“Connections between generations are essential for mental health and the stability of a nation.”
~ Margaret Mead, Anthropologist.
There is absolutely no doubt that grandparents engender a tremendous sense of stability and connection when they are included in the upbringing of children. Their relationship with their grandchildren often reflects feelings of comfort and security in a way that is indefinable but powerful, and cannot be underestimated. Grandparents help children to understand their place in the family hierarchy, they give children a different kind of love – more indulgent perhaps but underpinned by the value of their experience that children respond to instinctively.
Balance and perspectives
It’s not always plain sailing however – and often the sharpest divide between grandparents and grandchildren are the parents. From generation to generation there are many changes in lifestyles and opinions; today’s world is different and the way your parents brought you up may not be the way you want your children raised. Society revises itself continually and ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ is no longer as relevant as it was in our parents’ time. Today’s parents need to be in sync with modern parenting styles and apply fresh approaches to training, rewarding or admonishing children. And if granny doesn’t agree, this can cause discord in the family.
Try not to allow this problem to spoil the relationship with the grandchildren. It’s best to talk your point of view through with your parents, and explain the reasoning behind your style of parenting. Children are under far more pressure today than they were two generations ago, and sometimes grandparents just need to understand the new rules and why they are there, and come to terms with the changes.
The support system
It is vital for families to recognise and appreciate the often selfless support system that grandparents provide. Not only do they fill all sorts of parenting gaps when both parents are working but they also provide a safety net during times of trouble such as divorce or financial constraints, or death of a parent. And they are also the source for some life-long life lessons. Many people look back and recall that it was their grandparents who taught them manners, respect, and the difference between right and wrong. Grandparents have the time and the insight to explain things to children in a way that parents do not. But those lessons, reasonable and sensible, couched in love and fun, are the ones that stick with the children.
It may be difficult for parents to turn back to their own parents for support. After all, they’ve been living independent lives for some time, making their own decisions. Sometimes the support from grandparents is expected, taken for granted, and the reliance becomes unreasonable. It’s good to remember that your parents still have their own lives to live and should not be pressured into becoming surrogate parents 24/7. The expected responsibilities of grandparents can be so easily abused, especially if they (as is so often the case these days) come to live permanently in the nuclear household.
What grandparents and grandchildren gain from each other
While children gain so much from their grandparents, it’s truly reciprocal. When grandparents see their grandchildren, they see the future and experience a sense of continuity that fills them with contentment. There, in their grandchildren, is the physical evidence of the flow of life, the past connecting with the future.
A grandparent’s love is second only in emotional importance to a parent’s but it is usually less conditional, more empathic. Grandparents enjoy their grandchildren in the moment without censure or apprehension about minor misdeameanours. And children know this, revel in it, because it offers them a different kind of freedom to be themselves, to stretch a couple of boundaries while fully cosseted in loving admiration, and the luxury of asking for more.
Active, involved grandparents also show much less depression and higher degrees of life satisfaction. They tend to be happier with their present life and more hopeful for the future. And while grandparents teach much to their grandchildren, so do the grandchildren love to teach their grandparents – especially cool stuff on the internet! Grandparents get to meet the world anew through the eyes of their grandchildren.
What to do when there are no grandparents
Sadly, there are always situations where grandparents live far away – or may have already passed away. It is important then, to talk about the grandparents often, to share photographs, and many phone calls. To engender a sense of excitement when granny and grandpa are coming to visit, or any visits are planned to see granny. Even though the connection may be distant, it’s vital to build on it and keep it strong.
If grandparents have passed away, keep memories of them alive with their grandchildren in the same way – through conversation and photographs and many anecdotes – which children love. If there is an old age home nearby, take your children to meet the old people; give them a chance to engage with older people in a positive way, to get to understand age, frailty and an old person’s need for the company of children. There are many old people, distanced from their families – or without any at all – who would benefit from your visits and in return offer their wisdom, admiration and unconditional love for your children.
Lovingly known as Super Granny, Andalene Salvesen travels the world as a speaker and parenting coach.
She was the owner and principal of a school in Cape Town for 8 years. Being mostly a stay-at-home mom, with a passion for children, she compiled a parenting seminar combining extensive knowledge and valuable experience. She has been presenting this course for more than 16 years in a variety of venues and locations. Out of this, arose the need for families to have personal one on one attention for their particular needs. For the past 10 years, she has helped families by coaching them through common parenting challenges such as healthy boundaries, tantrums, sleeping, eating, discipline, sibling rivalry and much more, in the privacy of their own homes.
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