What is it that they have, which we don’t have?
Is it the almost never-ending bedtime story sessions or is it the silver-grey hair that shines bright on their head, like moon beams in the dark night sky? Or is it the extra warmth in their gentle embrace? We as parents don’t burp out pixie glitter and fairy sparkles for our kids, but they do. It is a magical connect.
I am talking about grandparents.
The magic glue that binds grandchildren to their grandparents is pretty strong. They don’t need a reason to be happy when they are together, because, nothing gives them more happiness than being in each others’ company.
Children share a love-hate relationship with parents. Not the ones below 2 years who are totally dependent on their parents, but kids who are playschool-going and above. Don’t get me wrong when I use the word ‘hate’. It is just figurative, not literal. What I mean by ‘love-hate’, is that our relationship with our parents is sometimes fraught with emotional intensity. All of us in some point in our childhood, pre-teen or teen years have disliked or have become frustrated with one or both of our parents for something or the other. Who hasn’t? (I have already started getting it from my three and a half year old little person. When I don’t give in to her occasional tantrums and fuss, my child, with her now fully developed speaking skills, declares that ‘I hate mom,’ although after the anger has passed, she comes to ‘win me back’ with her hugs and kisses.)
But with grand parents, it is different. Children share a love-love relationship with their grand parents. Why do our parents and our kids share a special attachment, different from what we have with both the parties? Is it because, between them, they have a common enemy? Us? I am kidding.
The attachment between grand parents and grand kids is unique because it is not characterized by the emotional conflicts or the intensity that characterizes the relationship between young children/adult children and their parents. Arguments, which are typical of adult conversations don’t arise in their interactions. Doing ‘silly’ things together is natural bonding between them. Grand children don’t ’emotionally drain’ their grand parents as we adult children do to our parents, or vice versa.
Grand children bring a lot of joy in the lives of grandparents. Becoming grandparents is their second chance at parenting and also provides them a portal to their ‘second’ childhood. Kids get to be over-pampered minus the scolding. Of course, most of the grandparents invest a lot of love and finance to pamper their grand kids. So surprise gifts are added bonus. No matter what we do for them, they still adore their grandparents more than us, because grandparents spoil them to no end. Correct me if I am wrong when I say that maternal grand parents are the ones who make that extra effort, spend extra bucks for that flight/train ticket and go that extra mile when it comes to visiting their faraway grand kids, to have quality time with them. And, hey, nobody said that being a grand parent is easy. Grand parents are more patient than parents. But there are times when they have to ‘act’ calm till the storm passes and suck it all up even when they want to scream.
Grand parents are their grand kids’ portal to the past; of family heritage and legacy. They are also role models for the future. Therefore, maintaining frequent contact with their grand parents serves as a huge enrichment to the emotional development of their grand children. It also helps in creating extended-family orientation in kids. My kid adores her grandmother and grandfather, especially her grandmother. Whenever she is around, my daughter wants to see her the second she wakes up. Grandma should be the one to brush her teeth, take her to toilet, bathe her and feed her (thus I get my much needed rest even if it is for a brief period of time). She is so possessive about her that she secretly tells my mom that ‘grandma shouldn’t be mama’s ‘friend’, ‘ grandma should only be my ‘friend.”Every night, my daughter asks me to tell her bedtime stories just like her grand mother does. She demands one story after another and it is almost never-ending. Though I tell her stories, I am too lazy for that because I get tired of it after a while. But my mother is a pro when it comes to telling stories. She is a marathon- story teller and she never tires. My daughter listens to her in rapt attention. I have never been able to equal her in that department.
I don’t remember my mother’s mother well, though I have glimpses of her smiling angelic face etched in the recesses of my memory. She was the one who took care of me as an infant and a toddler, till I was two years old. Since my mother is a government servant, and in those days, maternity leave was restricted to only three months after the baby was born. My mom had to join for duty, within three months of my birth. Luckily, my grandparents were staying relatively closer to our place during those days. So, everyday, my mom would leave me with my grandma before leaving for work. And in the evenings, while returning home, she would pick me up. Thus my maternal grandmother actually acted as my primary caregiver till I was two years old. After that my parents got transferred to another State and we had to leave that place. Each time I ask my mother about my grandmother, each time my mother repeats the story of how she had to helplessly pull me away from my poor grand mother, biting back her tears, while leaving. And it breaks my heart each time, when I try to imagine that incident in my mind. The next time we visited my grandmother’s home was one and a half year’s later, when she passed away. Up until now, that has been the most unfortunate event in my life. I missed the luxury of spending time with my maternal grand mother. I want to remember her gently scooping me up and holding me in her arms. I want to remember her singing sweet lullabies to me. I want to remember looking into her eyes and seeing myself. I want to remember her loving care, warmth and kisses. But I can’t remember any of it because I was too small when she left this world. Thus I never got to spend enough time with her. I guess that she must have been the best grand mother in the world, considering that my own mother must have acquired her traits in grand parenting.
I also remember my paternal grandmother fondly. Whenever she visited us, I have had the best times of my life with all that yummy delicacies she prepared for me. She made the best fish curry in the whole wide world, and her special appams and egg fries were to die for. Of course she couldn’t invest considerable time or attention on us, because she had to shuttle among her five children and their spouses’ families and had to divide her attention and affection among her fifteen grand children. And of course, out of her fifteen grand children, she favored boys more than the girls. (That is an unwritten norm up until recent times, in this part of the world.) And there were only five girls among us cousins. The rest ten were boys. So each one of us got only a a little bit of her. And since we were living far away from our paternal grandparents place, we were separated by the distance as well. Although I got to enjoy only a fraction of her, I always believed that she had a special ‘thing’ for me. Whenever, it was time for her to leave after visiting us, she secretly sneaked in some pocket money into my half-closed fists, which I hid really well, before my brother could find out. Or, was it that she gave the same to my brother as well? I don’t know. I have to ask him. I yearned for her to be with us a little more. But that never happened because resentments rather than warmth, ruled large, making at least some of us, socially inept.
Whenever we leave, my parents miss my kid so much. And my daughter misses them too. My daughter knows I am always there. But my parents can’t . They have to leave each time, after spending a couple of days with us. So, for my daughter, every moment that she gets to spend with them is precious. Each time they come to visit or when we go over to visit them, I know I am going to be treated like I don’t exist. That’s a norm. But visits are very rare. I am secretly jealous of my friends who are staying with there parents or in-laws, who at the slightest opportunity, can ‘dump’ their kid on their mother/mother-in-law and escape from ‘parenting’ at least (temporarily) to hang around with friends or go to the beauty parlor or for shopping. I don’t get to do that. I am not as lucky as many others, whose parents or in-laws, stay with them or near them and are available at their every beck and call. I stay faraway from them. It pains me to leave my little one under the care of someone other than family if I have to be away from her for a while. Of course, there are many good nannies or baby sitters who take good care of children worldwide and nothing gives you more joy than the fact that your kid is well taken care of in your absence. But I have never left my little girl with a nanny. Coming from a middle class family with working parents and no external support(from grand parents or other relatives), I never had it easy as a child. So, now I am making it easy for my own child.
It is heart-wrenching, each time I visit my parents, to notice them looking even more old and even more tired than the previous time I saw them. It is difficult watching them go through the whole process of aging along with the different ailments that come with it. And it pains more because of the fact that we don’t stay together. We get to see each other only occasionally. They don’t get to spend enough time with their beloved grand child.
I know a lot of mothers who feel that their kids strongly prefer ‘them’ instead of ‘us’ whenever ‘they’ are around. The truth is that kids grow out of their ways as years pass. They love their moms and dads equally as they do their grandparents. You are the strong, steadying presence in your kids life. It is not about changing the whole relationship dynamics. But it is about you making considerable positive improvement in both your parents and your kids lives by offering both; love, warmth, nurturing and security.
In the mean time, all those lovely grandparents out there. Just hang in there and enjoy every precious moment with your grand kids. And be happy knowing that every moment that they spend with you will be beautifully cherished in their treasure trove of memories of a well-spent childhood.
1.’Family Ties that Bind: Maternal grand parents are more involved in the lives of their grandchildren;’http://www.epjournal.net/filestore/EP05832843.pdf, A New Castle University Study, Public Release: 18-Dec-2007
2. pg.74, ‘The Ties That Bind: Men’s and Women’s Social Networks;’ Laura Lein & Marvin B. Sussman.