All of us who have enjoyed the company of grandparents as we grew up, know how true Al Grant’s words are when he sings “Just don’t forget you’ll always be your grandpa’s little girl/(boy).” And all of us who have had our parents holding our new born babies in their arms know how beautiful this magic bond could be between a grandparent and a grandchild.
How could you ever forget that moment when your father and mother walk into the hospital room and lay their eyes on your baby - only a few hours old and crying her heart out. The grandma takes the baby into her arms and stares at the tiny face with a radiant smile on her lips. The funny thing is the baby stares back. Even though for most of their first week, all babies cry and cry, when grandma or grandpa hold the baby in their arms the new born is more peaceful than at any other time. This magic between a grandparent and a grandchild is a sight to behold and is living evidence of the truth in the saying “perfect love sometimes does not come until the first grandchild.”
For many people grandparenthood is a joyful one, opening up possibilities for the grandparents themselves, for the grandchildren and for the parents. “For many grandparents, the experience of caring for a grandchild is mostly positive,” observes Prof. Erantha De Mel, President, Institute of Professional Psychologists. He recalls while traveling down Duplication Road sometime back, how he had noticed an old lady in a brand-new car with a bumper sticker which read “I wish I had grandchildren first!” “That statement speaks volumes about how some grandparents love being with their grandchildren’ explains Prof. De Mel. “When they were young and their children were small, they were very busy with their lives and had no time to enjoy their children. But now when they are retired, they have all the time on earth to spend with their grandkids.”
For how long?
In other words, most grandparents adore babysitting. So much so, that it doesn’t matter when they are called upon to take care of a grandchild, for how long? A whole week, maybe two or three... or till the child is old enough for school. No problem. Right?
Not so fast. While most grandparents relish the extra playtime with the grand-babies and like pitching in, twenty-four hour nanny duty five days a week might, well, hinder their hitherto peaceful existence.
No doubt, as Grant sings, everything is magical so far as the relationship centers round fairy tales and magic things, angel faces and childhood dreams. But sad to say, in the modern world with financial challenges, this magic is fast disappearing, so much so that, there are couples who seem to believe if they wish to have children they should have them while their parents are still young enough to act as babysitters.
Even if they don’t have such ulterior motives in mind, with most mothers opting to stick to their careers after they have children, it is inevitable that grandparents find themselves acting as parents for the second time around, taking fuller responsibility, possibly with a heavy heart. “Some grandparents don’t want to be tied down looking after babies and toddlers any more. (As they still remember the hard work of parenting and its unrelenting nature) Because they have no other option, they comply,” points out Prof. De Mel.
He adds, “Sometimes the responsibility thrust on the aging parents is far too much. Some grandparents are exhausted by it and cannot find a way out of it. Some children are absolutely taking advantage of their aging parents. They engage in emotional blackmail and make their parents feel guilty for not babysitting their children!”
According to Prof. De Mel in our fast-paced society, due to various social and professional pressures, people “expect” their parents to engage in babysitting. However, he points out that it should not be ignored that the grand
parents had already had their turn bringing up children, and now it is their time to do what they like with their life. Why should they spend their twilight years raising grandkids? Isn’t it time that they enjoy themselves? “I’m all for grandparents helping out; but to expect them to sacrifice their freedom and toil extensively with their grandkids is quite selfish,” reiterates Prof. De Mel.
He gives logical reasons to drive his point home. “Sometimes, older people don’t have the patience and energy for babies, toddlers, and young ones. Unless they offer, one should not assume that their mother or mother-in-law would help out. Better to have your children in a stimulating daycare centre with other kids, than with a resentful older person, who may also have different child rearing practices.”
Prof. De Mel feels grandparents may not make the ideal parents, second time round. “Sometimes grandparents spoil their grandchildren extensively,” he explains. “They tend to buy things and shower them with gifts such as video games, movies, and various types of toys that parents would not generally buy them due to obvious reasons. Also, to show love and affection, they are in the habit of giving the grandchildren special food treats.”
He also feels that at times grandparents are too lenient with the third generation. Some grandparents don’t allow their grandkids to be corrected when they do something wrong or inappropriate. They step-in and defend them; and also comfort them when they are being corrected. “This is naturally a very conflicting situation when grandparents refuse to uphold the parents’ standards for behavior,” observes Prof. De Mel.
Conflicts apart, it is natural for grandparents to grieve over the losses that come with taking in their grandkids, including the loss of their independence and the easier role of “grandparent,” rather than the primary caregiver. Their children should realize having to hold the reins full time, once again is bound to make them worry about how they will handle the additional responsibilities. After all, they probably were not expecting to be raising kids again at this stage in their life, and so, at times, the physical, emotional, and financial demands may feel overwhelming. Moreover, couples who use grandparents as babysitters should keep in mind that when they are preoccupied with the daily demands of raising grandkids, grandparents are bound to let their own needs fall by the wayside. They would often sacrifice looking after their own mental and physical health to see to the needs of the grandchildren.
Experts say things would change for the better if parent-grandparent teams resolve control issues by negotiating territory, dividing up authority over sleeping, eating, homework, TV and computer use. For example, parents might have sole authority over diet and school issues, while grandparents get a say in recreational or artistic activities. Things would also change if parents express gratitude. At the least, say marriage and family therapists, parents should say, “I’m so grateful; how can I compensate you?”
Yet, no matter how difficult life might be for grandparents in their new role as primary caregivers, there is no evidence that today’s grandparents are backing away.
Thankfully so. For, children love being with their grandparents. They seem to instinctively know that while their grandparents may not have the energy they had when they were younger, they do have the wisdom that only comes with time. Unlike first-time parents, they have done this before and learned from their mistakes which are advantages that can make a huge difference in a grandchild’s life.
And the good news is, overall, every grandparent welcomes the arrival of a grandchild, regarding the experience as ‘‘a magical love’’ with positives far outweighing the negatives. Who would not consider grandparenthood as something wonderful when one moment you are just a father or a mother and the next, you are grand and all-wise and prehistoric?
As Prof. De Mel says “For grandparents, if they can enjoy their grandchildren through all ages and stages, without making things complicated, it’s a blessing!” For everybody.