Click here to print this page

Planning Retirement Online

Grandparents do make a difference - 2

July 2009

Jeanne Davis
Jeanne Davies has published numerous features on mid life and ageing issues in the Guardian, Woman’s Realm and other national publications.

She is the mother of two and grandmother of four and writes a regular column for us on some of the key issues associated with being a grandparent.

Previous Grandparenting Articles...

Grandparents do make a difference

Grandparenting Index


By Jeanne Davis

“We help with the care of our grandchildren, because we love the children and because we like to spend time with them,” says Ed. “Our children didn’t have that advantage. Their grandfathers had died before they were born and the grandmothers lived abroad.”

Together, Ed and his wife Vicky provide care for their grandchildren two days a week. On a Monday morning at 6:30am they leave their Surrey home to travel to East London to give breakfast to their older daughter’s two children. Ed takes the four-year-old to school and then goes off to do a volunteering job while Vicki looks after the two-year-old. Ed goes back and collects the older one from school and then they both spend the rest of the afternoon with the children, giving them supper and handing them over to the parents at about 7:00 pm. Ed’s wife stays over to go to the younger daughter’s nearby house on Tuesdays to care for her toddler. Au pairs fill in the balance of the time and both working mothers are at home on Fridays.

Grandparents now provide some form of childcare for more than 80% of children in the UK. No two situations are quite alike. Time involved with the grandchildren varies from one or two days a week to full-time care, from once a month to a few hours on an afternoon.

But what to do with them, how to occupy toddlers, pre-teens, teenagers, will commonly require some thought and organisation. Grandparents will delve deep into the past years when they were raising their own children, some of which they remember and much of which has been forgotten.


The Really Useful Grandparents Book: Penguin Books Ltd, 2008. Eleo Gordon and Tony Lacey.

Play centres, story hours, breakfast clubs, sports venues:

Your library or council offices will have information on local sources of activities especially for children and young people.

There are other grandparents to confer with, books to tell you how to entertain the children (see above right), newspaper articles and, of course, just plain good common sense

Games -- board games, card games, monopoly, dominoes, snakes and ladders -- rate as one of the most popular activities, though like me, you may have to relearn the rules of play. My five-year-old grandson handed me a boxed gift of checkers. I had to read the very small print to remember how to play. But the seven-year-old has taught me backgammon which I have always yearned to play. Ed is teaching the oldest to play chess, “which means,” he says, “he’ll be better than us within a year.”

Children will curl up next to you to be read to. Stories rarely fail to catch their imagination and interest, even the youngest whose attention span is notably limited. And you’ll be able to help them learn to read which is top of the list of contributions you can make to their development and their skills in coping with life.

But you’ve got to get them out of the house. Go for walks, explore the parks, and find your nearest playground, advises Sarah, a divorcée, who has cared for three grandchildren at least once a week for the past 23 years. That admirable energy all children have will turn into sulks and irritability if you spend too much time inside. Both her daughters are single parents. Sarah has a big garden and remembers how Emma, the youngest, absolutely adored being chased endlessly around the apple tree. “Because she didn’t have a father, she loved the rough and tumble games that fathers usually provide and that young children really like. I would chase her endlessly around the apple tree”, says Sarah, “whenever I could.”

You don’t have to agree to everything asked of you to be a “good” grandparent. Jennifer, who picks up the children after school, insists they do their homework on their own. However, she will help with the French lessons, putting to good use her twenty years experience as a French teacher. Sarah will help with English and literature, but not the maths. “I was never any good at maths,” she says. Sharon, on the other hand, who with her husband is raising their two grandchildren, has gone back to school to learn the New Maths. One of the growing number of second-time- around parents, the couple took the children in when it became apparent that their daughter and the estranged father could not cope.

Some of the grans and grandpas do enjoy the new technology, some not. Ed’s four-year-old is enthralled by computer games. “I don’t like them or enjoy them,” says Ed. “He can do them with his own parents.”

I am one of those grans who are obsessively curious and eager to learn new things. I am not as dextrous as the children with the up and down buttons on the keyboard, but they are delighted to teach me and are very sympathetic when my fingers fail to jump a character across a chasm or smote the baddy.

New technology can be dangerous. You may not be as flexible as you once were or maybe never were. There are newspapers stories of grandparents using the Wii who, while attempting a killer forehand, dislocate a shoulder. Or as they schussed down a ski slope, twisted an ankle. At a certain age you don’t have to prove anything to anyone, even your grandchildren.

You need not shortchange your own wisdom and experience. There is so much knowledge that you have accumulated over the years that your grandchildren will gratefully accept. You can help with history projects describing the events that you knew about from first hand experience. You can take the children around your garden or in the parks naming some of the plants and talking about bird and animal life. The children will listen, rapt. That is how children of any age learn how to learn. They listen to people who know more than they do, inspired to find out more.

Appreciation for your knowledge may not be immediate, though. Besotted with his granddaughter, Cambridge sociologist Alan Macfarlane, began to write a book, Letters to Lily: How the World Works. He gave it to her when she was twelve. “I’d rather read Jacqueline Wilson,” she said. “But thanks, Grandpa, I’ll read it when I’m seventeen.”

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