The Wiring in Grandma’s Brain is the Subject of A New 2021 Study and the Findings Reaffirm our Place in the World

You know that special bond your mother seems to have with your kids? The one she doesn’t seem to have with anyone else — even you? You’re not just imagining it, according to a new study.”

This was the beginning of a CNN article, by Madeline Holcombe, November 19,2021, “Is Your Mom Warmer with her Grandkids Than With You? A New Study Says Blame Biology.”

I remember that my daughters seemed to want to be with their grandmother more than me. I now see that my grandchildren want to be with me, and voice that desire often. Why not? Parents have responsibility and lives independent of their children, taking up time and energy. They do not have the time nor inclination to read the same book multiple times in a row. We grandmas do. We know the grandchildren will memorize the book and then”read” it back to us. We are willing to give all the time in the world to our grandchildren.

Not having grandparents myself, as they were murdered in the Holocaust before I was born, I envied friends with grandparents. I knew I was missing out. Now, the study recently released shows that grandchildren gain great benefit with grandmothers involved in their lives. According to James Rilling, lead author and professor in Emory’s Department of Anthropology and Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, “[t]he importance of grandmothers can be traced neurologically, this study suggests.” See the study itself, “The neural correlates of grandmaternal caregiving,” published November 17, 2021.

James Rilling states,“[w]hat really jumps out in the data is the activation in areas of the brain associated with emotional empathy. That suggests that grandmothers are geared toward feeling what their grandchildren are feeling when they interact with them. If their grandchild is smiling, they’re feeling the child’s joy. And if their grandchild is crying, they’re feeling the child’s pain and distress.”

Wow! This explains the emotions this Grandma feels with the grandchildren. The study leaves out that we grandmas then move to action–to do anything we can to alleviate the pain or distress. The best that works for me is distraction. If I can distract the grandchild, usually they forget about crying and move on to the next activity I have distracted them with.

Interesting is what is next in another review of the study, “How Grandmothers’ Brains React to the Sight of Their Grandchildren,” by Carol Clark, eScience Commons, November 17, 2021.

In contrast, the study found that when grandmothers view images of their adult child, they show stronger activation in an area of the brain associated with cognitive empathy. That indicates they may be trying to cognitively understand what their adult child is thinking or feeling and why, but not as much from the emotional side.”

Young children have likely evolved traits to be able to manipulate not just the maternal brain, but the grand maternal brain. An adult child doesn’t have the same cute ‘factor,’ so they may not illicit the same emotional response,” according to James Rilling.

This makes sense. We grandmas light up with joy when we see our grandchildren. We have a totally different history raising our children, which was work. Grandchildren are all play.

Then there is the “grandmother hypothesis,” discussed in this review of the study. This proposition is “that the reason human females tend to live long past their reproductive years is because they provide evolutionary benefits to their offspring and grandchildren. . . .And in more modern societies, evidence is accumulating that positively engaged grandmothers are associated with children having better outcomes on a range of measures, including academic, social, behavior and physical health.”

And isn’t this what we grandmas want? We want to improve our grandchildren’s lives and hope that we bring a better outcome to all areas of their lives.

One of the findings is one of the reasons I started this blog in the first place. “The main challenge many of them reported was trying not to interfere when they disagreed with the parents over how their grandchildren should be raised and what values should be instilled in them.”

Let’s all let go of that challenge. Grandchildren are not our “job,” they are our joy. See, first post, “How to be the Best Grandma in the World with the Most Joy and Least Responsibility.”  Grandparenting should be all joy and no responsibility is my mantra.

Another mantra is that the grandchildren will grow up fine despite their parents. See post, “Our Grandchildren Will Grow Up Just Fine Even Though We Are Not Raising Them, Even In Today’s Society When the Parents May Or May Not Be Married.” Our grandchildren will all be fine. After all, our own children grew up fine despite us!





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