Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 16

November 2010



Each month we bring you this special column on grandparenting written by our expert contributor Jeanne Davis.  

This month she looks at setting up Skype, which lets you talk to your grandchildren and at the same time see them on the screen. .

If you have a subject you would like covered by Jeanne, please email us at: 



By Jeanne Davis

In previous articles we’ve talked about the influence grandparents have on the well- being of the grandchildren. Neglected but not forgotten are the great aunts and great uncles. What do they have to say? What has been their experience? What do they believe is their most important contribution to the development of their great nieces and great nephews?

Peggy W, a single career woman who never married, devoted much of her time and attention to her sister’s children, two nephews and a niece. There are now eight grandchildren, all eight girls ranging in age from three to 15. What does Peggy say about her relationship with these children?

Her nephews and nieces were brought up to believe they essentially belonged to three people –their mother, their father and Aunt Peggy. (known always as Peggy, not Aunt Peggy). The children thought of Peggy as an integral member of the family unit.

Peggy’s career took her to Paris. But her frequent visits to London were always an “excitement for the children “. On one occasion, she was told , when she wasn’t there, the oldest who was just a toddler at the time and dancing around with his parents, said “I do wish Peggy were here and then we’d all be together.”

As soon as the young ones reached the age of ten, each came to stay on their own with her in Paris.

Now that she is retired and back in London, the great nieces often come over to her flat. It is a “great treat” to visit with Peggy for lunch and an afternoon of play. The two oldest have been treated to an overnight stay. What does Peggy think is the best thing about their relationship? It is a great source of pleasure on both sides, she says. “I get enormous pleasure out of their warmth for me and for them, it is strengthening, I think, to know they are loved and esteemed.”

Daphne P, who was married but unable to have children, does have a great nephew and a great niece, but her contact with them has been infrequent. Her involvement with the young has been more with the offspring of her good friends.

She has never got involved, she says, in the more practical help that grandparents do but has gone in more for quite “significant splashes,” such as providing a haven when they can’t get on with their parents or the parents can’t ‘stand’ them.

Several of the young people have come to stay with her in London when they were starting the search for a first job. At times she has financed courses that she feels are vital not only for their career possibilities but for life skills. She has taken many of them to her holiday cottage in France, even one grandchild of her ex-husband.

“Looking back,” says Daphne, “my involvement with these families was more satisfying than my own career (a high-powered executive career!), more constructive and long lasting and with more emotional reward, helping young people in their formative years and contributing to their development.”

“Having never married nor had children, I have been most fortunate in having had a close relationship with my niece and two nephews ever since they were born in the early 70s,” writes Estelle W. “I’ve taken a close interest in their development, careers, hobbies, relationships and especially travels.”

Now that one nephew lives in New York and the others in New Zealand and have small children, she is getting to know the little ones through Skype and less frequently in person. “So far I have built a good relationship with the ‘in-law’ nieces and nephew in trying to ease the added duties that come with young children, to provide some relief from the routine of daily life or even immediate problems. This was certainly the case when my nephew’s post-natally depressed wife and I had long talks. I am very conscious not to intrude on the relationships with parents and grandparents. I suppose I act as a backstop for support when needed, and, I hope, amusement.”

Great Uncle Alexander and Great Aunt Lila live in Belgrade. Childless, Lila’s sister’s children and now a great nephew have been very close to them. Great nephew Peter, ever since he was four years old, has spent every weekend with them. He would run into the house, says Lila, and kiss her and them run across the room to jump into great uncle Alexander’s arms for more kisses and hugs. Lila taught him to read. Now, though, she says, “he comes with his computer and DS player and Wfii, which I just don’t understand. He will have to teach me.”

One great aunt I spoke to would like me to say that “If the child has an active grandmother and a great aunt, it’s essential that the ladies involved establish good mutual relations from the outset, so that the grandmother (or grandmothers) do not come to resent the great aunt as a challenge, nor the great aunt feel it desirable to reduce her attentions to the child so as not to appear to be offering competition.”

NOTE: There appears to be little serious academic research into the great aunt and great uncle relationship. What I have written is based on interviews with a relatively small group. Laterlife would like very much to hear from you about your experiences as a great aunt or great uncle. .



Previous articles in the series:


1. Grandparents do make a difference
2. When Grandparents are on duty
3. To Discipline or not
4. The long Distance Grandparent
5. When the parents separate
6. Second time around
7. Who baby-sits?
8. Favouring one grandchild more than the others
9. Should Grandparents who provide child care receive financial assistance
10. A feast for mind and body for you and the grandchildren at half term
11. Jealous grandparents
12. When you agree to help with childcare
13. Parents would like grandparents to live closer
14. Grandparents and teen grandchildren
15. Saga of Skype
16. And so do Great Aunts and Uncles!



Want to comment on this article or ask other laterlife visitors a question?

Then click on the link below to visit the comment section of the Later Lifestyle Network, click on the 'Discussion Tab' (you can't see this until you are logged in) and Create a new topic or add your views to an existing one

Don't forget you need to login before you can make a comment.



Advertise on

LaterLife Travel Insurance in Association with Avanti