A grandparent is no longer synonymous with the rosy-cheeked grandmother baking apple pies or the old granddad in his rocking chair with his pipe and slippers. They are far more likely these days to be found improving their handicap on the golf course, enjoying a walking holiday, enrolling for an assortment of classes or undertaking valuable voluntary work. However grandparents are also playing an increasingly important role in families as more and more marriages break up and families become a complex mix of people, roles and relationships.
Sometimes in a breakup one set of grandparents may be relied on quite heavily, whilst the other set can end up feeling almost estranged from their grandchildren. Sometimes step-grandparents may be introduced. These situations can require especial tact and sensitivity as the new relationships are negotiated.
Let’s look at why families need grandparents and consider some of the things they are able to contribute:
– Time. Notwithstanding the many demands on their time grandparents often have more latitude with their schedules than their own children have. They are often in a better position to be flexible in the mornings or after school, they are often happy to find a couple hours to go to a football match, sit and tell stories, play games or help with homework. They are often better placed to be more flexible with their arrangements.
– Patience is demonstrated by their readiness to answer the same questions over and over again, to re-read the same book out loud, tell the same story with a ready smile, showing no hint of complaint or irritation. Parents may be too busy, stressed and time-constrained to be able to spare the time or effort for such activities but a grandparent is ideally suited to this role and is often pleased to have been asked.
– Wisdom. They have often accumulated the answers to many childish questions over the years or know where to go to find the information needed. Grandparents have also acquired the wisdom to listen quietly without judgement, to wait until they have all the information before they the decide on the best way to proceed. They often have the wisdom to know exactly what is the right thing to say or do, the times when a hug is all that is needed to solve a problem.
– Experience is gained through mistakes as well as successes, through reflection, discussion with others over the years, seeing what worked, what should or could have been done differently. Grandchildren are often the ones who truly benefit from that experience, the years of practice raising their own children. There are unlikely to be many things that grandparents haven’t seen or heard before and as such they are often able to put things into perspective.
– Discretion is different from keeping secrets and is often about making the right call in sensitive situations. Being able to pause in a situation rather than instantly react to it, providing a safe place for children to discuss their fears, feelings, concerns and problems, not catastrophising situations but providing a calm haven to look at what’s happened and find the best next step.
– Money and financial support can be an important part of why families need grandparents. Divorce, redundancy, debt can all cause terrible strain on a family’s ability to cope. Grandparents may be more comfortably off financially, are at a different stage in their lives, often with less overheads. Helping out with school fees, holidays, household expenses can take the pressure off a family and enable them to have a more stress free time with a better quality of life.
Grandparents often have learned to revise their priorities over the years; they have a better sense of what really matters, what’s important in life. They are often less concerned with status, appearances or impressing others. For them children’s happiness and security is often their main priority. Bringing a calmer mindset and a loving attitude into a stressed family can benefit all and provide everyone with a more secure sense of family and wellbeing. This is all part of why families need grandparents.