When we age we cast off the care and responsibilities of raising our children – as they move on with their lives, so do we. Freedom comes, to do as we please, to stay in our pyjamas all day, should we desire. To travel, garden, join clubs and lead a carefree life, but something happens in the form of a beautiful baby who has the ability to twist us around its tiny finger. Yes, “I am a grandparent”
The joy of this tiny babe for one to fuss over, adore, and spoil with no responsibility and to be able to hand back to the parents, adds a new dimension to our lives. The first smile, the first tooth and first word not only swells the heart of the parent but also the hearts of the grandparents.
We as grandparents, being older have something so special we can add to the richness of this child’s life; ‘time’. This is something busy parents rarely can afford. Somehow small children and an older person were designed to be together, small children take tiny steps and notice things a busy parent may not, and older people are often slower, and have time – to study a caterpillar or an interesting bug with a young one at our side.
A bond grows between the small child and the grandparents; we can tell them what their parent was like as a child, tell them the family history. We do not mind reading the same story over and over again and the joy on their (and our) faces when we see them fills one’s heart with pure love. This relationship also gives us a chance to find the child in ourselves once again. To sing silly songs, tell silly jokes, to laugh and colour in once again. We can impart so much knowledge; they, whilst young are like little sponges and soak information up.
A visit to my grandmother when I was a small child meant sitting on the couch not talking, in my Sunday best – my how things have changed! In today’s schools they even have ‘Grandparents’ day’ – something unheard of in our day.
All too quickly they grow and become teenagers, with teenage problems. This is where grandparents really can help. If a bond is strong with a grandchild and things get tough with parents, as they often do, grandparents can be that stop gap, the voice of reason, a safe haven until things settle. One of our teenage grandsons is known to bike to our home when things get tough at home, his mother phones and tells us ‘you have incoming’!
A hug, hot meal and a warm bed for the night usually sees him back home the next day, and you know what, we would not have it any other way.
Sadly sometimes parents separate and this throws our grandchildren into uncertainty. Too often we hear of grandparents who are deprived of their grandchildren, the pain of this is unbearable. To have been involved in your grandchildren’s lives and suddenly not be able to see them is soul destroying for grandparents not to mention the grandchildren concerned.
This is a time when grandparents need to be involved in the grandchildren’s lives; they may be the only constant in a life that seems to be turning upside down. It is really important to be impartial in this situation, as hard as that may be. No put downs about either parent are necessary or helpful, your grandchildren need to have something that is normal in this unsettling time. They need to know that their whole world has not collapsed.
We, being older, live in very different times to when we were young; drug problems can sometimes grip our children, violence seems to be everywhere and when it enters our lives we have to dig deep, really deep. Today many grandparents have to step in for safety reasons and take on the role of actually raising their grandchildren. This is not just a NZ problem, it is world wide. This happens for a variety of reasons. Violence and neglect, mental illness, imprisonment, substance abuse, abandonment, death and terminal illness are some of the reasons the grandparents step up to the plate. Research undertaken for Grandparents Raising Grandchildren Trust NZ by Jill Worrall in 2005 and 2009 tells us the main reasons that grandparents take on this role is, substance abuse, violence and neglect and mental illness.
This is one of the hardest things a grandparent undertakes, to go into a Family Court against your own child to keep at risk grandchildren safe, but do it, they do, by the thousands. In doing this we are entering unsheltered waters, this divides families, places pressure upon one’s finances and indeed one’s health, but the grandchildren need us.
Grandparents find themselves thrust into Family Courts, dealing with lawyers, psychologists, lawyer for child, often Child Youth and Family and angry parents.
The grandchildren may have experienced things that no child should experience; they may be behind scholastically, emotionally and may suffer psychological problems. Some revert back to bed wetting and soiling, anger rages and many have special needs. This means very hard Caregiving for the grandparents, with little recognition.http://www.kiwifamilies.co.nz/wp-admin/post.php?post=11836&action=edit&message=10
For a grandparent under these circumstances the rewards are ten fold, to see a sad child now flourishing, safe and happy; having routine in their life and achieving are just a few of the benefits. For a six year old child who could not form a letter, nor knew a nursery rhyme to become top of their class in spelling and math, says it all.
Some grandparents are raising severely disabled grandchildren, and many have Autistic children, globally delayed children – the love for their grandchildren knows no boundaries, and has no conditions.
As a grandparent in this position, you have to put your life on hold, revert back to school pedestrian duties, lunchroom duties and school trips. And some words of advice, for school trips: don’t volunteer to climb the local mountain, know your limits! After 14 years of raising grandchildren our teenagers do not go to bed or leave the home without an exchange of “love you”. Does this makes it all worthwhile? Uou bet it does.
I now understand why grandparents are called just that: they all are so very, very GRAND.