Country Life, my source of information on architecture, landscape gardening, paintings, furniture and all things Georgian and Victorian, has recently addressed the subject of successful grandparenting. The Really Useful Grandparents’ Book has come just a little late for me, since I already have four grandchildren.
But the topic is a vital and perennial one. A recent survey showed that 60% of British children today see their grand parents at least once a week, and there is every reason to think it would be the same in Australia and New Zealand.
Nanette Newman, Tony Lacey and Eleo Gordon discussed all the ideas that the modern grandparent will have thought of. That:
1. people in their late 50s and early 60s had expected to be retiring and travelling, not baby sitting.
2. children’s taste in music, clothing, television can be horrendous. And loud.
3. grandparents need to be fit. Otherwise cricket matches and crawling around jungle gyms will be impossible. And
4. temper tantrums can be just as irritating as they were when our own children were toddlers. Or more so.
Just reflecting on my own family, it is clear that first time grandparents are becoming older and older with each generation. My grandmother was 43 when her first grandchild was born; my mother was 48 when she first became a granny; and I was 54. Although there are fewer financial difficulties with advancing age, there is perhaps less energy. So grandparents need to be smarter.
Newman, Lacey and Gordon conclude that we, the grandparents, need to be open to the little ones’ experiences but that we also need to introduce them to the things that matter most to us. The authors suggest, for example, that shared cooking is a great opportunity to talk with grandchildren and to teach them. And art galleries.
But I was most interested in the delicate issue of how much influence grandparents can and should have on these small children. After all, they have their own parents. Newman, Lacey and Gordon suggest talking to the child’s parents and staying very friendly with them, since a falling out would be a disaster. But do I discuss socialism, pacifism, religiosity, charity, smacking, killing animals for meat and a million other value judgements?