“Love is staying awake all night with a sick child – or a healthy adult!”
In my experience a sure way to keep young in heart is to be in the presence of people younger than oneself. Those fortunate to have a family will know what I mean, and others may have the privilege of working with younger people or mixing with them on a social level. I am of the opinion that if we are lucky enough to have family and young friends we should nuture them. We all have differences of opinions with our siblings, offspring and acquaintences over the years. Sometimes things can get heated and out of control. We express our differences of opinions or values and maybe, take up a moral stance. Of course some upsetting behaviour is quite unforgivable and a few situations involve serious injustice one to another.
But life is too short to harbour all but the most damaging offence to our difference of opinions, and few family feuds can be worth the cost of people spending the rest of their lives fighting and verbally slanging one another. As the years go by surely there must come a time, when we should hold out the olive branch and make up. But we should do it before it’s too late or we may miss the opportunity to make amends, since none of us are immortal. If we don’t make up and mend with the passing of family and friends, we may find ourselves living with regrets. Forgiveness and compassion can grow within us with age, and then we begin to see the futility and fragmentation caused by feuding and fighting. If we older women have acquired some wisdom over the years, we should realise our fortune, and relish the comfort and strength proffered by a united family and front. We need to strike a balance between things which have caused us disappointment, and the unexpected things which have brought us happiness
I revel in the fact that my sons are my best friends too, but the pleasure and joy of holding your first grandchild is hard to beat. My first grandchild (to date I have 4), was Charlotte, a beautiful baby girl, and the realisation that this wonderful bundle signified the continuum of my life affected me emotionally. Words cannot adequately describe the feelings I experienced when I first held the newborn baby on that momentous occasion, nor express the awesome realisation I felt that Charlotte, my granddaughter represented my immortality. At that moment I moved on one step in my own life. Before I was just a mother – but suddenly I had become – a GRANDMOTHER. Stereotype grandmothers jumped to my mind, and I felt aware of time passing. But wait a minute, things have changed greatly on the Granny front haven’t they?
Soon it became clear that with the dramatic social changes which have occurred in lifestyles, relationships and families the UK over the past generation or two, so too had the role of grandparents. Researchers agree that it is better for children to be brought up in a stable married relationship, but in these days partnerships and single parenting are common. Consequently, we grandparents must now re-evaluate and adjust to modern times. We should accept that there are committed relationships outside of marriage, where children, perhaps even our own grandchildren, are loved and nurtured. It’s important that our generation don’t try to force our methods and opinions onto young parents, or be too judgmental, if we want to experience the potential joys of being a grandparent.
But should older women be expected to sacrifice their carefully planned retirement and freedom for their offspring? Today this senario is becoming all too familiar with the increase in one-parent families. And should mature women make themselves available to look after grandchildren, on a permanent or semi-permanent basis, at a cost to their spouse or partner, just when they both thought they were going to have quality time together? It may seem grossly unfair to the older generation, but with the increase in young unmarried mothers in the UK, and the rising incidence of divorce amongst young people a reality, being put upon to look after grandchildren could be a difficult situation to avoid. Many young men and women, some just teenagers, expect their mothers to become be a full time nanny when an unexpected pregnancy occurs, and many unmarried youngsters have nobody else to turn to. Some are too young to cope and some are even too young to claim benefit. It’s an emotional decision for any mother to make, and many a grandmother to be will feel a moral obligation to stand in as mother to the baby, because of a son or daughter’s mistake. But should she and her partner stand the cost of their children’s bad planning or misfortune?
I don’t know the answers to these questions, and only the grandparents themselves who face these dilemmas can take the decisions, but I do find it sad that an increasing number of mature women are faced with this moral dilemma through no fault of their own. Are they being mentally manipulated and put upon by their sons and daughters and shouldn’t they be entitled to lead the lives they had planned for? Surely they deserve the retirement they worked so hard for, without the constraints of looking after exhausting young children again. It’s problematical for those trying to find a satisfactory solution, when all around is mayhem and chaos. Having a baby is an expensive business, as is divorce. Some offspring seeking a way out of their problems and responsibilities may employ emotional blackmail at this time, putting their parents into an insidious position.
Women who are caught in this trap find themselves once again at home coping with young children on a full time basis, and some understandably feel disillusioned. This is not how they had envisaged their retirement years and many feel the family should have more respect for them, and not put them in the position of having to pick up the pieces when things go wrong. For years these women had looked forward to their freedom from paid work, and had anticipated time for themselves, for their partners and time to travel – not baby-sit. Others agonise as to how they can guarantee quality time for their deserving partner, who, in many cases is not be the father of her offspring who have brought about the situation. Further tensions can occur when husbands and partners feel jealous of the time she spends with her grandchildren. Some voice strong opinions and take it out on the females in the house causing even more unhappiness, and many older men haven’t the time or the patience for small children a second time around.
Quite unfairly, older women find themselves having to make choices, torn between loyalty to their spouse, partner, and offspring. Many women and their partners happily volunteer to look after and bring up a young family, but others find themselves unreasonably expected to be the grandchild’s carers. Those who do say no to regular childminding may then feel guilty, and are all too aware that there may be further hardships for the young parents concerned. Those grandparents who do warm to the idea of becoming surrogate parents get stuck into bringing up a second family realising that it will be both financially and emotionally beneficial to the family as a whole. By sacrificing their own personal freedom and by sharing the responsibility of rearing the children, these grandparents have the satisfaction of consolidating, as best they can, a secure family unit for all concerned.
But not all young people are happy to have their own parents play a part in the upbringing of their offspring. Perhaps these offspring didn’t appreciate the method of child rearing imposed on them and strive to contrast it. For traditional grandparents this causes anxiety and there is a temptation to interfere and to impose their own standards. But they need to realise that a softer approach is necessary if they are to maintain good relationships with the young family. Times have changed and grandparents need to keep an open mind and keep many of their strong opinions to themselves. They can play an important role in the upbringing of their grandchildren by just listening to the grandchildren whose young parents are often all too busy to hear. By being interested in what they think, say and do, they will get closer to their grandchildren and be able share the joy, laughter and the tears. Just by lending an ear is an excellent opportunity to form a mutual bond between the generations
Grandchildren with thir single parent living at home without a partner as a result of divorce or separation are another emotional challenge for grandparents, who worry if their own offspring can cope with this awesome and lonely task. Given the opportunity grandparents will do everything possible to ensure their grandchildren have a decent start in life. The secret is to go lightly, not to interfere, but to be there to give confidence and support when it is required. It can be a delicate and sensitive situation and one wrong move could leave grandparents without easy access to their grandchildren. A sensible policy is not to get drawn into the couple’s arguments or to take sides. Have your opinions by all means but keep them to yourself. It’s wise to ensure that as far as your grandchildren are concerned you can be regarded as neutral territory and not part of the battleground. Visiting grandparents and staying over in their house should be regarded by the children as a safe haven from possible storms, and from this stress free environment come rewarding pay backs.
If young children feel secure and happy they will enjoy the experience of grandparents sharing the role of parenting, either full time, part time or just for an occasional day or two. Grandparents are likely to find themselves doing special things, unusual things with the youngsters, sharing experiences with their grandchildren that they would never have envisaged or thought possible at their age, activities usually reserved for parents. I speak from personal experience after another busy weekend with my little granddauhters, who had me spinning round like a top in the fairground, frightening myself silly on the Dragon ride in Legoland, and took me swimming, trampolining and boating. Many childish activities require stamina, and however fit you think you are it’s easy to find yourself exhausted by the exuberant energy of youngsters the second time around! I regard it as a privilege to be with my grandchildren and I feel they enjoy themselves in my company too. We all look forward to these special times and I hope very much that they benefit emotionally from these wonderful and rewarding occasions as much as I do. Through two sad situations – my own divorce and that of my youngest son, has come the opportunity for me to get to know my delightful little granddaughters very well. I have the time and the inclination to give to them without ever having to force the situation. Today, many members of one family find themselves uprooted from their original family home and live scattered around the country (or the world) because of their jobs. Consequently far too many women have to make do with being long distant grandparents. However, I know that it’s well worth the effort of a journey, the writing of a post card or the sending of an e-mail to keep in touch with those family and friends we love.