Nurturant Grandfathering: Recreation Work

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

More than 63 percent of grandfathers who participated in a recent survey reported that their role in the family was that of playmate for grandchildren. Over 35 percent of grandfathers in this same survey reported doing recreational activities with grandchildren at least monthly. Indeed, leisure activities are likely the most common types of activities grandfathers and grandchildren do together, regardless of how frequently they see each other. Recreation work refers to a grandfather's effort to organize, facilitate, or participate in fun and enjoyable activities with his grandchildren. Recreation work fulfills grandchildren's interest in and need for diversion and leisure.

The types of recreation work performed by a grandfather is influenced by many factors including his grandchild's age, his grandchild's interests and abilities, and the grandfather's health, mobility, and interests. Financial resources are an additional factor that shape what kind of and how often recreational activities are done. Recreation work also depends on how near or far the grandfather and grandchild live from each other. Grandfathers who live close to their grandchildren may more consistently spend time doing activities such as playing cards or board games, eating out, watching TV or videos together, or attending local events together. Grandfathers who see their grandchildren on rare occasion because of geographic distance may center their leisure activities on large family gatherings as well as on activities done outside the home such as going to an amusement park. In any case, imagination and creativity are often required in carrying out meaningful recreational activities in which both are willing and interested in participating.

Recreation 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

A grandfather's efforts to perform recreation work can be influential on a grandchild's personality traits, values, and beliefs. Research indicates, even after accounting for the amount of contact, there is evidence that doing recreation work contributes to a grandfather's influence on his grandchild's outgoingness, friendliness, intellect and creativity, family ideals and family cultural identity, work ethic, and success in the future. This suggests that by participating in recreational activities with his grandchild, a grandfather influences many areas of his grandchild's personal growth and development.

Doing leisure activities with grandchildren is one way to relieve tension and anxiety that grandchildren may feel about visiting their grandparents, especially when contact is infrequent. When both the grandfather and the grandchild are engaged in amusement, laughter, or diversion together, the grandchild will be more comfortable around his or her grandfather. In addition, a grandchild learns to trust his or her grandfather and view him as someone who has similar interests and as someone who can relax and enjoy himself around his grandchild.

Benefits to Grandfathers

Research on grandfathers who participate in recreation work has found that greater involvement is related to an enhanced grandfather-grandchild emotional closeness and to relationship satisfaction. This means that doing recreation work strengthens a grandfather's personal connection with his grandchild and makes their relationship more meaningful and satisfying. Recreation work is also related to the satisfaction a grandfather experiences as he has fun with his grandchildren. As he seeks out opportunities to spend time with grandchildren in enjoyable leisure activities, he, in turn, experiences greater satisfaction knowing that he is fulfilling his role in the family. Research has also found that grandfathers engaged in recreation work reported fewer feelings of sadness, depression, loneliness, and anxiety. Further, grandfathers engaged in recreation work experienced increased sentiments of happiness, hopefulness about the future, and life enjoyment.

Activities for Grandfathers to Do with Grandchildren

There are countless recreational and leisure activities that can be done with grandchildren. However, in order to have a successful leisure activity, a grandfather must first learn what interests his grandchild and what kinds of leisure activities the grandchild enjoys doing. In some instances, it is helpful to allow grandchildren to take the lead of the activity and for grandfathers to follow along in order to observe and learn what grandchildren enjoy the most. Here are a few activity ideas.

  • Tell jokes and swap stories.
  • Turn on music and dance and sing together.
  • Play board games, strategy games, puzzles, or charades.
  • Go exploring around the farm, garden, orchard, or neighborhood.
  • Travel to a new place or explore new parts of the city or state, including local cultural events.
  • Go fishing, stargazing, camping, or geocaching together.
  • Share talents by playing musical instruments or sports games together, or by doing arts and crafts together.


  • 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.