But before I could say anything, Norm would tell them, “Take all you want,” and they each pulled out five or six.

Instantly, my paternal radar kicked in: now I’d have five sugar-hyped kids in the van on the way back home … with chocolate slobber on their clothes … and two of them didn’t say “Thank you.”

But Norm? He just said, “Isn’t this great, kids?” and they all agreed. “He’s like our grandpa,” my daughter said more than once. Those visits taught me early on that my kids needed more positive influence than I could supply, and grandparents were great people to provide it.

You see, parenting is generally carried in two components: instrumentality and expressiveness. Instrumentality is task-orientation: the father and mother have a job, to raise their children to be responsible adults. So they teach, set goals, make rules, and dole out discipline.

The expressiveness part simply focuses on the joy of the relationship. It says, “Let’s just have fun being together.”

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Now, ideally, good parents are both instrumental and expressive. They fulfill their responsibilities and take time to simply enjoy their kids. But honestly, most parents lean more toward instrumental and too often neglect the expressive—there’s just too much to stay on top of as a parent.

And so, often there’s this gap between the two. And wouldn’t you know, it’s a gap that we grandparents seem perfectly designed to fill, at least part of it. I mean, we’re all about the expressiveness and the fun with our grandkids, right?

All this to say, grands, you’re needed. Your grandkids probably need more than what their parents can give them. So I say, get to work loving on those grandkids.