NORB RUG: The life-boosting power of babysitting

Norbert Rug

Donna and I "watch" our grandchildren and a few other children. As we count them up, we have watched more than 20 children not counting our own children. I think that babysitting your grandkids improves and extends your life — and studies appear to have confirmed that.

If you discovered the secret to a longer and more meaningful life, I am sure we would all embrace it. Apparently, watching children is that secret. People frequently say that being around children will make you feel younger and reports can actually measure and identify the benefits of caring for children. If the experts are all saying that “caregiving” gives older people a purpose in life and helps keeps them active, then maybe even small doses of babysitting may extend your life.

Researchers have actually found that grandparents who watch their grandchildren tend to live longer than seniors who don’t.

The Berlin Aging Study, which observed the long-term effects of caregiving on mortality (and was published in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior in 2016), showed that after factoring in grandparents’ age and state of health, the risk of dying over a 20-year period was one-third less for seniors who took care of children as compared to those who didn’t. More than 500 seniors were interviewed and had medical tests at their homes, doctors’ offices and hospitals, every other year, between 1990 and 2009.

The study concluded that spending time with your grandchildren, and helping friends and family members with their children, most likely gives people a feeling of purpose and assists them to stay mentally and physically active. Anyone who has looked after a preschooler can attest to having to be physically active. 

Donna and I are in our 70s and we're still looking after both grandchildren and children of friends that I affectionately call the strays or OPCs (Other People’s Children). Our oldest OPC, Andrew, will be 22 in August and now lives in Arlington, Texas. Donna started watching him after the company Donna was working for closed. We are looking forward to seeing another of our OPCs, Joedin, this summer. She and her family moved to North Carolina seeking employment and she returns to New York during the summer to spend time with us.

We think of both Andrew and Joedin often. They feel just like kin to us.

Every time a child leaves our care due to entering school, moving or a change in their family situation, we discuss taking on another child. We agree that we don’t need the money, and that it’s tiring, but then someone asks, “Are you still watching children?” We always answer yes and take on another child.

As per Reuters Health, which reported on the Berlin Aging Study, half of the grandparents who took care of their grandchildren were still alive 10 years after their first interview, whereas those who didn’t provide help lived for only about 5 years.

Of course, every person must decide on their own just what "moderate amounts of help" means. So long as you do not feel frazzled about the help you provide, you might just be doing something good for others — and for yourself.

Researchers found that grandparent babysitters had a 37% lower mortality risk than adults of the same age that did not provide care. The research also indicated that people providing care to children had a reduced risk of dying during the study follow-up than people who didn’t watch children. But the study can't prove cause and effect, it can only suggest this correlation; additional research would be required to determine the cause of the longer life expectancy of caregivers.

I really don’t need expensive research by a razzle dazzle organization to tell me just how good watching children makes me feel, how it lets me connect with my youth again.

If you are a senior, go find some relatives or neighbors who need your part-time help or support. It might be a challenge, but there are all sorts of ways you can help others. Watching kids so mom and dad can work or have a night out, picking kids up after school or providing a “bridge” between the time the they get out of school and their parents get home — Donna and I have done all three. Happily.

Norb Rug resides in Lockport. Contact him at nrug@juno.com