Parenting: The Special Role Of Grandparents

Are you struggling to give your child care and attention, and wondering if getting grandparents to help will work? Here are some tips to help you and the grandparents.

By Susan Philip

Parenting: The Special Role Of Grandparents

In the past, India had a joint family system, with at least three generations living under one roof. But, gradually, the society moved away from this system and nuclear family became the norm.

However, the character of the nuclear family has also changed over the years. Earlier, women tended to stay at home and take care of the family, but now, they too have started to take up a job and make a career. This has opened up a gap in childcare. And, more and more families are now trying to revert to the earlier system, with grandparents being called upon to help with childcare.

In many ways, grandparents are the ideal choice to step in for parents, as all generations benefit from the interaction. But, before parents and grandparents join hands to turn the idea of integrating grandparents into parenting a reality, here’s what they should think about. 

Parents: Outline your needs

First, identify when and where you need help. Is your problem the school holidays or is it the after-school hours, when your little one comes home before you’re back from work? Do you require help every day or you need grandparents to step in occasionally, such as times when your child is ill and you still need to go to work?

Then, talk to grandparents about the situation and find out how much they can help. During this conversation, you can discuss issues like whether it would be a good idea for them to move in or stay in their own place and extend help. Be specific about your needs and discuss all angles openly for everyone to understand well what is expected of them.

Once the big decision is taken, get down to the nitty-gritty. Here are some areas that everyone needs to be clear about:

• Mealtimes

• Homework time

• Playtime

• Bedtime

• Snacks and sweets – what to eat, how much to eat and what not to eat

Once rules on these are established, make it clear to the child that grandparents have the authority to relax a rule if the situation demands.

If your child is going to his grandparents’ home to be cared for, make him understand that rules in Grandma’s house may be different, but he needs to follow them. For instance, if Grandma says meals have to be taken at the dining table and not in front of the TV, your child should obey orders.

Grandparents: Prepare before changing gear

Before sharing the responsibility of childcare, grandparents have to make a conscious shift—they need to understand that they have to play the role of a grandparent and not a parent. To do this, grandparents need to be prepared to let the parents of the children have the final say in all matters, even if they don’t agree. However, grandparents may need some time to adjust to this new reality, where they do not wield the full authority.

Here are some other questions that grandparents should ask themselves:

• Do you have the time to help raise your grandchildren?

• Are you physically up to the challenge of caring for the young?

• If you have to move in with your children to help them, will arrangements regarding your space, free time and finances be satisfactory?

• If you are ill or not able to cope with the added responsibility at some time, can alternative arrangements be made to care for the child?

Once all these concerns are sorted out, it will take only minor, on-the-ground recalibration before a system beneficial to all those involved gets going.

Pros and Cons

There are many advantages in integrating grandparents into the parenting process. Here are a few:

• Care by a trusted family member scores over outsider care on any given day.

Grandparents can spend quality time with the young and give them more attention. Patience usually increases with age, and a grandparent should be able to coax a reluctant learner or a picky eater to improve more easily than a harried parent.

• For the child, it means a direct connect to a lifestyle which is on its way out. It offers her an invaluable glimpse into a world she will never experience with parents.

• Contact with multiple generations teaches children how to respect elders and be mindful and caring towards them.

• Being with grandchildren makes grandparents feel useful, even younger. They are forced to be more physically active, and that’s a good thing if not taken too far. They also have to stay mentally alert, hence the effect of age-related dementia may be less.

• As the child grows, the grandparents’ horizons expand. Computers and social media are a part of the lives of young generation today, and by default, grandparents will be drawn into the connected world that technology offers.

Of course, there are some disadvantages too, such as the following:

• Even after basic rules are established, there could be a conflict of ideals and ideas, as well as of authority. Children will quickly pick up on discord and play one generation off against the other.

• Grandparents can be overwhelmed by responsibilities. They may have agreed to care for one child, but others could follow, and it may be taken for granted that they will continue to help. Their other children may want similar help from them, and that could turn into a point of discord.

• With age, the ability to take stress also wanes, so that could affect the level of childcare they are able to provide.

• Not all grandparents are retired. Helping with grandchildren could affect their earnings, and consequently, their independence.

A win–win situation

In general, the involvement of grandparents in parenting is a very rewarding experience for all concerned. Being able to rely on the older generation to step in and take responsibility for their little ones as needed takes a huge load off the minds of overworked and stressed-out modern-day parents. Children bond with their grandparents and gain from the collective wisdom they are able to impart. Family traditions and values are passed on to the new generation more easily. For grandparents, the joy of seeing another generation take shape and know that they are a part of that growth process is boundless. 

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