Nurturant Grandfathering: Mentoring Work

Family and Consumer Sciences
James S. Bates, Assistant Professor, Field Specialist, Family Wellness, Ohio State University Extension

One of the greatest desires of a caring grandfather is to see his grandchildren reach their full potential. Grandfathers can help their grandchildren reach their full potential by passing on life skills, talents, and competencies that the grandfathers have learned over their lifetime. Mentoring work refers to the time, effort, and energy grandfathers demonstrate to teach, coach, guide, and correct their grandchildren as the grandchildren learn practical knowledge and skills. Grandfathers are motivated to do mentoring work because of grandchildren's needs to be competent in and informed about their world. Grandfathers are also motivated to pass on part of themselves—part of their own knowledge and learning—to the next generation.

Mentoring work is an important dimension of grandfatherwork. Grandfatherwork "is defined as the effort, energy, time, and resources grandfathers put forth to care for, serve, meet the developmental needs of, and maintain relationships with their descendants" (Bates, 2009, p. 338). Simply being a grandfather does not take much effort. However, grandfathering is more than being a passive observer; it implies action and engagement. It means that a grandfather makes a conscious commitment to be present and participate actively in his grandchildren's lives. It also means that a grandfather will take a personal interest in helping his grandchildren reach their potential.

Grandfatherwork is grounded in the human developmental stage of generativity. Life span theorist Erik Erikson (1950) proposed the term generativity, which refers to the motivation to teach, establish, contribute to, and care for subsequent generations. Grandfatherwork is one way aging men can practice generativity. By teaching, guiding, and nurturing grandchildren in and through various activities, grandfathers are fulfilling their own developmental need to be generative. If aging men are not actively engaged in generative activities, they are not working toward their developmental potential and may become stagnate and self-absorbed (Erikson, 1982).

Benefits to Grandchildren

Talents, skills, and knowledge that a grandfather attempts to transmit to his grandchildren reflect his occupation, education, and hobbies. For example, two brothers who lived with their grandfather when they were children would often tag along when he would wire a house for electricity. From their grandfather, these boys learned how to install electrical wiring, and both eventually became professional electricians.

A grandfather's efforts to perform mentoring work can be influential on his grandchild's personal growth, values, and beliefs. Research indicates, even after accounting for the amount of contact, there is a moderately strong tie between doing mentoring work and a grandfather's influence on his grandchild's family ideals and values, trustworthiness, intellect and creativity, work ethic, beliefs about education, and success in the future. This suggests that by working to instill practical skills in his grandchild, a grandfather is impacting other important areas of his grandchild's personal growth and development.

Grandfathers may not always be successful in passing on skills and knowledge. Indeed, some grandchildren may not be interested in learning from their grandfathers. If learning is accomplished, grandchildren may choose not to put it into practice in their lives. Either way, for many grandfathers, the teaching of skills and the sharing of knowledge and talent is important for relationship development and for supporting and nurturing the emotional development of their grandchildren.

To be successful in mentoring, grandfathers should engage in teaching opportunities with patience, calm persistence, and enthusiasm. Grandfathers can demonstrate or model the skill, explain how to do it, and allow their grandchildren to practice it. Keeping a grandchild involved in the learning by coupling the new skills with the grandchild's preferences and interests is essential.

Benefits to Grandfathers

Research on grandfathers who participate in mentoring work has found that greater involvement is related to an enhanced grandfather-grandchild emotional closeness and to higher levels of relationship satisfaction. This means that doing mentoring work strengthens a grandfather's personal connection with his grandchild and makes that relationship more meaningful and satisfying. Mentoring work is also related to a man's satisfaction as a teacher of practical skills. As he teaches his grandchildren skills and helps them develop talents and abilities, he experiences greater satisfaction knowing that he is doing his part in the family. Research has also found that grandfathers who report mentoring their grandchildren also report increased feelings of happiness, hopefulness about the future, and life enjoyment.

Activities for Grandfathers to Do with Grandchildren

  • Teach grandchildren practical life skills such as how to sew a button, change a car's oil, and the importance of personal hygiene.
  • Discuss current events and how such events might affect grandchildren.
  • Encourage grandchildren to develop their talents in dance, music, sport, and employment.
  • Teach grandchildren how to prepare certain meals, preserve foods, or grow fruits and vegetables in their own garden.
  • Share hobbies with grandchildren, and allow them to participate according to their abilities.
  • Foster grandchildren's intellectual growth by encouraging them to work hard in school, by assisting with homework, and by attending their school events.
  • Teach grandchildren how to make responsible financial decisions such as purchasing items that will retain value, saving for the future, budgeting, and giving to charity.


Bates, J. S. (2009). Generative grandfathering: A conceptual framework for nurturing grandchildren. Marriage & Family Review, 45, 331-352.

Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York: Norton.

Erikson, E. H. (1982). The life cycle completed. New York: Norton.

Data mentioned herein are from James S. Bates and Alan C. Taylor's research project, Grandfather Involvement and Health Survey. This is the first time these data have been published.