The Importance and Benefits of Grandparents in the Life of a Child
I had the most wonderful grandmother. Although she is no longer with us, there are few days that pass without her entering into my thoughts at least once. When a person touches your heart, they live forever in your soul.
I consider myself lucky to have had my maternal grandmother (my last surviving grandparent) in my life until I was amost 36. There are a lot of memories to look back on; so many special moments. Most of these moments are simple, everyday events - nothing special, to anyone else. But in the end, it's the everyday moments that make our lives. In our modern day, children are perhaps less likely than in past generations to build a close relationship with their grandparents. This might be due to lifestyle choices - with more parents moving away from extended family, even going overseas for work or in search of an improved life. My maternal grandparents lived a five minute walk from our house, which meant I saw them regularly.
A Sense of History
When I was a child, I simply accepted my grandparents' frequent presence in my life. Now that I am older, I am able to appreciate the huge advantages of having had them there. Grandparents, and other older relatives, bring aspects to a child's life that are different from the experiences parents provide for them. Perhaps one of the most obvious is the element of history. Grandparents come with a vast knowledge of life from another generation, but also a personal history of one's own family. They have lived a life very different to their grandchildren, and have usually seen many changes. Talking to grandparents about their lives, and even just picking up little snippets of information, can give a child insight into the past and the history of their own family tree. A child can obtain a sense of where they, themselves, have come from - a picture of where their own roots lie. When I was young, I can remember asking my grandparents questions about their younger days and being genuinely fascinated by the answers. I understood that everything in my life, that I took for granted, was not the way it always was. And because these were people that I knew, and cared about, it was a whole lot more interesting than learning about it from a book or at school. It's called the 'personal touch'.
Learning About the Past and Shaping the Future
My grandmother was in her thirties during the time of World War II. Despite living in a town which suffered heavy bombing, she didn't actually provide very much information about those war-time days. Perhaps she preferred to focus on the positive, because we did not find out until after her death that she had both married and lost a first husband to war during those tulmultuous times. By the time the war was over, she had married for a second time and had a child -my mother. She did point out an old air raid shelter in the town, almost hidden by grass, and told us of the time there was a blackout when both she and my granddad were out - they ended up walking around in circles because they couldn't see where they were going. She told of the episode in a lighthearted way, but I recall thinking how scary it sounded - I was definitely left with a sense that these had been hard times to live through and that people must have had to have been very brave. It also made me realise the inner strength that people like my grandparents had to find and that, although they seemed to me to be old people living simple lives at home, they had actually led full and eventful lives with ups and downs.
My grandmother described how, as a much younger girl, herself and her three sisters used to sleep in one bed in the family home and that they used to go on errands to collect dripping for the family. She also told me, on more than one occasion, of the fabulous Mediterranean cruise she enjoyed before she married - spending thirty-one days in glorious sunshine for the princely sum of thirty-one pounds (covered in olive oil instead of suncream). She described the enjoyable New Year dances she attended (probably in the 1930s) where they would serve breakfast at two o'clock in the morning after the party had finished. Her photo albums are full of pictures displaying fun times on the beach and on boating lakes as a young woman. She told me a story of how she took my young mother cockling and how interesting it was. About leaving school aged fourteen, and about the job she held working for Marks and Spencer (where she worked twelve hour days, finishing at 9pm). Even this was a revelation for me (as a child), because I had acquired the assumption that women of past generations had not worked much, especially compared to today. I know now, however, that my grandmother worked throughout her life, and did not retire until well after sixty-five.
These memories are small but fleeting glimpses of a life lived in other times. Some of them have helped to mould my entire perspective on life. For instance, when I think about how poor they must have been as children, all sleeping in the same bed, I feel appreciation for what I have today - but also a sense that it is not simply these comforts and relative luxuries that make one happy. It even provides me with a sense of inner-strength and determination, because I have a picture of people I love and care about, who sometimes ploughed through difficult times and yet succeeded in living happy lives. My grandparents were content people despite living through a war, working very hard and never being able to afford their own property (they ended up as publicans who paid rent, but even before that, there were times when they lodged with family members.
A Nurturing Relationship
Good grandparents are very nurturing and loving - just like parents, but often without the episodes of frazzled stress that parenting typically brings. Thus, they often portray a sense of calm and endless patience which is beneficial to a child. Because they hand the grandchildren back over at the end of a visit, adoring grandparents are often quite time indulgent - they can afford to be, particularly if they are retired and can attend to other chores later on. This unrushed, high quality, one-on-one time can be very rewarding, for both the grandchild and the grandparent.
The relationship between grandparents and grandchildren is so often extremely special. Many grandparents love spending time with their grandchildren and like to spoil them and see them happy (sometimes a bit too much!). What's more, I think that their patience and calm demeanour often arises from the experience and wisdom contrived from having 'done it and seen it all before'. New parents are so often anxious over obstacles that pop up during the course of child-rearing. Grandparents often find it much easier to remain calm and realistic. This can have a positive effect on both their grandchildren and their own children (the new parents) who can benefit from the support and experience.
Both as a child and as an adult, I saw my grandmother help and support my own mother in various ways. She helped out with both money (not that she was rich) and time - to her, family was always the most important issue. When my mother took on a part-time job when we were children, my grandmother would turn up, begin the dinner and start on some of the housework. She was very supportive, without expecting anything in return. Now, as a grown adult, I can see that this kind of support is one of the most important precious things you can give another person. It helps life to flow along; it gives our relationships meaning and adds a real point to our lives.
Children often grow up to emulate the key role models in their lives. My grandmother has taught me that the most important thing in life is to nurture the relationships with those you care about. Other factors - career or wealth, for example - can't come close. She has also taught me that it is mostly the simple things in life that bring joy - times might change, disposable income might fall or rise, but at the end of the day it is how we look out for each other that matters. And at the end of life itself, I think that is what we cherish the most - the quality of our relationship with the person we have lost, and the good things that they did.
Bridging Generation Gaps
When grandparents feature heavily in the lives of children, it helps to create a bridge between the old and the young. This is hugely important, because so often it is a lack of understanding that creates social divisions in society. In the UK, many elderly people are left isolated and lonely, whereas in other parts of Europe they are incorporated into the family home where they live out their lives as respected and cared for citizens. When young people mix regularly with the older generations, it builds a stronger understanding which helps to eliminate prejudice. When we don't understand people, or know how to deal with them, we are often uncomfortable in their company. Therefore, when generations mix well and communicate with one another, it is beneficial for society as a whole. It helps to create respect for another segment of society.
I was close to my grandmother as a child, but perhaps even more so, I cherish the relationship that I had with her as an adult. I look back on the frequent times she would phone me in the evenings, and chat about television, my children, what was in the News. When I bought a special first gift for my partner, she came with me and helped me choose it. When a health issue hit me, she was quietly comforting and her positive attitude gave me strength.
We spent time together as a family spanning four generations (with my own child being the youngest). There was 90 years between my grandmother and my son, and yet she was still interested in knowing everything about his life, from his friends to his days at school. Not only does interaction between generations help the young to appreciate the elderly, it also fosters an understanding of the young from the older person's point of view.
I have observed first-hand the way in which older people seem to come alive when in the company of the young. I definitely adhere to the philosophy that it helps them retain an element of youth and interest in the world around them. When comparing members of my own family, I have seen huge differences between elderly relatives with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and those without. Having regular contact with younger family members often adds a spark to the lives of the elderly.
When I think about my life, and how I would feel about it had I not had a quality relationship with any of my grandparents, I would definitely feel differently. It is hard to say, because you can't miss what you have never had, but my grandparents have enriched my life in many ways. They have added a certain depth to my life, and have helped me to see where my roots lie. Mostly, though, they have given me love and support which I shall always cherish.