OK, grandchildren, what have you done for me lately?

Rotten kids. They haven’t been rejuvenating me. That’s the message I get from one silly study.

Grandparents planning hefty amounts of childcare this half-term might want to think again after research claimed to disprove previous findings of a “rejuvenating effect” from looking after grandchildren.

Many studies have appeared to show mental and physical health advantages for those who care for their grandchildren. But none involved researchers talking to the same grandparents before and after their caregiving responsibilities began.

When the authors of Is There a Rejuvenating Effect of (Grand)Childcare? A Longitudinal Study, published this week in The Journals of Gerontology, did that, they found that caring for grandchildren failed to make grandparents feel any younger than their actual age.

Sorry, Iliana and Knut, you know I only visited you to leech youth-giving properties from you, like a vampire or Peter Thiel. Now I know it was all a sham, so I can stay home in the future.

The one interesting thing from the work is that it exposed selection bias in previous studies. Those studies compared how subjectively younger grandparents who took care of grandchildren felt, compared to those who didn’t. Aside from just the subjective evaluation of the effects, wouldn’t there be obvious bias in that you had to feel fairly healthy and vigorous to volunteer for child care in the first place? That’s hard work, yo. When they compared the same individuals before and after, the Fountain of Youth effect disappeared.

Surprise. I don’t even understand why this was considered a valid hypothesis in the first place, but then I’m not at all familiar with that literature.

You know, in all the times we’ve made the long trip to visit the grandkids, and all the times my wife has had extended stays to help with childcare, we’ve never once contemplated the peculiar notion that it might shave a few years of senescence off of us. Every trip back home we’re mainly dealing with tiredness, because the little ragamuffins can run us ragged.

We go because it makes us happy. Isn’t that enough?


  1. drickard says

    Peter Thiel: Silly PZ, just being around them doesn’t work–you have to drink their blood…

  2. robro says

    Three comments about grandkids, 23 comments about Apple cables. I think we can see where people’s priorities are.

    I don’t have any grandkids, but my son was born when I was 43. I was a bit old for having a new baby, then toddler, pre- and post-adolescent to take care of, entertain, educate and so forth. 3am laundering because the baby threw up in the bed and then driving 45 miles to work at 6am was not rejuvenating for a late-40s adult. It was exhausting. It was exhilarating at times, but mostly I was tired. My son is 30 now, and he’s still exhausting. I can’t imagine having a small child to take care of at my age. I think my partner would like to have grandchildren, which doesn’t seem likely, but I’m happy to not have that responsibility.

  3. birgerjohansson says

    In some frog species, the growing tadpoles in the water can serve as lunch for the parents. This is impractical for mammals as the parents have invested so much in the offspring, but it might work for the grandparents!

  4. birgerjohansson says

    Hmm. If you expose an embryo to something before its immune system learns to distinguish self from nonself, it will continue to tolerate that thing (this is why a fraternal twin embryo can sometimes absorb its sibling without the remaining tissue lump being destroyed by an immune reaction).
    So if you inject some of your cells into your grandchildren during their fetal stage, your tissue will not trigger an immune reaction later.

    -Then you could use your grandkids as a substrate to grow extra organs derived from your own stem cells.
    Or you could do what the Igor clan does; if there are some perfectly good organs/limbs left over from a dead Igor, just stitch them on in case they are needed later.
    This will require a somewhat flexible attitude to physical appearences, non-Igors are prejudiced against ‘atypical’ numbers of limbs.

  5. Artor says

    I hope I still have a long time before I am a grandparent, but for certain, raising my own kid didn’t make me any younger. It was a major source of stress and often lack of sleep. Being a grandparent and having the option to hand the kid back when I need time off would make it somewhat less exhausting, but that’s the nature of kids. Who got this idea of a rejuvenating effect in the first place? They clearly have never taken care of kids before.

  6. magistramarla says

    Yay for you, brightmoon @#9 !
    We raised 5 kids, and we now wonder how we survived.
    We now have 7 grandchildren, and it is so much fun to watch our kids navigate parenthood.
    The oldest grandson is 22, so we may be seeing a great grandchild in a few years.
    He has 2 little sisters, ages 9 and 6, so he’s helped with them a lot.
    Thanks to that, he’s in no hurry to become a parent, but also thanks to that, I’m certain that he
    will be an excellent father some day.