Do Grandparents Bring Anything Special To Raising Their Granchildren?
By Anna K. Molony
In days gone by the older generation were respected for the wisdom they brought to the community and the family. They were caregivers who could look after the youngest children while parents worked in the fields They were the people who were the guardians of history, customs, traditions and practices of the community.
They were the teachers that each new generation turned too for advice. In these days of extended education, world wide travel for work and pleasure together with instant access to advise and information from all manner of sources through the internet, how much has the grandparent role changed?
The simple answer to the role grandparents can play as care givers is that it invariably depends on how close the grandchildren live to the grandparents. In purely practical terms the closer grandparents live to their grandchildren the easier it is for them to take on the role of caregivers.
If grandparents live close they are often willing and able to share nursery and school run duties, or act as babysitters to provide the parents with some usually much needed relaxation time.
Most grandparents enjoy having some special time taking charge of their grandchildren for a few hours because this is when they can really get to know them and build a close bond of love and
trust which benefits both young and old.
Often during these times grandparents will read to the child or tell them traditional stories, teach them old rhymes and songs passing on the oral traditions of the family (and ‘tribe’). Invariably grandparents (and parents) will start talking and singing to grandchildren when they are tiny babies and will often be looking deep into the babies eyes to see if the baby is enjoying the interaction.
Interestingly, recent research by Cambridge University indicates that this sort of communication with the adult making sustained eye contact with babies and small children really helps the baby learn to communicate both a verbal and non verbal sense.
In other words children who learn not just the words but also how facial expressions and gestures add to the meaning, helping the child gain the social skills needed to make friends and interact successfully with others.
As good as many day care and nursery settings are, very few offer the level of staffing that facilitates this degree of interaction with the children they look after so quality time spent with grandparents can really help with this aspect of child development as well as the more rou- tine care aspects of feeding and keeping clean safe.
Whilst it is true that in these days of significantly increased literacy and access to the internet, parents are as likely to draw advice on childcare from people outside the family as from their parents, there is still a role for grandparents in passing on some of their skills and knowledge to their grandchildren particularly in terms of those with practical application like playing games, cooking, gardening or arts and crafts.
Grandparents often have the time to teach whilst many parents are constantly rushing to keep up with the time pressures of a full time job, moving up the career ladder and the many routine tasks to keep a family and home in good order.
Many retired or semi-retired grandparents can offer the luxury of time and patience that little people need as they explore the world, whether it be little legs tottering round the garden to examine the plants or small fingers learning to grip a spoon and mix the ingredients for cakes or cookies.
Playing ball, learning to ride a bike, playing in the park, sharing a puzzle or board game are all good fun for both child and grandparents which bring the added benefits of healthy exercise, developing co-ordination and learning to count and take turns, which while also taught at nursery and school can be extra special if shared with a grandparent who is not pressed for time and perhaps has a set of old games that mummy or daddy enjoyed when they were little.
In addition, all those every day tasks such as sweeping or helping with washing the dishes or feed the dog seem like a shared adventure into the adult world to be gleefully embraced by small children but with the hidden bonus of helping them develop.
For those grandparents who live far away from their grandchildren it can be disappointing not to be able to help care for or play with their grandchildren on a regular basis but with regular
contact on Skype or FaceTime it is possible to become so familiar with each other that they can quickly make the most of precious holidays together when they can play and give practical care. As someone who never never met or even spoke to one of my grandmothers because she lived abroad and not easily visitable, I for one am so pleased to be able to maintain a strong connection with my gorgeous grandchildren through this technology and get straight down to helping when they visit.