Family life is a bit different now to what it was when I was growing up. People are living longer; families are often “blended” families – having been through changes due to death, divorce or separation of the children’s parents, and families are often spread across the country or even the world. This can make it harder for Grandparents to provide the traditional role of days past.
If both parents are working, often Grandparents are needed to help with primary childcare or the support of a child who has special needs. With the rise of the Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) workforce, Grandparents can be invaluable in supporting the individual parent at home.
The African proverb is that “it takes a village to raise a child.” So, the question is “Do you need Grandparents to successfully raise children?”
Grandparents can play a key role in helping to successfully raise children – even though they might not always be present in the physical sense. Grandparents can have enormous degree of influence on their grandchildren, partly because the child recognises their early parental role and because, being one step removed from Mum or Dad, Grandparents can be fun!
Grandparents can be present in a child’s life by “being there” – physically, as a direct presence and emotionally, by being supportive when grandchildren reach out to them.
Being there physically means a telephone call, a visit, sharing an event together or making time to be with that child one on one. A note in the mail, an email, a birthday card from a Grandparent to an individual child has great value and is never forgotten. One of my step-granddaughters recently married, yet tells me she still treasures a book about flowers and fairies I gave to her nearly twenty years ago. She remembers everything, she says, about the day it was given to her.
Other grandchildren still remember our Easter egg hunts in the bush at Stoneville; being allowed to eat Tiny Teddy biscuits or doing colouring in on butcher’s paper while we tried to draw pictures from fairy tales.
You also convey your personal values, ideals, concepts and expectations by “being there” in the child’s life. It is the way the child learns to trust you, for the day they may need to reach out and ask for emotional support. To feel safe enough to ask questions about life issues confronting them.
One national survey of grandparents reported that a variety of activities were engaged in with grandchildren such as:
- * Joking and kidding
- * Giving money
- * Talking about growing up
- * Giving advice
- * Discussing problems
- * Going to church/synagogue
- * Providing discipline
- * Taking a day trip
- * Teaching a skill or game
- * Watching TV together
- * Talking about parent/child disagreements
Having families which encourage intergenerational contact (grandparents; aunts, uncles, cousins) helps children to be less fearful of old age, the elderly and to be more connected to other people. It helps build respect for older people, by letting children learn patience and understanding with the frailties of the human body as it breaks down. It also helps them learn to deal with death as a natural part of the life cycle and helps especially when accidental death occurs with younger people.
When children are very young, the old can be a little frightening. My elder son was too scared to get out of the car and come inside to see my Grandmother when he was about five and she was about 80. He said to me “No one can be that old and still be alive.” At the same time, a young cousin stroked his Grandmother’s arm and asked her “Is that really skin, Nana, or is it leather?”
Now, his Grandparents are in their 90’s, he supports them in many ways and loves them dearly. I have to say he doesn’t always agree with my “tough love” approach with my own Dad who will shortly be 94.
Step-grandparents have more challenging roles than natural grandparents, because their place in the family is less clear and often clouded by emotional disputes between the children’s parents and natural grandparents.
It is always a great tragedy when children are denied the opportunity to develop good and long lasting relationships with either grandparents or step-grandparents, because of the bitter acrimony which often arises during divorces and separation.
Often, today’s Grandparents are a world away from their own earlier generations of the parents of their own mother and fathers. They may still be working; travelling as “grey nomads” or retired to a different part of the country or the world. Sadly, some of them will already have passed away and their grandchildren will be the poorer for not knowing them. Not all Grandparents are soft and cuddly, either. Sometimes, it is their own choice to not develop deep relationships with grandchildren and, whatever the reasons, we should respect their right to make a choice.
Of course, you can always adopt a Grandparent if you are short of one or two – there are great community programmes for Adopting Grandparents Adopt A Grandparent You might like to check it out.
We would love to hear from you, about your family. Tell us what kind of Grandparents you have and why they are special.
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(c) Lesley Dewar July 2012 to current.