‘Communal Grandparents’ Is the Next Life-Improving Scandinavian Concept Americans Should Copy

Photo: Getty Images/YakobchukOlena
We love borrowing things from Scandinavian countries. Hygge, the Danish art of cozy-cuddliness. Sisu, the Finnish concept of perseverance beyond your threshold. Niksen, the Dutch act of doing nothing. And now we've got kylämummi, the Scandinavian grandma for hire.

In Finland, there are approximately 830 communal grandparents—elders who volunteer their time with children in public arenas such as libraries, nurseries and schools. This adorable practice is meant to serve two purposes. It helps soothe the loneliness epidemic so common among seniors, and it helps children who live far from their grandparents (or don't have any at all) form meaningful multigenerational ties with aging adults.

Making bonds outside of your peer group is psychologically healthy for everyone. In casual observation, it seems that the bonds children make the most these days is with their iPad and Peppa Pig, in that order. Having an older mentor comfort and counsel someone younger provides a unique resource and perspective.

Bringing this concept stateside could so thoroughly help those who are in deep doldrums post retirement. Over 40 percent of seniors experience loneliness, which correlates with increased mortality and the rise of clinical dementia. To bolster both points, finding or keeping purpose at any age and maintaining healthy relationships is what aids in longevity. Also, young people could teach older people how to do radical things like watch a YouTube video and send an email attachment. Again, research shows the the benefits go back and forth.

I loved my grandparents very, very much. I carry their memory with me, but sometimes I really miss my YiaYia's soup and her old-world wisdom. I'm grateful to have had those connections for a portion of my life, but there's something I'm lacking as I get older and further from their memory.

If you're craving this kind of connection on a personal level, now is the perfect time to reach out to an older, surrogate, grand-friend to enrich your life and theirs. There's no doubt that they'll be grateful. But in a world where people across all age groups feel isolated, disconnected, and in desperate need of a home-cooked meal, it would be absolutely great to set up little institutions of communal grandparents stateside. What's the Finnish word for "heartwarming?"

BTW, there's a direct link between self-esteem and healthy relationships. And if you want to form more genuine relations, here are some actually helpful empathetic phrases for when someone's going through a rough time.

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