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GRANDPARENTING – PLEASURE OF PRESSURE?

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The writer with her grandchildren (clockwise from left) Max, Allie, Hana, Reiya and baby Ryder, taken close to a decade ago. – Photos: LILY FU

My youngest grandchild turned 10 last month. Celebrating his birthday made me reflect on how quickly the years have rolled by, and how fast the children have grown. My eldest grandchild will be 24 this August.

Has it been that long ago that I cradled this young man as a newborn in my arms and looked after him full time while his parents were out busy working till late at night on their fledgling company?

With multi-generational families no longer living under one roof, the role of grandparents has taken on renewed significance. What would busy working young parents do without grandmas (and grandpas) stepping in to help with the little ones? Well, there’s always the daycare centres or a nanny/domestic helper to look after them. But nothing compares to having one’s own blood and kin care for the children.

As a hands-on grandmother, delighting in caring for the little ones, I was quite surprised when I discovered not all my senior friends shared the same views on the subject of grandparenting.

They felt they had paid their dues and done their turn as parents. It’s time their adult children did theirs, they said.

“No more changing diapers and dealing with toddler tantrums for me. At my age, it’s too stressful. Sure, if there’s an emergency, I’ll be there. I don’t mind playing with my grandchildren or visiting them, but hands-on babysitting? No, thank you.”

Drawing a line

There are many who share the same sentiments.

“My husband and I have eight grandchildren from our three children. Being on call to babysit for all of them leaves us with little time for our own activities.”

“Our son leaves his two-year-old and four-year-old at our house before he goes to work. By the time he picks up the children after work at 7pm, my husband and I are exhausted. Sometimes when my son has a lot of work at the office, he comes as late as 9pm.”

“My husband is 72, and I’m 68. Physically, we can’t keep up with our hyperactive grandsons. Besides, I have high blood pressure.”

“My daughter-in-law and I don’t see eye-to-eye on how to bring up the children, especially when it comes to discipline, food and education. This has caused some tension in our relationship.”

Yes, looking after boisterous little children can be exhausting for grandparents. I know of grandparents whose daily routine involves preparing the children for school, driving them there and picking them up later for tuition or co-curricular activities. They have to make sure the children do their homework, take their meals and set strict rules on video games. This leaves them unable to enjoy social activities with their friends or go on trips with them.

All this can be very tiring. It can be hard to say no when your daughter calls and asks, “Mum, can you come over and babysit this weekend? I’ll be out of town on a business trip.”

Learn to say “No” if there are other options available. If you keep offering to help out all the time, you may soon feel overwhelmed. That is when babysitting and childcare becomes a pressure, and no longer a pleasure.

As a hands-on grandmother, delighting in caring for the little ones, the writer was quite surprised when she realised not all her senior friends shared the same views on the subject of grandparenting.
Family dynamics
Understanding and managing family dynamics play an important role when it comes to grandparenting. Young married couples have to deal with two sets of grandparents for their children – their own parents and their in-laws. Friction can sometimes arise when grandparents-in-law live in another town and do not get to be with their grandchildren often.
There is this feeling that their grandchildren are not as close to them as they are to the other set of grandparents who get to care for them daily. They try to compensate by over-indulging the children, buying them expensive toys and clothes to win over their affection.
There is also the huge difference in opinion on how the children should be raised. Young mothers feel grandparents are old-fashioned and conservative in their thinking. A case in point: when the grandchild is sick, the grandparents will offer home remedies as being more effective than the doctor’s prescription medicine. They are also aghast at how much freedom and independence young parents give their children.
Baby boomer grandparents learned childcare from their parents and from reading books e.g. Dr Benjamin Spock’s seminal Baby and Child Care. Young parents today prefer to go online to learn from child psychologists the latest and best parenting practices. A tip to grandparents to avoid friction – when offering well-meaning advice, don’t start with ‘In my time…’ or ‘In those days…’
This often gives rise to arguments resulting in young mothers regarding the grandparents as meddlesome and outdated.
The young father finds himself in an awkward caught-in-the-middle situation between the two most important women in his life. When grandparents know when to offer well-meaning advice, and when to “zip it”, there can be a happy compromise in the mother and daughter-in-law relationship. Also, when husband and wife have a disagreement over the children, grandparents should not interfere unless approached.
Stay on the sidelines
When there is harmony at home, this creates the ideal home environment for the little ones to grow up in.
It is interesting to study the implications of the changes in demographics. Longevity means more parents can see themselves becoming great grandparents. Four-generation families are no longer rare today. On the flip side, more young people are delaying marriage, and delaying parenthood. Which means not every parent will get to be a grandparent in his lifetime.
On a related note, have you ever wondered why women live longer than men, and why women go through menopause? Could it be that the extra menopausal years are meant for older women to shift their role from child-bearing to caring for the little ones and for the elderly in the family? Well, that makes sense.
Food for thought
I believe I speak for my friends who are grandmas when I say our grandchildren are a source of joy, fun and pride. They grow up so fast. Before you know it, they are preteens, and then full-fledged teenagers. That’s why the fleeting moments spent with my grandchildren are precious.
When they start having their own friends and activities, they won’t have as much time to spend with us. That’s why I value each moment I have with them now. My grandchildren keep me feeling young with their unconditional love and boundless energy.
I’ll be 76 this year. God willing, I want to be around to see all my grandchildren do well and find their purpose in life. For this to happen, I will have to look after myself and be responsible for my health. With long life and good health, I will still be around, not to look after my great grandchildren in my old age, but to just be there for them and to see them growing up well. That’s the circle of life.
Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.

(The above article was first published in The Star under the column ‘Grey Matters’. It can be accessed at this link: https://www.thestar.com.my/lifestyle/family/2024/02/16/starsilver-is-grandparenting-an-experience-that-gives-one-pleasure-or-pressure)

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