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Study shows that supportive grandparents can benefit moms’ mental health

grandmother with grandson
Yellow Dog Productions/Getty

Having the support of your “village” in those early days of parenthood is so crucial, but it’s not something many mothers actually have. One new study looked at the link between having grandparents close by and maternal mental health, and it likely won’t surprise you that moms of young kids fare far better when they’ve got the active support of their own parents.

The study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Population Studies, found that mothers are less likely to take antidepressant medications if they’ve got at least one parent close by, be it their own or an in-law. The researchers tracked 488,000 Finnish mothers of young children between the years 2000 and 2014, finding that antidepressant use was highest among new moms whose parents and parents-in-law were elderly, in poor health, and/or lived far away, which makes sense given that the responsibility of caring for them might also fall on new moms—a potential added stressor during an already vulnerable time.

“Previous studies have consistently shown that younger grandparents in good health are more likely to provide support and childcare,” wrote Niina Metsä-Simola, co-author of the study and demographics researcher at the University of Helsinki.

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“Whereas having an old and frail grandparent may even place an additional burden on mothers, as they cannot expect to receive support from such grandparents but instead need to continue providing support upwards.”

The link was strongest among single mothers, who are likely juggling more than their partnered-up counterparts. “Mothers in such a situation may need to take on additional work, affecting their need for childcare, and may even need to move home,” said Metsä-Simola. “Having practical and emotional support at such a time would be invaluable.”

“Parents of young children, especially those entering single parenthood, may be especially vulnerable to the adverse mental health effects of separation,” she continued. “This could explain why, in our study, grandparental support was particularly relevant for the mental health of separating mothers.”

It’s also worth pointing out that in Finland, where the study was conducted, mothers have access to universal healthcare and social services, as well as low-cost childcare and education. The elderly population also receives low-cost housing and care, all of which contribute to the population’s health and well-being. So if these findings are true of a nation with so much support for its people, it stands to reason that the link would be even stronger in places without those social safety nets, such as the U.S., where so few are guaranteed affordable healthcare, childcare, education costs, or other social services.

“Even in the pro-egalitarian context of Finland, the potential availability of grandparental support matters for maternal mental health, especially among the vulnerable population subgroup of separating mothers,” said Metsä-Simola.

Though having intergenerational support is amazing, there’s no shame in taking antidepressants or seeking additional methods of support, either for you or your little ones. In fact, doing what you need to do to care for yourself should be celebrated, no matter what it looks like or entails.