Lesley Stahl talks about ‘becoming grandma’ at Erikson event

Award-winning journalist Lesley Stahl has covered politics and foreign affairs for more than three decades. And when her grandchild was born, she used her journalistic skills to answer a pressing question: Why and how does becoming a grandparent change us?

Stahl recently joined Chicago Tribune columnist Heidi Stevens at an Erikson Institute President’s Council event for a conversation about Stahl’s latest book, “Becoming Grandma: The Joys and Science of the New Grandparenting.” During the discussion, Stahl shared the insights she gained from her research and own experiences as a grandparent, painting a picture that highlighted the important roles grandparents play in family life today.

“When I picked up my grandchild, I was overwhelmed by the emotion and physicality of it,” said Stahl, who is currently a correspondent on “60 Minutes.” “It just permeated my entire body. It was an aspect of grandparenting no one told me about.”

Stahl’s reporting for the book took her to a community in downstate Illinois called Hope Meadows, where retirees live among families who have adopted children through the foster care system. It also put her in touch with leading neurobiologists who explained that holding a grandchild triggers the release of a chemical in the brain that produces the feeling of euphoria.

Through it all, she gained insight into the crucial role older adults play in child rearing, regardless of their biological connection to the child.

“We’ve had the nuclear family for a few generations now, and I think we are finding it unnatural,” she said. “We need something larger.”

She also learned more about the positive impact grandparents have on grandchildren — and vice versa. Children who grow up with grandparents who are involved in their lives see a social-emotional benefit, while grandchildren have been known to ease the symptoms of certain medical conditions in grandparents. Stahl talked about the positive effect she witnessed grandchildren have on her husband, who has Parkinson’s disease, and a colleague who suffers from depression.

Convened by Erikson President and Chief Executive Officer Geoffrey A. Nagle, Ph.D., the President’s Council recognizes Erikson’s leadership donors through unique programming around issues that are important to Erikson and our work. Events feature discussions with and presentations by premier, national thought leaders, who along with Erikson shape the conversation about how to impact the lives of children and families.

Strong, supportive relationships help children thrive, and this applies to grandparents as much as parents, teachers, and other adults in children’s lives, Dr. Nagle said in his introduction of Stahl.

“Sixty percent of grandparents today help raise children in some way,” he said. “One in 10 children in the United States lives with a grandparent, and one in three of those children counts on grandparents as primary caregivers.”

Grandparents don’t need to be physically in the presence of children to touch their lives, Stahl noted. In the digital age, grandparents can connect with their grandchildren — and children — across great distances via two-way video technology like Skype.

“This has really been transformative,” she said.